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J. Hartford Armstrong

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J. Hartford Armstrong
BornJohn Hartford Armstrong
Spartanburg, South Carolina
DiedJune 16, 1939
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Resting placeSteven Foster Grove Cemetery in Charleston

J. Hartford Armstrong (?-1939) was one of the few black magicians who performed in the time span from 1900 to 1930. He very successful before African-American audiences in black churches and schools along the Atlantic seaboard from Key West to Philadelphia. He was reputed to have toured in Cuba and Europe. By magicians of his own race he was called “King of the Colored Conjurers”.


In the time span of 1901 and 1909 he toured with his brother Joseph (or Thomas) as the “Armstrong Brothers”. Early 1901 he teamed up briefly with a magician Jordan as "Armstrong and Jordan”. After he married Lillie Belle he teamed with her as the “The Celebrated Armstrongs” also known as the “Armstrong Company”.

In their performance, J.H. Armstrong entertained with standard effects as production of flowers, coin vanishes, and doves magic. Miss Armstrong entertained with mental effects and mindreading.

Daughter Ellen was probably born in 1913 and brother Joseph (or Thomas) helped out temporarily. Daughter Ellen was soon integrated into the show.

When J.H. Armstrong died, Ellen and Lille Belle Armstrong continued his tradition, performing magic for the African-American community. Ellen did standard effects such as the Mutilated Parasol and the Miser’s Dream, but she also did rag pictures and ventriloquism. [1] Lillie Bell died March 4, 1947.

About J.H Armstrong’s Biographical Data

J.H. Armstrong’s day of birth is in the cloud in the biographies it ranges between 1876 and 1886. His death is claim to be June 16, 1939. The biographical information contradicts each other in period (about 10 years), order and facts. [2] [3] Both information contradict the material contained in the University of South Carolina collection.


  1. [1] UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES DIGITAL COLLECTION of the University of South Carolina
  2. GENII, Vol. 55, No. 4, February 1992, The King of Colored Conjurers, by Jim Magus, page 260
  3. The Linking Ring, Vol. 86, No. 6, June 2006, Women in Magic A: Michael Claxton profiles Ellen Armstrong, page 57