Anne Brunton was born on 30 May 1769, probably in London. She was one of the fourteen children of the actor-manager John Brunton (1741-1822) and his wife (née Friend). Five of Anne’s siblings had stage careers (see the BDA). After receiving some experience at Bristol and Bath, Anne Brunton made her London debut at Covent Garden on 17 October 1785, as Horatia in “The Roman Father”. She enjoyed great success in that portrayal, which was followed by even more acclaim as Euphrasia in “The Grecian Daughter” on the twenty-eighth. That season she subsequently acted an impressive array of capital roles, especially for someone about seventeen years of age: Juliet, Monimia in “The Orphan”, Hermione in “The Distrest Mother”, Zara in “The Mourning Bride” and Cordelia. The following season she added Alicia in “Jane Shore”, Calista in “The Fair Penitent”, Perdita in “The Winter’s Tale” and Beatrice – her first comic role – in “Much Ado about Nothing”. She remained at Covent Garden through 1791-92, expanding her repertoire and earning a reputation as a truly affecting actress with elegant taste.
Elizabeth Brunton’s career was to be closely tied with her series of husbands. On 22 August 1791 she married the Della Cruscan writer and bon vivant Robert Merry and returned to Covent Garden in September as Mrs Merry. At the end of the 1791-92 season she left Covent Garden and went into temporary retirement. In September 1796 the Merrys sailed to America, where Mrs Merry was engaged by Thomas Wignell for his Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. She made her debut there on 5 December 1796 as Juliet and was a great success; the press claimed she would not fail ‘at once to establish her own fame, and to reflect honour on the American drama.’ In her first season at Philadelphia she acted fifteen major roles, including some she had never played in London: Belvidera in “Venice Preserv’d”, Portia in “The Merchant of Venice” and Gertrude in “Hamlet”. On 23 August 1797 she made her New York debut at the Greenwich Street Theatre as Belvidera. In Baltimore on 24 December 1798 Merry died from a stroke.
Mrs Merry continued to act in major east coast cities, but mainly at Philadelphia, where on 1 January 1803 she married her manager Thomas Wignell. But seven weeks later he died from an infected arm. Three years later, on 28 August 1806, she married William Warren, an actor and at the time lessee of the Chestnut Street Theatre. She appeared as Mrs Warren for the first time in Baltimore in October 1806. She gave her last performance, as Belvidera, at Baltimore on 23 May 1808 and died on 28 June 1808 from complications of giving birth to a stillborn son at Alexandria, Virginia, where she was buried in the churchyard of Christ Church. One obituary writer mourned that the American stage had been ‘deprived of its brightest ornament.’
Anne Brunton is the subject of an excellent study by Gresdna Doty, “The Career of Mrs. Anne Brunton Merry in the American Theatre” (1971). In addition to her portrait in the Garrick Club by De Wilde of her as Alzira (G0096), numerous other portraits of her were done. (BDA)