Advertising Above - Page Content Below.
This page last modified on 03 May 2010 .
The following information about the Durang family has been collected during my research into the family of James S. Wallace. It is not an exhaustive study, and if you find it interesting, there is information at the end about some additional sources of information.
Additional research by John Bookless on the state life of the Durang family is available on another page.
We begin with Jacob Durang about whom his great-grandson gave this report:
"He was a native of Strassburg and served in the Regiment DeWaldsen of the French Army for twelve years in the reign of Louis XVI, being consigned as surgeon. He obtained his discharge February 25, 1767 and at that period married Miss Arter of Vizenburg and emigrated to this country, reaching our shores in November 1767, and settled in York, Lancaster County, where John Durang, my grandfather was born, Jan. 6th, 1769. Dr. Jacob Durang, during our Revolutionary War, strange to say, joined his old companions in arms of the French army, to use the words of a diary kept by John Durang, "against the tyranic power in the glorious cause of liberty and religion". He was encamped at Lancaster with a regiment from Virginia and after the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British Jacob Durang purchased a property in our city and settled here, having sold the York property.
"He died in Charleston, S.C. He was attached to Saint Mary's Church, Philadelphia, as was also his son, John, who was buried at St. Mary's, died on Palm Sunday, March 31, 1822."
[By Edwin Forrest Durang, 4 Apr 1884, recorded in the Catholic Historical Research, volume 28, page 77; as transcribed in The Durang Family by Edwina Hare, page 8.]
Edwina Hare, who has written the definitive work on the Durang family, indicates that Jacob and Catherine (Arter) Durang sailed from Rotterdam on the ship "Sally" and landed in Philadelphia on 5 Oct 1767. They soon made their way to Lancaster where Catherine had a sister and brother-in-law. It was in their home that Jacob and Catherine's first child, John, was born on 6 Jan 1768.
After his service in the Revolutionary War, Jacob moved his family to Philadelphia as early as 1782 (church record). The first city directory for Philadelphia, published in 1785, lists Jacob as living at 677 Second Street.
Jacob and Catherine had seven childen: John, Catherine, James, Barbara, Rebecca Elizabeth, Mary, and Jacob Jr. Then, sometime prior to December 1788, Catherine died.
Jacob Durang, Sr. next married Mary Chandler, a widow with a son (William Chandler) on 28 Dec 1788. She was perhaps twenty years younger than Jacob. They had a son named John Louis Durang. Little is know of John Louis except that he was born 23 Jun 1792 in Philadelphia. Mary Chandler Durang died 25 Nov 1798.
According to his great-grandson, Jacob died in 1805 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Before we turn to their eldest child, John, let's make some brief comments about the other children of Jacob Durang.
Catharine Durang married Charles Bussellott on 17 Jul 1787. John Durang in his Memoirs had this to say about Charles Bussellott.
About this time [ca. 1785] arrived Mr. Charles Busselott, a young French officer of the Lifeguard of Louis 16, a man of great ingenuity. I learn'd a great many things from him. He teach'd a fencing school in Philad'a. He was engaged in the theatre. He introduced a variety of machinary, transparencies, seafights, the fantasy of small shades: Les Ombres Chinoise, display'd by the power of light and shade. Mr. Peale  gave an exhibition of a phaenomenon in his old museum, the corner of Lumbard and Third Street. Mr. Busselot married my oldest sister Catharine, who sung with as much applause as I dancet. She was encored one night in the play of the Roman Father in a song or piece of music. She was obliged to sing three times before the house could be passive reconciled.
[From The Memoir of John Durang, American Actor, 1785-1816; edited by Alan S. Downer, page 19.]
Charles and Catharine had no children.
James Durang married Catharine Wile, and they had four children: Elizabeth, William, Mary, and Michael. Barbara Durang married Michael Blumenstock and they had a son, James. Rebecca Elizabeth Durang married Alexander Thompson and they had two sons: Alexander and Thomas. Mary Durang married Francis Espirit and they had a son Joseph.
Jacob Durang, Jr. married Catharine Weill on 21 Mar 1798. In the Philadelphia directories, he is listed as an umbrella maker. Jacob and Catharine had one child, a daughter named Maria. After her father's death, Maria Durang continued on with the umbrella business.
John Durang, the eldest child of Jacob and Catherine, described his birth and the years that followed:
I was born in Lancaster, state of Pennsylvania, January 6th 1768.
America was at this time under the controlment of the British government in the reign of George 3d. My father turn'd his mind on a permanent establishment. Little York in Pennsylvania proved a field to his advantage. The novelty of a man of his profession [Jacob Durang is referred to in legal documents as both barber and hairdresser. A surgeon often found additional employment this way.] so desired by the people of that place, with his customary address and politeness, accompany'd with the French and German language, soon gained the popularity of the inhabitance of Little York and its vincity. By frugality and economy of my father and mother they soon gained the inheritance of respect and wealth. My father purchased a house and lot of ground in Market Street near the Courthouse (of late years it has been occupied for a tavern, sign of the Whitehorse) whre they enjoy'd every desirable comforts of this life. My father had occasion twice a year to visit Philadelphia to purchase goods, as he keep a store in one part of the house, and such necesseries which could not be had in York, having it in his power, for he had provided everything necessary for a country life, horse and gig, cows, hogs, farming utensils, out lots, &c.
I was put to the German school, it being the most universal, as all the country in Pennsylvania was settlet by Germans. ...
In the Revolutionary War between North America and Great Britain, my father joined his brethren in arms [Jacob Durang enlisted in First Battalion, York County Militia, December 27, 1775.] against tyrannic power in the glorious cause of liberty and religion, in defence and security of a home for their wives and children. My father was encamp'd at Lancaster. A regiment from Virginia lay in York. I prevail'd on my mother to make me a hunting shirt and trousers, green with yellow fringe. Thus equip'd I was constant with this Virginia encampment. The men where in a poor condition to meet an enemy: old and young, rich and poor, all in brotherly band, some with out shoes or stocking, some no coats, some with old muskets and some with fowling pieces, however as they went on their journey, whear supplied by citizens who could spare them clothes and provision. I set off with this regiment. When we arrived at the Lancaster encampment, my father soon sent me back to my mother in charge of a neighbour on horseback. I went home with a heavy heart.
During the winter General Howe and Kniphousen with the British army lay in Philad'a. A number of British prisoners whare confined in the York and Lancaster jail. Several of the officers boarded at my father's house. They had an excellent band of music, and occasionally play'd at my father's to my great delight, and serenaded the citizens. [Memoir, pages 3-7.]
Thus began John Durang's love of music, dancing, and the theater. In his memoirs, he related the following:
About this time [ca. 1785] arrived Mr. Charles Busselott, a young French officer of the Lifeguard of Louis 16, a man of great ingenuity. I learn'd a great many things from him. He teach'd a fencing school in Philad'a. He was engaged in the theatre. He introduced a variety of machinary, transparencies, seafights, the fantasy of small shades: Les Ombres Chinoise, display'd by the power of light and shade. Mr. Peale [Charles Willson Peale organized an exhibit of paintings and transparencies in 1781; by 1792 it was one of Philadelphia's most popular places of resort.] gave an exhibition of a phaenomenon in his old museum, the corner of Lumbard and Third Street. Mr. Busselot married my oldest sister Catharine, who sung with as much applause as I dancet. She was encored one night in the play of the Roman Father [The Roman Father by William Whitehead, first performed at Drury Lane in 1750. This play was the principal entertainment on the night of Durang's debut as a dancer.] in a song or piece of music. She was obliged to sing three times before the house could be passive reconciled. [Memoir, page 19]
The die was cast, and John Durang would spend much of the rest of his life as a dancer, acrobat, and actor. We know that he was a part of a group called Rickett's Circus that travelled throughout the northeastern United States and into Canada. The two advertisements shown below identify him as part of the troupe.
The Philadelphia Gazette & Universal Daily Advertiser, 14 Jan 1799, page 3.
The Constitutional Diary and Philadelphia Evening Advertiser, 12 Dec 1799, page 2.
John and Mary (McEwen) Durang had six children: Charles, Richard Ferdinand, Augustus Felix, Charlotte Elizabeth, Katherine Juliet, and Mary Ann Durang. As children, most were involved with their father on the stage. Some, as we will see, continued there into their adult life.
According to Alan S. Downer, editor of The Memoir of John Durang, American Actor, 1785-1816, "Durang says little about his family life. Of his wife, Mary McEwen, the marriage register notes only that she was white and a spinster. She may have appeared occasionally on the stage as a dancer, but her three sons and two daughters seem to have claimed most of her energies. She died of tuberculosis in Harrisburg, September 5, 1812, at the age of forty-four."
Downer goes on to say, "Her oldest son, Charles, was born December 4, 1794, and at the age of eight made his debut as a dancer at the Chesnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Like his father, he was a man of many talents: actor, ballet master, author, and stage manager. In 1854 he began serial publication in the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch of "The Philadelphia Stage from the Year 1749 to the Year 1855, Partly Compiled from the Papers of his Father, the late John Durang." This valuable, if undisciplined, record was never printed in book form. He died in 1870.
"Ferdinand, Durang's second son, was born in Hartford in 1796. During the war of 1812 he enlisted with his older brother and, while they seem to have had little opportunity for battlefield heroics, they were chief figures in a historic event in a tavern attached to the Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore. The occasion is related by Chief Justice Tawney, brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key:
"'Key read the words [of his poem] aloud, once, twice, three times, until the persons present were electrified by the pathetic eloquence. An idea seized Ferdinand Durang. Hunting up a volume of old flute music, he impatiently played snatches of tune after tune, as they caught his eye. One called "Anacreon in Heaven" struck his fancy and riveted his attention. Note after note fell from his puckered lips, until with a leap and a shout, he exclaimed, "Boys, I've hit it!" and fitting the tune to the words, there rang out for the first time the song of the Star-Spangled Banner.' [York Dispatch, March 13, 1945.]
"Ferdinand died of tuberculosis in 1831 while a member of the company at the Bowery Theater in New York.
"Augustus, the third son, was born in Philadelphia in 1800 and made his debut as Tom Thumb at the Chestnut Street Theater. Here he was seen by the traveling star, Thomas Apthorpe Cooper, who took him to New York where he appeared at the Park, December 17, 1806. Later he gave up acting to become a sailor and was lost at sea.
"Two girls completed the household. Charlotte was born in Philadelphia in 1803, danced in her father's summer companies, and died in 1824. Juliet, born two years after Charlotte, managed something more of a career. A dancer, she began in the family troupe, graduating to the Lafayette Theater in New York in 1825 and to the Bowery in the next year. In 1831 she made her debut as an actress at the Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and, as Mrs. Godey, advanced to leading roles in provincial companies. She later married James Wallace, a minor actor who forsook the stage to become editor of the Philadelphia Sun. She died in Philadelphia in 1849." [From The Memoir of John Durang, American Actor, 1785-1816; edited by Alan S. Downer; Introduction, pages xvii-xix.]
Downer fails to mention the youngest daughter, Mary Ann Durang, who was born 5 Jan 1808. She apparently danced on the stage in her youth, but then drops out of sight.
Following the death of his wife, Mary, John Durang married again to a lady named Elizabeth whose maiden name I do not know. Then he died in March of 1822. Here is an abstract of his will taken from this web location.
Wills: Abstracts, Book 7 - Part C: 1822-23: Philadelphia Co, PA
DURANG, JOHN. Philadelphia. Native of Pennsylvania.
By profession a teacher of dancing.
March 22, 1817. April 2, 1822. 7.468.
Desire to be interred in burying ground of Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's in Philadelphia on the German side.
Wife: Elizabeth Durang.
Sons: Charles, Richard Ferdinand, Augustus Felix.
Daughters: Charlotte Elizabeth, Juliet Catharine, Mary Ann Durang all my property, (said children by former wife Mary, decd.) Property bought from Thomas Willing, Thomas Morris, Samuel Coates, Joseph Morris. Youngest daughter Mary Ann will be 18 years of age, January 5, 1826. when all property may be sold.
Letters to Michael Cooper. Exec: Friends: George Aubry by profession a Baker, Township of Moyamensing, Michael Cooper a police officer also of Moyamensin.
Wit: Joshua Raybold, Alexander W. Reed.
Much more is available to be learned about this remarkable family. Besides numerous sources on the internet, I recommend the Memoir book mentioned earlier, as well as The Durang Family by Edwina Hare, a descendant of the Durangs. For even more information about them, obtain the microfilms that contain Charles Durang's essays on the Philadelphia Stage.
Effort has been made to eliminate errors, but their absence is not guaranteed. This document is copyright 2006 by Charles Hartley. Permission is hereby granted to individuals seeking family history information to copy the contents of this document for their personal use. It may not be sold, either separately or as part of a collection, without the written permission of the copyright holder; nor may it be placed at any other location on the internet without said written permission.
Page Content Ends - Advertising Below.