John J. Nathans

From the list of elephant persons Family: Nathans

John J. Nathans
John Jay   Nathans

Personal details
Country United States

Title owner 1875-1875
Location at June, Nathans & Co Circus in United States

Title owner 1865
Location at Great European Circus in United States

Title owner 1855-1859
Location at Sands, Nathans & Co in United States

Title owner 1839-1839
Location at Hall, Nathans, Tufts & Co in United States

Title owner -
Location at Sands and Nathans Circus in United States

Biography details

John Jay Nathans , circus director in United States


John Nathans was a younger brother of Thomas B. Nathans.

Records about John J. Nathans from the Circus Historical Society
The introduction of John J. Nathans into our narrative marks the inclusion of one of the outstanding personalities in nineteenth-century circus history. Active from this time until his retirement in 1880, J. J. Nathans was one of the few performers who was able to become a truly outstanding manager. As with his contemporaries, Richard Sands, Charles J. Rogers and Seth B. Howes, he bridged the gap between competence in the ring and the ability to manage large organizations. While he was not the equal of the others as rider, it was only a matter of degree, and he appears to have been every bit their equal as a manager. Like them, he was able to make and keep a great deal of money. All of these gentlemen retired with relative wealth.
Stuart Thayer, American Circus Anthology Part Three: Biographies, The Nathans, a Circus Family

Buckley, Hopkins, Tufts & Co spent the winter of 1838-39 exhibiting in Baltimore and Washington and Philadelphia and in the latter city J. J. Hall and John J. Nathans bought out the interest of Matthew Buckley and Hopkins’ and the title became Hall, Nathans, Tufts & Co.

At some time in the 1840s, date uncertain, John J. married Mary Amilia Pastor, like himself a native of Philadelphia. She may or may not have been related to the Pastor brothers of New York, who were later apprentices of John’s.

In 1841 he became associated with the original “Flatfoots,” that Group of New York showmen whose main intersts were the various shows titled June, Titus, Angevine & Co. He was with them in 1841 and 1842. In the first of these years he was manager of their third unit, which became the Eastern Division (of two) in 1842. He also performed with these troupes and an 1842 ad said of him: “. . . a superb display of force, agility and a proof of how far the powers of human strength can be applied by perseverance and practice, in training the body to deeds of elasticity and manly exercises . . . ” (2)

The reference here is to Nathans’ abilty to carry his apprentices on his shoulders and arms while standing on horseback. This was known as a carrying act.

When June, Titus, Angevine & Co. went out of business after the 1842 season Nathans caught on with Rufus Welch and was part of his organization for the next nine years. It was under Welch’s tutelage that Nathans advanced to the front rank of showmen. As performer, manager and part-owner of several shows with Welch he apparently learned the business to such an extent that he was ever after in demand by his peers.

The circuses in which Nathans was involved over these years read as follows: 1843 - Welch & Mann; 1844 - Welch, Mann & Delavan; 1845 - Welch, Mann & Delavan; 1846 - Welch, Mann & Delavan; 1847 - Welch & Delavan; 1848 - Welch, Delavan & Nathans; 1849 - Welch, Delavan & Nathans; 1850 - Welch, Delavan & Nathans; 1851 - Welch & Nathans.

Nathans took Frank Pastor as an apprentice in 1845. Nathans has been described as “an old friend of the (Pastor) family,” and, as we mentioned, there must have been some connection through his wife.

Frank Pastor (1837-1885) went on to become an accomplished pad rider (as was his mentor) and the best performer of the three Pastor brothers. He first appeared in the ring in early 1846 in what was termed “introductory horsemanship.” This was an act in which he rode a horse on a long lead - a safety rein - held by Nathans.

In 1847 Nathans took an apprentice Antonio (Tony) Pastor, who gained fame as a music-hall singer and even more fame as a New York restauranteur. Pastor (1832-1908) is quoted as saying, “Mr. Nathans got the consent of my mother and I was apprenticed to him. In reality it was to learn to be an equestrian and acrobat, but as these things were not legally recognized, my apprentice papers read that I was to learn to be a farrier and veterinary man.” (4) At some time prior to this Nathans had taken on William Pastor (b.1840) as a third pupil so he had all three of the brothers under his wing in 1848.

The above list indicates Nathans’ name in the title of one show in 1848; Welch’s National Circus was also on tour. If he was an investor in this concern, he owned part of one of the larger circuses.

William Delavan retired after the 1850 season and the title was shortened to Welch & Nathans. John Nathans was the featured rider, appearing at various times on one, two, four and six horses. This 1851 season saw the introduction of Miss Emma Nathans, “infantile equestrian, whose daring feats astonish all spectators,” as well as Master Philo Nathans, “infant prodigy only four years of age, elegant in his most extraordinary exercises.”

Emma C. Paulin (Emma Nathans) appears to be J. J.’s stepdaughter. Apparently, his wife had been married before; the records tell us nothing. Emma was eleven years-old in this year of her debut.

Philo Nathans was perhaps ten years old in 1851. Advertised often as J. J.’s son, Philo, he was J. J.’s apprentice. His real name was Philo Rust. He was an Orphan from Syracuse, New York. It was not unusual for apprentices to adopt their master’s name.

At the end of the 1859 tour the partners sold the firm to Quick, Smith and Chiarini, who in turn sold out to Charles Forshay. Forshay continued using the Sands title until Sands’ untimely death in 1861. Nathans seems to have sat out the 1860 season.

Apparently concerned with the effect of the Civil War on the entertainment business, Nathans outfitted the Metropolitan Circus in 1862 and with it toured the Mediterranean ports.

This Group, Nathans, George F. Bailey, Lewis June, Avery Smith and G. C. Quick, were to dominate the circus business in the eastern part of the country for the next decade (ceding the West to Spalding & Rogers and not yet being affected by the meteoric rise of Adam Forepaugh). A greater pool of managerial talent had not existed since the collapse of the Zoological Institute and another was not seen until the rise of the Ringling Brothers. Like these last, the partners in the new “Flatfoot” Group each had his specialty within the various organizations they toured. George F. Bailey (1818-1903) was the “nuts and bolts” man who saw to the day-to-day operations; Nathans supervised the performance; Lewis June (1824-1888) was in charge of advertising; Gerard Quick (1811- 1869) was the menagerie expert; and Avery Smith (1814-1876) counted the money.

The Sands, Nathans & Co. elephants were named Albert, Victoria. Anthony and Cleopatra; Victoria was not the original of that name. In 1856 Sands and Nathans had imported Albert and Victoria from England where they had been the property of William Cooke and the animal stars of Batty’s Circus.

Albert had been trained to climb a fifteen-foot ramp, at the top of which he did a headstand. The two bulls were exhibited on various circuses for several years and in 1859 or 1860 were leased to John Wilson, the California showman. Victoria died in June, 1860, during this lease. Anthony and Cleopatra were imported by the partners in 1857, no doubt because Albert and Victoria had been so popular. Anthony died in Belfast, Maine, on July 24, 1866.

Isaac Nathans, father of Thomas and John J., died in 1861. John J.’s wife, Mary, died in 1869.

John J. Nathans married again in 1874. We mention this outside the order of our chronology because of his wife’s career. Her name was Lucy Jane Watson and she was of an English circus family. When Seth B. Howes brought his Great European Circus from England in 1864, Lucy Watson accompanied it and performed as an equestrienne from that year until her marriage to J. J. Nathans at age twenty-nine.

In December of 1875 she gave birth to John Avery Nathans. Two years later she presented J. J. with a daughter, Mabel Jay, and yet a third child, Elizabeth Lucy, a year or so later. Elizabeth Lucy died at two and a half months.

Reference list


Koehl, Dan, (2024). director John Jay Nathans in United States. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 21 February 2024 at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

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Categories director | circus | June, Nathans & Co Circus | Nathans family | People from United States

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