Farewell Benefit, Birch & Cotton's Minstrels, May 1862
Benefits - performances for the financial support of a headlining minstrel, or actor - were common during the 19th century. And, at least in the United States, probably not at all common prior to that. Ben Cotton took dozens of these benefits over the course of a long career. He took part in three times that many benefits for fellow players, organizations, or worthy causes. The first benefit organized in his name was in partnership with Billy Birch. These two blackface performers had assembled a troupe to travel to Melbourne, Australia in May of 1862. The farewell benefit was to be held at the Academy of Music in New York. They had been playing together for a couple of months at the Canterbury Music Hall on Broadway and they were ready to depart. Among the performers who were contributing their services included the members of the newly organized troupe. As the event (and the departure) neared, the editor of The New York Clipper inserted weekly commentary about the plans. On the day of the benefit an advertisement appeared in one of the city papers.