In November 2017 we released a story about Carlos Trower and his performances in Hull and East Yorkshire. As a result, last month we were contacted by Ron Howard, who has been trying to retrace his family tree and find out more about the men who used the show name ‘The African Blondin.’ In our original piece (which can be read here) we alluded to the difficulty of tracing the life of the famous tightrope walker as there appeared to be more than one Carlos Trower and thus more than one African Blondin.
Below is Ron’s account of the nineteenth century legend who remains an enigma and his struggles in finding out about his Great Grandfather.
Was Carlos Trower the only African Blondin or were there two or three relatives sharing a similar name clouding my research? My Great Grandfather Carlos L. Trower who married Annie Frances Emmett in Barnstaple Devon in 1875 is the focus of my narrative. 
My interest in Family History began on the death of my Grandmother Gyneeta Caledonia Howard nee Trower in 1968. Her possessions included a framed picture of a slight man of African descent on a tightrope, the rope was fixed to the wall of a tower. Spectators included an attentive lady, two young girls sitting on the wall and a few watchful men. To complete the picture a wagon stood at the tower entrance. This picture was the catalyst for my lifetime passion to confirm the truth regarding the Carlos story.
Frequent visits to the Family Records Centre in London soon showed promising results confirming that my maternal line originated in Speeton, Yorkshire with my Great Grandfather Martin Luther. His father, Martin Collingwood Luther was born in Maryland USA in 1804. My Paternal side including Gyneeta, confirmed that my Great Grandmother Annie Frances Emmett married Carlos in the Barnstaple Parish Church in 1875. Carlos was a 25-year-old bachelor who was working as a travelling acrobat. It is likely that he had learned his skills from his father Charles Trower, who was also a travelling acrobat.
Carlos was shown in the 1881 census as being born in New York City in 1850. My correspondence to American Circus organisations offered polite but negative responses. However, my luck changed within a few weeks when I received confirmation from The American Library of Congress that Carlos known as ‘The African Blondin’ died in London in 1889 following a long and painful illness.
A new lead that Carlos had a professional name gave me the encouragement to widen my search. I visited the Newspaper Archives in Colindale, North West London. However, this proved to be a fruitless visit. However, I was rewarded when the archives were downloaded on a computer. On searching “African Blondin” I was staggered with the final count, over the next three days I copied each one. When I eventually entered my findings on a PC file called the Carlos Chronicle, it occupied over seventy pages.
A Trower family contact gave me yet another source, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle that detailed even more articles of Carlos’s New York City appearances.
The internet was to become my main source, hungry for facts I entered my favourite phrase “African Blondin” it mentioned Rosherville Gardens a nineteenth century pleasure garden in Gravesend. Eager to find out more, Rose (my wife) and I visited the Gravesend Local History department the next day. I could not control my excitement when the curator opened a book called “Gravesend in Old Photographs” and turned to page 47 where it showed a photograph of ‘The African Blondin,’ a replica of my Grandmother’s photograph but showing a different of tightrope walker, a midlife well-built Black man in a traditional tightrope pose.
My Brooklyn Eagle research was about to add to my excitement. A Joseph Augustus Trower brother (not sure if was a relation or this was a show name) of Carlos Trower managed the Grand Union Celebration of the British West India Islands over many years.  Unfortunately my US research has not helped in finding any personal Carlos details other than his Grand Celebration appearances and a proposed performance trip to Connecticut with Joseph.
The family research website Ancestry reveals that there was another Carlos L. Trower who married Myra Clay in Longton Staffordshire 1864, yet another tightrope walker, is he my Great Grandfather? Or was my Carlos his son or close relation? In my opinion there were two African Blondin’s sharing performances. Myra was recorded as living at 67 Mill Street, North Myton, Kingston upon Hull with her son Carlos in the 1871 census. Carlos it would appear, was not at the same address. He almost lost his life when falling badly at Beverley in 1868. In great agony he was carried to his lodgings with a broken arm and wrist. However, two months later he was yet again performing in Beverley.
An interesting chapter “The African Blondin” in the book “Stanley’s Summer Visit” published 1882 mentions “the abundance of black dull hair the man had no Negro skin, his complexion being a copper yellow and his eyes being soft, brown and luminous like those of a deer” this contradicts an earlier description in an article describing Carlos being “a real Negro.” Does this reveal that there were two African Blondin’s? The African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire project has demonstrated multiple lion tamers used the same show names so tracing their lives and true identities are difficult (read the story of lion tamers in Hull and East Yorkshire).
In conclusion my quest is far from over, I am aware of my limited expert knowledge, but it is beyond doubt that the Carlos who married Annie Frances Emmett was an African Blondin performer and is my Great Grandfather. However, it is still unclear if I am related to the Carlos L. Trower who married Myra Clay and had a son Carlos who lived in Hull.
Dr Lauren Darwin