Baptist (Crow), Rachael
Between 1750 and 1753 Baptist sang regularly throughout the Dublin summer season in the Marlborough Green Gardens, one of the pleasure gardens patronised by the gentry and middle classes. According to the actor and playwright John O'Keeffe (qv), who saw her there when he was a boy, she always appeared on the stage in a yellow silk gown and was applauded with great delight by her audience. No one objected to her colour. She made no public appearance in 1754 and sang only three times in the gardens in 1755. Her last Dublin performance was in July 1756, when she sang in Niccolo Pasquali's masque ‘Hibernia's triumph’ in honour of General William Blakeney (qv), the defender of Minorca.
By her own account Baptist spent the years between 1757 and 1767 in England. But although she listed London and Bath among places where she had performed to universal applause, her name does not appear in any of the standard reference works on the eighteenth-century London stage; nor is anyone of her description recorded as having performed in Bath in the period in question. A black singer and actress who was most likely Rachael Baptist is reported to have played the part of Polly Peachum in ‘The beggar's opera’ and that of Juliet in Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Lancashire about this time. Liverpool newspapers record that ‘Miss Baptist, the celebrated singer from the gardens of Dublin’, sang in the Ranelagh Gardens in Liverpool in the spring and summer of 1758; and she made a second visit to the town in April 1767 to give concerts under her married name of Mrs Crow.
Baptist's marriage occurred, therefore, between the summer of 1758 and the spring of 1767, though its precise date and place are unknown. Her husband was a musician and teacher of violin and guitar who also advertised his services as cleaner of oil paintings using the latest methods from Italy and London. There is no indication of his first name or nationality, or whether he was white or black.
Mrs Crow, as she was now called, returned to Ireland with her husband later in 1767. She advertised a concert followed by a ball at the Tholsel Assembly Room in Kilkenny at the beginning of December. Further concerts and balls followed: later in December in Kilkenny; and in the new year in Clonmel and Durrow. The success of the first Kilkenny concert inspired a gentleman of the town to publish a poem in her honour in Finn's Leinster Journal which referred explicitly to her colour and to the prejudice which this aroused – prejudice that was disarmed, according to the writer, as soon as she began to sing. The 1767–8 concerts represented perhaps the high point of her career. Together with Thomas Ryder (qv) and the castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (d. 1776) she was hailed as a performer who was transforming Kilkenny into a ‘Capua or town of pleasure’.
The pattern of the months in Kilkenny was replicated in the years that followed. Each winter the couple settled in a different Irish provincial town, advertising concerts and balls by Mrs Crow and instrumental tuition by her husband. In 1768–9 they were in Limerick. In the summer of 1770 they gave a concert followed by a ball in Bandon and another in Cork. But although Mr Crow announced his intention of settling in Cork for the coming winter and giving lessons in the violin and guitar, it was an Italian musician, Signor Borghese, who provided the city's musical entertainments for that season.
It is not known where the Crows spent the winter of 1771–2. In October 1772 they were in Belfast and began their most extensive series of entertainments yet, putting on concerts and balls once a month throughout the winter at the Assembly Room. Additional concerts were held in Lisburn, Downpatrick, and Carrickfergus. Their final concert and ball was held in Belfast on 30 April 1773. Rachael Baptist's repertoire as a singer was typical of the period, consisting largely of contemporary arrangements of popular Irish and Scottish airs and concert arias by G. F. Handel (qv), Boyce, and Thomas Arne.
Nothing is known of her life after 1773, the date of her death, or any children she may have had.