Rowson, Susanna Haswell

1762 – 1828


Dramatic Works

  • Slaves in Algiers; or, a Struggle for Freedom (1794)
  • The Female Patriot (1795) – not extant 
  • The Volunteers (1795) – not extant 
  • Americans in England (1797) – not extant 

Slaves in Algiers; or, a Struggle for Freedom  (1794)

Production & Reception History

Production History: First performed 30 June 1794, Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia; after its successful premiere, the play entered Thomas Wignell and Alexander Reinagle’s acting company the New American Company’s repertory, and was performed regularly

Reception History: In Kick for a Bite (1795) William Cobbett criticizes Slaves in Algiers and Rowson herself whom he labels a member of the “tribe of female scribblers and politicians.” Cobbett mocks Rowson’s dramatic and poetic efforts, in particular her style which he considers excessively hyperbolic, but also the content of her comedy Slaves in Algiers and its allotted didactic purposes. In the preface to her novel Trials of the Human Heart (1795) Rowson retaliates by calling Cobbett an envious “loathsome reptile” who seeks by all means to prevent the success “of any work of genius.”

Print & Publication History

Originally printed for the author by Wrigley and Berriman in Philadelphia, 1794

Title page: “As Performed at the New Theatres, in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, by Wrigley and Berriman, No. 149, Chesnut-Street. M, Dcc, Xciv.”

Genre & Structure

  • A comic opera in three acts, interspersed with songs (music composed by Alexander Reinagle)
  • Prefatory & closing material
    • Dedication: “To the Citizens of the United States of North-America. This First Dramatic Effort Is Inscribed, by Their Obliged Friend, and Humble Servant, S. Rowson.”
    • Preface written by the author
    • Prologue written and originally spoken by Mr. Fennell
    • Epilogue written and originally spoken by Mrs. Rowson

Gender Relevance

Marriage/slavery analogy; republican motherhood; female boldness and bravery; cross-dressing; female friendship; male cowardice

Key Words & Themes

Captivity narrative; marriage; slavery (American slaves); ‘otherness;’ Americanness; patriotism; American virtues and values; liberty; equality

Additional Information

Rowson is best known for her novel Charlotte Temple (1791/1794) which is widely considered America’s first best-selling novel.


Kritzer, Amelia Howe, ed. Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Evans Early American Imprints Collection

Secondary Sources

Davis, Peter A. “Plays and Playwrights to 1800.” The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Vol. I. Eds. Don B. Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby. NY: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. “‘Slaves in Algiers’: Race, Republican Genealogies, and the Global Stage.” American Literary History 16.3 (2004): 407-436. Web. 10 March 2016.

Dudden, Faye E. Introduction: Acting Female. Women in the American Theatre: Actresses and Audiences 1790-1870. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.  1-8. Print.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe. Introduction. Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009. 1-28. Print.

Kritzer, Amelia Howe. “Playing with Republican Motherhood: Self-Representation in Plays by Susanna Haswell Rowson and Judith Sargent Murray.” Early American Literature 31.2 (1996): 150-66. Web. 10 March 2016.

Meserve, Walter J. “Early Dramatists of the New Republic.” An Emerging Entertainment: The Drama of the American People to 1828. Bloomington, London: Indiana UP, 1977.  92-125. Print.

Porcupine, Peter [Cobbett, William]. Kick for a Bite; or, Review upon Review; with a Critical Essay on the Works of Mrs. Rowson; in a letter to the Editor, or Editors of the American Monthly Review. Philadelphia: Thomas Bradford, 1795. Early American Imprints.

Rowson, Susanna Haswell. Preface. Trials of the Human Heart. Philadelphia: Wrigley & Berriman, 1795. xi-xx. Print.

Rust, Marion. “Daughters of America.” Prodigal Daughters: Susanna Rowson’s Early American Women. Williamsburg: U of North Carolina P, 2008. 195-248. Print.

Schofield, Mary Anne. “The Happy Revolution: Colonial Women and the Eighteenth-Century Theater.” Modern American Drama: The Female Canon. Ed. June Schlueter. Rutherford, Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1990. 29-37. Print.