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Stephen C. Massett Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS194

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The Massett Papers are comprised of the correspondence sent to Mr. Massett during the period 1853-1897. The content of the letters is largely related to his work as an artist and reveal the social circles he moved in, from that of contemporary artists to the established families of old New York and the English gentry. The frequent changes of address noted on his correspondence, together with his active efforts to associate himself with New York's and London's wealthiest citizens, suggest that he was dependent on the generosity of his patrons to support himself. Efforts to gain the favor of potential patrons can be seen through his pattern of sending a flattering letter together with a song composed by him. Among the names listed in Massett's correspondence are Sir Henry Coke, who, in fact, made arrangements for an annual payment to be sent to him, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Harriet Stonwood Blaine, wife of Senator James G. Blaine, and Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii.

Songs and works composed by Stephen C. Massett:

'Our Good Ship Sails Tonight', 'My Darling's Face', 'Just Twenty Years Ago' 'O God we humbly bend the knee', 'When the moon on the lake is beaming', ''Drifting About''; or, What 'Jeems Pipes, of Pipesville,' saw and did' and 'Yellow Pine Barren'

Further Reading:

O'Dell, George C. D. 'Annals of the New York Stage, esp. vol. V' (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931).

Brown T. Allston, 'Brown's History of the American Stage . . .' (repr.; New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969 [1870]), p. 238.

Sullivan, Joseph A., ed., 'The First California Troubadour' (Oakland, CA: Biobooks, 1954), is based on Masset's autobiography ''Drifting about' . . .'


  • 1853 - 1898
  • Majority of material found within 1890 - 1898

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical/Historical note

John D. Crimmins (1844-1917), who made his fortune in the construction business, was dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Catholic history in the United States and acquired an extensive collection of papers and documents relating to the history of the church here, among them the papers of the English-born actor, author, and composer Stephen C. Massett (1820-1898).

Massett came to the United States from England in 1837 at the age of seventeen. Settling in Buffalo, New York, he joined a Thespian Association and soon began appearing in local productions. He left Buffalo in 1841 to work at a theater in Charleston, South Carolina, where he remained for a year, establishing himself as both an actor and a vocalist. From Charleston he went to New York City, where he would live until his death.

Very few records have survived to provide us with the details of Massett's life, but an autobiographical work, ''Drifting About'; or, 'What Jeems Pipes of Pipesville,' saw-and did,' (1863) recounts the time he spent travelling throughout California in the late 1840s. His travels in California would greatly influence his life's work and can be found as the subject matter in a number of his works. Although Massett initially established himself as an actor, an invitation to a recitation given by him in 1890 proclaimed him to be a 'composer, author, traveller, recitationist and monologue entertainer' who had travelled throughout the world, and appears to be the manner in which he earned a living in his later years. He called this form of entertainment 'Song and Chit-Chat of [My] Travel in Many Lands,' and performed to groups in private homes as well as in public halls, where he related his travels in a one-man show made up of song and story.

Massett's name can be found frequently in the 'Annals of the New York Stage,' listing his engagements throughout the city, with one reviewer referring to him as a 'sweet singer.' While he achieved popularity for the songs he composed, a number of which were included in New York stage musicals, he was most famous for his autobiographical work 'Jeems Pipes.' He continued to publish for the remainder of his life, but only 'McAllister's Charge of the 400!!,' a parody on 'Tennyson's Charge of the 600,' would achieve the popularity of 'Jeems Pipes.'


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

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The Stephen C. Massett Papers were donated to Georgetown by the John D. Crimmins estate.

Stephen C. Massett Papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057