Augustin Daly, among the best known and most respected New York dramatists of the nineteenth century, was born in 1838 in Plymouth. Daly lived most of his life in New York City with his mother and younger brother. He developed his talents in drama in many ways, working as a theatre critic, playwright, and theatrical producer. Daly is widely considered a founder of early modern American theatre, having promoted theatre throughout the United States and the world. He was traveling in Paris on a business trip at the time of his death in 1899 due to pneumonia.
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John Augustin Daly was born on July 20, 1838, to Captain Daly and Elizabeth Duffy Daly while they were living in Washington County. Captain Daly, an Irish shipping and lumber merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, met in the West Indies and married in 1834. In 1838 they settled in North Carolina, having lost their boat owing to a shipwreck en route to the West Indies. Captain Daly died in 1841 and Elizabeth moved with her two sons to Norfolk, where she and Captain Daly had lived briefly after their marriage. In 1849 she and her two sons, Augustin and Joseph, moved to New York City.
Daly became interested in drama from the time his family lived in Norfolk, and explored a variety of occupations in the New York theatre. In 1854 he launched his career as a playwright, writing four plays in four years. In 1856 he produced his first play, in a rented hall without any financial backing. By 1859 Daly was working as a drama critic for the New York Sunday Courier, and over the next eight years he wrote reviews for the Express, the Sun, the Times and the Weekly Citizen. He left his work as a drama critic in 1867, because of his growing involvement in theatre production and design.
In 1869 Daly opened the Fifth Avenue Theatre, which he ran until it was destroyed by fire in 1872. He reopened it in 1873 in another location. In 1879 he launched Daly’s Theatre on Broadway, to wide acclaim. Daly’s Theatre operated for twenty years and was hugely successful and innovative within the theatre world. In 1893 Daly achieved another first, moving a company to London to produce a show in Leicester Square. Among Daly’s best received plays were his first success, “Leah, the Forsaken” (1862), “Under the Gaslight” (1867) and his adaptation of “The Foresters” (1891).
Richard Walser, Literary North Carolina (1986)
Richard Walser, ed., North Carolina Drama (1956)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 5-6—sketch by Sue Fields Ross
Francis Daly, The Life of Augustin Daly (1917)
Roanoke Beacon (Plymouth), December 9, 1938