James H. Caldwell

James Henry Caldwell (1793–1863), was an English-born[1] American actor, theatre manager[2] and entrepreneur.[3] Known as New Orleans "Father of Light",[3] he owned the New Orleans Gas Light Company, making New Orleans the fourth city in the United States to have gas lighting.[3] Also a theater entrepreneur, he built the first English speaking theater in New Orleans and many theaters across the South.

James H. Caldwell


Theater activitiesEdit

He introduced English language theatre in New Orleans, where he managed the St. Philip Street Theatre in 1820–22, the Camp Street Theatre in 1822–1835, and the St. Charles Theatre in 1835–1842.

After Charleston, South Carolina, in 1817, he moved to Virginia, setting up a theatrical circuit in many areas including Richmond and Petersburg. He later moved to New Orleans in 1820, where he leased St. Philip Street Theatre and built his own acting company.[4]

As well as managing the Camp Street Theatre for 11 years, Caldwell took his company to various towns including Natchez, Nashville, Huntsville. In 1829, Sol Smith, a famous actor and manager in the Southwest at the time, joined his company. There were also many other famous actors that Caldwell engaged with; Edwin Forrest was one of them who performed at the Camp Street Theatre in 1829.[5]

Soon after, he announced his retirement, leasing the Camp Street Theatre to Richard Russell and James Simon Rowe, but never fully retired due to his love for the theatre and his career. He instead opened St. Charles Theatre in 1835 and the Royal Street Theatre in 1841. However, Caldwell fully retired when the St. Charles Theatre burned down in 1842.[6]

Business careerEdit

Caldwell introduced gas lighting to New Orleans.[6] He organized the New Orleans Gas Light Company, with a capital of $300,000. Failing to get any of the citizens to join him in this pioneer, but promising, enterprise, he determined to light the city at his own expense, which remarkable feat he accomplished in September 1833.[3]

But it wasn't until he left the stage and moved from New Orleans to Louisville that he amassed his immense wealth. He established gas companies in New Orleans and other cities, including Cincinnati, St. Louis and Mobile, and also prospered from real estate ventures in Louisville.[1]

Through his son William Shakespeare Caldwell (1821–1874),[1][7] he was the grandfather of American philanthropist Mary Gwendolin des Monstiers-Mérinville and the great-grandfather of German-born American bridge champion Waldemar von Zedtwitz.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Elson, Martha (18 September 2015). "Louisville ties to pope's D. C. visit". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  2. ^ Robin O. Warren, Women on Southern Stages, 1800-1865: Performance, Gender and Identity
  3. ^ a b c d Hayner, Rutherford (1925). "Troy and Rensselaer County, New York, Volume III – Biography of James Henry Caldwell". Lewis Historical Publishing Company. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  4. ^ Watson, Charles S. (2015). The History of Southern drama. University Press of Kentucky. p. 48.
  5. ^ Watson, Charles S. (2015). The History of Southern Drama. University Press of Kentucky. p. 49.
  6. ^ a b Goldfield, David R. (1997). Region, Race and Cities: Interpreting the Urban South. Louisiana State University Press. p. 225. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  7. ^ Stevens, Ashlie (April 5, 2019). "Curious Louisville: Who Were The Caldwell Sisters?". WFPL. Retrieved August 31, 2022.