Thomas Dilward

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Thomas Dilward, c. 1855–65

Thomas Dilward (1840–1902), also known by the stage name Japanese Tommy, was an African-American dwarf who performed in the blackface minstrel show. He was also sometimes billed as "The African 'Tom Thumb'" and the "African Dwarf Tommy".[1]

Dilwared is one of only two known Blacks to have performed with white minstrel companies before the American Civil War (the other being William Henry Lane). Dilward's size, between 23 and 36 inches in height, made him a "curious attraction"[2] and allowed him to take to the stage with whites at a time when almost no black men did; in addition, his stage name may have been intended to hide his ethnic background. He was famous for his skills at singing, dancing, and playing the violin. He has also been credited in John Russell Bartlett’s 1877 Dictionary of Americanisms with having invented the word hunky-dory, meaning "everything is all right".[1]


Dilward was born in Brooklyn, New York.[1] He first performed with George Christy in 1853, possibly as a response to General Tom Thumb, a dwarf appearing in productions staged by P. T. Barnum. Into the late 1860s, Dilward performed with Dan Bryant's Minstrels, Wood's Minstrels, the Morris Brothers' Minstrels, and Kelly and Leon's Minstrels. Beginning in the 1860s, he appeared with a number of black minstrel troupes.

Modern writers, such as Mel Watkins, cite Dilward as possibly being one of the first black entertainers to present some element of authentic black dance on the white American stage. He would also have had opportunity to present some degree of black comedy and song, but he probably did not stray far from the traditional, white-defined material.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Andrew Kuntz, "Fiddle Tune History -- Minstrel Tales: Picayune Butler and Japanese Tommy 'Hunky Dory!'", Fiddler Magazine, May 24, 2012.
  2. ^ Toll, Robert C. (1974). Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 198. OCLC 1121331. 
  3. ^ Watkins, Mel (1994). On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying—The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 109. ISBN 9780671689827. OCLC 29024506.