Thomas Dilward, also known by the stage name “Japanese Tommy,” was an American dwarf who performed in the blackface minstrel show. He was also sometimes billed as “The African ‘Tom Thumb'” and the “African Dwarf Tommy.”
Dilward stood only three feet tall. He quickly developed talents to entertain people because this was the most promising plan to support himself. Dilward could sing, dance, act, and play the violin.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York. 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. For several years, 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.
He was one of the only two known African-Americans to perform with white minstrel companies before the American Civil War, the other of which was Henry “Juba” Lane. These black minstrel troupes made appearances around the mid-1850s.
He is credited with first using the word “hunky-dory,” which means, “Everything is all right.” Even though Dilward faced extreme inequality and discrimination, he made the best of his situation and embraced his size and race. Dilward died in 1902.