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A UNIQUE STORY OF A MARVELLOUS CAREER.
LIFE OF Hon. PHINEAS T. BARNUM. ----
COMPRISING HIS BOYHOOD, YOUTH, ...
By JOEL BENTON.
CHAPTER I. IN THE BEGINNING.
Family and Birth--School Life--His First Visit to New York
City--A Landed Proprietor--The Ethics of Trade--Farm Work and
Keeping Store--Meeting-house and Sunday-school--"The One Thing
CHAPTER II. EARLY YEARS AT BETHEL.
Death of his Grandmother and Father--Left Penniless and
Bare-footed--Work in a Store--His First Love--Trying to buy
Russia--Uncle Bibbin's Duel
CHAPTER III. BUSINESS LIFE
Removal to Brooklyn--Smallpox--Goes Home to Recover His
Health--Renewed Acquaintance with the Pretty Tailoress--First
Independent Business Venture--Residence in New York--Return to
CHAPTER IV. TRYING MANY VENTURES.
Visit to Pittsburg--Successful Lottery Business--Marriage--First
Editorial Venture--Libel Suit--Imprisonment and
Liberation--Removal to New York--Hard Times--Keeping a Boarding
CHAPTER V. BEGINNING AS A SHOWMAN.
Finding His True Vocation--The Purchase of Joice Heth--Evidence
as to Her Age--Her Death--Signor Vivalla--Visit to
Washington--Joining a Travelling Circus--Controversies with
Ministers--The Victim of a Practical Joke
CHAPTER VI. INCIDENTS OF A CIRCUS TOUR.
Beating a Landlord--A Joke on Turner--Barnum as a Preacher and as
a Negro Minstrel--A Bad Man with a Gun--Dealing with a
Sheriff--"Lady Hayes"--An Embarrassed Juggler--Barnum as a
CHAPTER VII. HARD TIMES.
Advertising for a Partner--"Quaker Oats"--Diamond the Dancer--A
Dishonest Manager--Return to New York--From Hand to Mouth--The
CHAPTER VIII. THE AMERICAN MUSEUM.
Advertising Extraordinary--A Quick-witted Performer--Niagara
Falls with Real Water--Other Attractions--Drummond Light
CHAPTER IX. INCREASED POPULARITY OF THE MUSEUM.
The American Flag and St. Paul's--St. Patrick's Day--The Baby
Show--Grand Buffalo Hunt--N. P. Willis--The First Wild West Show
CHAPTER X. GIANTS AND DWARFS.
Science for the Public--Mesmerism Extraordinary--Killing off a
Rival--The Two Giants--Discovery of "Tom Thumb"--Seeking Other
Worlds to Conquer--First Visit to England
CHAPTER XI. TOM THUMB IN LONDON.
An Aristocratic Visitor--Calling at Buckingham Palace and
Hobnobbing with Royalty--Getting a Puff in the "Court
Circular"--The Iron Duke--A Great Social and Financial Success
CHAPTER XII. IN FRANCE.
Arrival in Paris--Visit to the Tuilleries--Longchamps--"Tom
Ponce" all the Rage--Bonaparte and Louis Phillipi--Tour through
CHAPTER XIII. IN BELGIUM.
Presented to King Leopold and the Queen--The General's Jewels
stolen--The Field of Waterloo--An Accident--An Expensive
Equipage--The Custom of the Country
CHAPTER XIV. IN ENGLAND AGAIN.
Egyptian Hall and the Zoological Garden--The Special
Relics--Purchase of the Happy Family--Return to America
CHAPTER XV. AT HOME.
Partnership with Tom Thumb--Visit to Cuba--Iranistan, his Famous
Palace at Bridgeport--Barnum's Game-Keeper and the Great Game
CHAPTER XVI. JENNY LIND.
A Daring Venture--Barnum's Ambassador--Unprecedented Terms
offered--Text of the Contract--Hard Work to Raise the Guarantee
Fund--Educating the American Mind to receive the Famous Singer
CHAPTER XVII. ARRIVAL OF JENNY LIND.
First Meeting with Barnum--Reception in New York--Poems in Her
Honor--A Furore of Public Interest--Sale of Tickets for the First
Concert--Barnum's Change in Terms--Ten Thousand Dollars for
Charity--Enormous Success of the First Concert
CHAPTER XVIII. CONTINUED TRIUMPH.
Successful Advertising--The Responsibilities of Riches--Visit to
Iranistan--Ovations at Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and
Washington--Visit to Mt. Vernon--Charleston--Havana--Fredericka
CHAPTER XIX. HAVANA.
Conquest of the Habaneros--The Italian and his Dog--Mad
Bennett--A Successful Ruse--Return to New Orleans--Ludicrous
Incident--Up the Mississippi--Legerdemain
CHAPTER XX. THE TRIALS OF AN IMPRESSARIO.
St Louis--The Secretary's Little Game--Legal Advice--Smooth
Waters Again--Barnum's Efforts Appreciated--An Extravagant
CHAPTER XXI. CLOSING THE GRAND TOUR.
April Fool Jokes at Nashville--A Trick at Cincinnati--Return to
New York--Jenny Lind Persuaded to Leave Barnum--Financial Results
of the Enterprise
CHAPTER XXII. A FEW SIDE ISSUES.
The Expedition to Ceylon--Harnessing an Elephant to a
Plow--Barnum and Vanderbilt--The Talking Machine--A Fire at
Iranistan--Mountain Grove Cemetery
CHAPTER XXIII. SOME DOMESTIC ENTERPRISES.
Putting a Pickpocket on Exhibition--Traveling Incognito--The
Pequonnock Bank--The New York Crystal Palace--A Poem on an
Incident at Iranistan
CHAPTER XXIV. THE JEROME CLOCK COMPANY.
Founding East Bridgeport--Growth of the City--The Jerome Clock
Bubble--A Ruined Man--Paying Honest Debts--Down in the Depths
CHAPTER XXV. THE WHEAT AND THE CHAFF.
False and True Friends--Meeting of Bridgeport Citizens--Barnum's
Letter--Tom Thumb's Offer--Shillaber's Poem--Barnum's Message to
the Creditors of the Jerome Clock Company--Removal to New
York--Beginning Life Anew at Forty-six
CHAPTER XXVI. IDLENESS WITHOUT REST.
Annoying Persecutions of Creditors--Summer on Long Island--The
Black Whale Pays the Board Bill--The Wheeler & Wilson Company
Remove to East Bridgeport--Setting Sail for England
CHAPTER XXVII. A PROSPEROUS EXILE.
His Successful Pupil--Making Many Friends in London--Acquaintance
with Thackeray--A Comedy of Errors in a German Custom
House--Aristocratic Patronage at Fashionable Resorts--Barnum's
Impressions of Holland and the Dutch
CHAPTER XXVIII. HOME AGAIN.
A Jolly Voyage--Mock Trial on Shipboard--Barnum on Trial for His
Life--Discomfited Witnesses and a Triumphant Prisoner--Fair
Weather Friends--The Burning of Iranistan
CHAPTER XXIX. THE ART OF MONEY GETTING.
The Lecture Field--Success--Cambridge--Oxford--An Unique
Entertainment--Barnum Equal to the Occasion--Invited to Stay a
CHAPTER XXX. AN ENTERPRISING ENGLISHMAN.
A New Friend--Dinner to Tom Thumb and Commodore Nutt--Measuring
the Giant--The Two Engines
CHAPTER XXXI. AT HOME AGAIN.
The Clock Debts Paid--The Museum once more under Barnum's
Management--Enthusiastic Reception--His Speech--Two Poems
CHAPTER XXXII. THE STORY OF "GRIZZLY ADAMS."
Barnum's Partnership with the Famous Bear Hunter--Fooling Him
with the "Golden Pigeons"--Adams Earns $500 at Desperate
Cost--Tricking Barnum out of a Fine Hunting Suit--Prosperity of
the Museum--Visit of the Prince of Wales
CHAPTER XXXIII. BUILDING A CITY.
At Home Once More--Growth of East Bridgeport--Barnum's Offer to
Men Wanting Homes of Their Own--Remarkable Progress of the
Place--How the Streets were Named
CHAPTER XXXIV. A GREAT YEAR AT THE MUSEUM.
Capturing and Exhibiting White Whales--Newspaper Comments--A
Touching Obituary--The Great Behemoth--A Long "Last
Week"--Commodore Nutt--Real Live Indians on Exhibition
CHAPTER XXXV. GENERAL AND MRS. TOM THUMB.
Miss Lavinia Warren--The Rivals--Miss Warren's Engagement to Tom
Thumb--The Wedding--Grand Reception--Letter From a Would-be
Guest, and Dr Taylor's Reply
CHAPTER XXXVI. POLITICAL NOTES.
Barnum Becomes a Republican--Illuminating the House of a
Democrat--The Peace Meeting--Elected to the Legislature--War on
the Railroads--Speech on the Amendment
CHAPTER XXXVII. BURNING OF THE AMERICAN MUSEUM.
How Barnum Received the Tidings--Humorous Description of the
Fire--A Public Calamity--Greeley's Advice--Intention to
Re-establish the Museum--Speech at Employees' Benefit
CHAPTER XXXVIII. POLITICAL LIFE.
In the Connecticut Legislature--The Great Railroad
Fight--Barnum's Effective Stroke--Canvassing for a United States
Senator--Barnum's Congressional Campaign--A Challenge that was
CHAPTER XXXIX. FIGHTING A NEWSPAPER.
Disposing of the Lease of the Museum Site--The Bargain with Mr.
Bennett--Barnum's Refusal to Back Out--A Long and Bitter War with
"The Herald"--Action of the Other Managers--The Return of Peace
CHAPTER XL. BRIDGEPORT.
The Fight for the Establishment of Seaside Park--Laying out City
Streets--Impatience with "Old Fogies"--Building a Seaside
Home--Waldemere--A Home in New York City
CHAPTER XLI. HONORS AND ADULATIONS.
Second Marriage--The King of Hawaii--Elected Mayor of
Bridgeport--Successful Tour of the Hippodrome--Barnum's
Retirement from Office
CHAPTER I. IN THE BEGINNING.
FAMILY AND BIRTH--SCHOOL LIFE--HIS FIRST VISIT TO NEW YORK CITY
--A LANDED PROPRIETOR--THE ETHICS OF TRADE--FARM WORK AND KEEPING
STORE--MEETING-HOUSE AND SUNDAY SCHOOL--"THE ONE THING NEEDFUL."
Among the names of great Americans of the nineteenth century
there is scarcely one more familiar to the world than that of the
subject of this biography. There are those that stand for higher
achievement in literature, science and art, in public life and in
the business world. There is none that stands for more notable
success in his chosen line, none that recalls more memories of
wholesome entertainment, none that is more invested with the
fragrance of kindliness and true humanity. His career was, in a
large sense, typical of genuine Americanism, of its enterprise
and pluck, of its indomitable will and unfailing courage, of its
shrewdness, audacity and unerring instinct for success.
Like so many of his famous compatriots, Phineas Taylor Barnum
came of good old New England stock. His ancestors were among the
builders of the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. His
father's father, Ephraim Barnum, was a captain in the War of the
Revolution, and was distinguished for his valor and for his
fervent patriotism. His mother's father, Phineas Taylor, was
locally noted as a wag and practical joker. His father, Philo
Barnum, was in turn a tailor, a farmer, a storekeeper, and a
country tavernkeeper, and was not particularly prosperous in any
of these callings.
Philo Barnum and his wife, Irena Taylor, lived at Bethel,
Connecticut, and there, on July 5, 1810, their first child was
born. He was named Phineas Taylor Barnum, after his maternal
grandfather; and the latter, in return for the compliment,
bestowed upon his first grandchild at his christening the
title-deeds of a "landed estate," five acres in extent, known as
Ivy Island, and situated in that part of, Bethel known as the
"Plum Trees." Of this, more anon.
In his early years the boy led the life of the average New
England farmer's son of that period. He drove the cows to and
from the pasture, shelled corn, weeded the garden, and "did up
chores." As he grew older he rode the horse in plowing corn,
raked hay, wielded the shovel and the hoe, and chopped wood. At
six years old he began to go to school--the typical district
school. "The first date," he once said, "I remember inscribing
upon my writing-book was 1818." The ferule, or the birch-rod, was
in those days the assistant schoolmaster, and young Barnum made
its acquaintance. He was, however, an apt and ready scholar,
particularly excelling in mathematics. One night, when he was ten
years old, he was called out of bed by his teacher, who had made
a wager with a neighbor that Barnum could calculate the number of
feet in a load of wood in five minutes. Barnum did it in less
than two minutes, to the delight of his teacher and the
astonishment of the neighbor.
At an early age he manifested a strong development of the good
old Yankee organ of acquisitiveness. Before he was five years old
he had begun to hoard pennies and "fourpences," and at six years
old he was able to exchange his copper bits for a whole silver
dollar, the possession of which made him feel richer than he ever
felt afterward in all his life. Nor did he lay the dollar away in
a napkin, but used it in business to gain more. He would get ten
cents a day for riding a horse before the plow, and he would add
it to his capital. On holidays other boys spent all their
savings, but not so he. Such days were to him opportunities for
gain, not for squandering. At the fair or training of troops, or
other festivity, he would peddle candy and cakes, home-made, or
sometimes cherry rum, and by the end of the day would be a dollar
or two richer than at its beginning. "By the time I was twelve
years old," he tells us, "I was the owner of a sheep and a calf,
and should soon, no doubt, have become a small Croesus had not my
father kindly permitted me to purchase my own clothing, which
somewhat reduced my little store."
At ten years of age, realizing himself to be a "landed
proprietor" through the christening gift of his waggish
grandsire, young Barnum set out to survey his estate, which he
had not yet seen. He had heard much of "Ivy Island." His
grandfather had often, in the presence of the neighbors, spoken
of him as the richest child in the town, since he owned the whole
of Ivy Island, the richest farm in the State. His parents hoped
he would use his wealth wisely, and "do something for the family"
when he entered upon the possession of it; and the neighbors were
fearful lest he should grow too proud to associate with their
The boy took all this in good faith, and his eager curiosity to
behold his estate was greatly increased, and he asked his father
to let him go thither. "At last," says Barnum, "he promised I
should do so in a few days, as we should be getting some hay near
'Ivy Island.' The wished-for day arrived, and my father told me
that as we were to mow an adjoining meadow. I might visit my
property in company with the hired man during the 'nooning.' My
grandfather reminded me that it was to his bounty I was indebted
for this wealth, and that had not my name been Phineas I might
never have been proprietor of 'Ivy Island.' To this my mother
" 'Now, Taylor, don't become so excited when you see your
property as to let your joy make you sick, for remember, rich as
you are, that it will be eleven years before you can come into
possession of your fortune.'
"She added much more good advice, to all of which I promised to
be calm and reasonable, and not to allow my pride to prevent me
from speaking to my brothers and sisters when I returned home.
"When we arrived at the meadow, which was in that part of the
'Plum Trees' known as 'East Swamp,' I asked my father where 'Ivy
" 'Yonder, at the north end of this meadow, where you see those
beautiful trees rising in the distance.'
"All the forenoon I turned grass as fast as two men could cut it,
and after a hasty repast at noon, one of our hired men, a
good-natured Irishman, named Edmund, took an axe on his shoulder
and announced that he was ready to accompany me to 'Ivy Island.'
We started, and as we approached the north end of the meadow we
found the ground swampy and wet and were soon obliged to leap
from bog to bog on our route. A mis-step brought me up to my
middle in water, and to add to the dilemma a swarm of hornets
attacked me. Attaining the altitude of another bog I was cheered
by the assurance that there was only a quarter of a mile of this
kind of travel to the edge of my property. I waded on. In about
fifteen minutes more, after floundering through the morass, I
found myself half-drowned, hornet-stung, mud covered, and out of
breath, on comparatively dry land.
" 'Never mind, my boy,' said Edmund, 'we have only to cross this
little creek, and ye'll be upon your own valuable property.'
"We were on the margin of a stream, the banks of which were
thickly covered with alders. I now discovered the use of Edmund's
axe, for he felled a small oak to form a temporary bridge to my
'Island' property. Crossing over, I proceeded to the centre of my
domain. I saw nothing but a few stunted ivies and straggling
trees. The truth flashed upon me. I had been the laughing-stock
of the family and neighborhood for years. My valuable 'Ivy
Island' was an almost inaccessible, worthless bit of barren land,
and while I stood deploring my sudden downfall, a huge black
snake (one of my tenants) approached me with upraised head. I
gave one shriek and rushed for the bridge.
"This was my first and last visit to 'Ivy Island.' My father
asked me 'how I liked my property?' and I responded that I would
sell it pretty cheap."
The year 1822 was a memorable one in his childhood's history. He
was then about twelve years old. One evening, late in January,
Daniel Brown, a cattle-drover, of Southbury, Connecticut, arrived
at Bethel and stopped for the night at Philo Barnum's tavern. He
had with him some fat cattle, which he was driving to the New
York markets; and he wanted both to add to his drove of cattle
and to get a boy to help him drive them. Our juvenile hero heard
him say this, and forthwith made application for the job. His
father and mother gave their consent, and a bargain was quickly
closed with the drover.
"At daylight next morning," Barnum himself has related, "I
started on foot in the midst of a heavy snow-storm to help drive
the cattle. Before reaching Ridgefield I was sent on horseback
after a stray ox, and, in galloping, the horse fell and my ankle
was sprained. I suffered severely, but did not complain lest my
employer should send me back. We arrived at New York in three or
four days, and put up at the Bull's Head Tavern, where we were to
stay a week while the drover disposed of his cattle. It was an
eventful week for me. Before I left home my mother had given me a
dollar, which I supposed would supply every want that heart could
His first outlay was for oranges. "I was told," he says, "that
they were four pence apiece, and as four pence in Connecticut was
six cents, I offered ten cents for two oranges, which was of
course readily taken; and thus, instead of saving two cents, as I
thought, I actually paid two cents more than the price demanded.
I then bought two more oranges, reducing my capital to eighty
cents. Thirty-one cents was the charge for a small gun which
would 'go off' and send a stick some little distance, and this
gun I bought. Amusing myself with this toy in the bar-room of the
Bull's Head, the arrow happened to hit the bar-keeper, who
forthwith came from behind the counter and shook me, and soundly
boxed my ears, telling me to put that gun out of the way or he
would put it into the fire. I sneaked to my room, put my treasure
under the pillow, and went out for another visit to the toy shop.
"There I invested six cents in 'torpedoes,' with which I intended
to astonish my schoolmates in Bethel. I could not refrain,
however, from experimenting upon the guests of the hotel, which I
did when they were going in to dinner. I threw two of the
torpedoes against the wall of the hall through which the guests
were passing, and the immediate results were as follows: two loud
reports--astonished guests--irate landlord--discovery of the
culprit, and summary punishment--for the landlord immediately
floored me with a single blow with his open hand, and said:
" 'There, you little greenhorn, see if that will teach you better
than to explode your infernal fire-crackers in my house again.'
"The lesson was sufficient if not entirely satisfactory. I
deposited the balance of the torpedoes with my gun, and as a
solace for my wounded feelings I again visited the toy shop,
where I bought a watch, breastpin and top, leaving but eleven
cents of my original dollar.
"The following morning found me again at the fascinating toy
shop, where I saw a beautiful knife with two blades, a gimlet,
and a corkscrew--a whole carpenter shop in miniature, and all for
thirty-one cents. But, alas! I had only eleven cents. Have that
knife I must, however, and so I proposed to the shop-woman to
take back the top and breastpin at a slight deduction, and with
my eleven cents to let me have the knife. The kind creature
consented, and this makes memorable my first 'swap.' Some fine
and nearly white molasses candy then caught my eye, and I
proposed to trade the watch for its equivalent in candy. The
transaction was made, and the candy was so delicious that before
night my gun was absorbed in the same way. The next morning the
torpedoes 'went off' in the same direction, and before night even
my beloved knife was similarly exchanged. My money and my goods
all gone, I traded two pocket-handkerchiefs and an extra pair of
stockings I was sure I should not want for nine more rolls of
molasses candy, and then wandered about the city disconsolate,
sighing because there was no more molasses candy to conquer."
During that first visit to the metropolis the boy doubtless many
times passed the corner of Ann street and Broadway, where, in
after years, his famous museum stood. After a week in town he
returned to Bethel, riding with Brown in his sleigh, and found
himself a social lion among his young friends. He was plied with
a thousand questions about the great city which he had visited,
and no doubt told many wondrous tales. But at home his reception
was not altogether glorious. His brothers and sisters were
disappointed because he brought them nothing, and his mother,
discovering that during his journey he had lost two handkerchiefs
and a pair of stockings, gave him a spanking and put him to bed.
A settled aversion to manual labor was strongly developed in the
boy as he grew older, which his father considered simple
laziness. Instead of trying to cure him of his laziness, however,
the father decided to give up the farm, and open a store, hoping
that the boy would take more kindly to mercantile duties. So he
put up a building in Bethel, and in partnership with one Hiram
Weed opened a "general store," of dry goods, hardware, groceries,
etc., and installed young Phineas as clerk. They did a "cash,
credit and barter" business, and the boy soon learned to drive
sharp bargains with women who brought butter, eggs, beeswax and
feathers to exchange for dry goods, and with men who wanted to
trade oats, corn, buckwheat, axehelves, hats and other
commodities for ten-penny nails, molasses or New England rum. It
was a drawback upon his dignity that he was obliged to take down
the shutters, sweep the store and make the fire. He received a
small salary for his services and the perquisites of what profit
he could derive from purchasing candies on his own account to
sell to their younger customers, and, as usual, his father
insisted that he should clothe himself.
There was much to be learned in a country store, and principally,
as he found, this: that sharp tricks, deception and dishonesty
are by no means confined to the city. More than once, in cutting
open bundles of rags, brought to be exchanged for goods, he found
stones, gravel or other rubbish wrapped up in them, although they
were represented to be "all pure linen or cotton." Often, too,
loads of grain were brought in, warranted to contain so many
bushels, but on measuring them they were found five or six
In the evenings and on stormy days the store was a general
meeting place for the idlers of the village, and young Barnum
derived much amusement from the story-telling and joke-playing
that went on among them. After the store was closed at night he
would generally go with some of the village boys to their homes
for an hour or two of sport, and then, as late, perhaps, as
eleven o'clock, would creep slyly home and make his way upstairs
barefooted, so as not to wake the rest of the family end be
detected in his late hours. He slept with his brother, who was
sure to report him if he woke him up on coming in, and who laid
many traps to catch Phineas on his return from the evening's
merry-making. But he generally fell fast asleep and our hero was
able to gain his bed in safety.
Like almost every one in Connecticut at that time he was brought
up to go regularly to church on Sunday, and before he could read
he was a prominent member of the Sunday-school. His pious mother
taught him lessons in the New Testament and Catechism, and spared
no efforts to have him win one of those "Rewards of Merit" which
promised "to pay to the bearer One Mill." Ten of them could be
exchanged for one cent, and by securing one hundred of them,
which might be done by faithful attendance and attention every
Sunday for two years, the happy scholar could secure a book worth
There was only one church or "meeting-house" in Bethel, and it
was of the Presbyterian faith; but every one in town attended it,
whatever their creed. It was a severely plain edifice, with no
spire and no bell. In summer it was comfortable enough, but in
winter it was awful! There was no arrangement for heating it, and
the congregation had to sit in the cold, shivering, teeth
chattering, noses blue. A stove would have been looked upon as a
sacrilegious innovation. The sermons were often two hours long,
and by the time they were ended the faithful listeners well
deserved the nickname of "blue-skins" which the scoffers gave to
them. A few of the wealthier women carried "foot-stoves" from
their homes to their pews. A "foot-stove" was simply a square tin
box in a wooden frame, with perforations in the sides. In it was
a small square iron dish, which contained a few live coals
covered with ashes. These stoves were usually replenished just
before meeting time at some neighbor's near the meeting-house.
After many years of shivering and suffering, one of the brethren
had the temerity to propose that the church should be warmed with
a stove. His impious proposition was voted down by an
overwhelming majority. Another year came around, and in November
the stove question was again brought up. The excitement was
immense. The subject was discussed in the village stores and in
the juvenile debating club; it was prayed over in conference; and
finally in general "society's meeting," in December, the stove
was carried by a majority of one and was introduced into the
meeting-house. On the first Sunday thereafter two ancient maiden
ladies were so oppressed by the dry and heated atmosphere
occasioned by the wicked innovation that they fainted away and
were carried out into the cool air, where they speedily returned
to consciousness, especially when they were informed that owing
to the lack of two lengths of pipe no fire had yet been made in
the stove. The next Sunday was a bitter cold day, and the stove,
filled with well-seasoned hickory, was a great gratification to
the many, and displeased only a few.
During the Rev. Mr. Lowe's ministrations at Bethel he formed a
Bible class, of which young Barnum was a member. They used to
draw promiscuously from a hat a text of Scripture and write a
composition on the text, which compositions were read after
service in the afternoon to such of the congregation as remained
to hear the exercises of the class. Once Barnum drew the text,
Luke x. 42: "But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that
good part which shall not be taken away from her." Question,
"What is the one thing needful?" His answer was nearly as
"This question, 'What is the one thing needful?' is capable of
receiving various answers, depending much upon the persons to
whom it is addressed. The merchant might answer that 'the one
thing needful' is plenty of customers, who buy liberally, without
beating down, and pay cash for all their purchases.' The farmer
might reply that 'the one thing needful is large harvests and
high prices.' The physician might answer that 'it is plenty of
patients.' The lawyer might be of opinion that 'it is an unruly
community, always engaging in bickerings and litigations.' The
clergyman might reply, 'It is a fat salary, with multitudes of
sinners seeking salvation and paying large pew rents.' The
bachelor might exclaim, 'It is a pretty wife who loves her
husband, and who knows how to sew on buttons.' The maiden might
answer, 'It is a good husband, who will love, cherish and protect
me while life shall last.' But the most proper answer, and
doubtless that which applied to the case of Mary, would be, 'The
one thing needful is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, follow
in his footsteps, love God and obey His commandments, love our
fellowman, and embrace every opportunity of administering to his
necessities.' In short, 'the one thing needful' is to live a life
that we can always look back upon with satisfaction, and be
enabled ever to contemplate its termination with trust in Him who
has so kindly vouchsafed it to us, surrounding us with
innumerable blessings, if we have but the heart and wisdom to
receive them in a proper manner."
The reading of a portion of this answer occasioned some amusement
in the congregation, in which the clergyman himself joined, and
the name of "Taylor Barnum" was whispered in connection with the
composition; but at the close of the reading Barnum had the
satisfaction of hearing Mr. Lowe say that it was a well-written
answer to the question, "What is the one thing needful?"
CHAPTER II. EARLY YEARS AT BETHEL.
DEATH OF HIS GRANDMOTHER AND FATHER--LEFT PENNILESS AND
BAREFOOTED--WORK IN A STORE--HIS FIRST LOVE--TRYING TO BUY
RUSSIA--UNCLE BIBBIN'S DUEL.
In August, 1825, the aged grandmother met with an accident in
stepping on the point of a rusty nail, which shortly afterwards
resulted in her death. She was a woman of great piety, and before
she died sent for each of her grandchildren--to whom she was
devoted--and besought them to lead a Christian life. Barnum was
so deeply impressed by that death-bed scene that through his
whole life neither the recollection of it, nor of the dying
woman's words, ever left him.
The elder Barnum was a man of many enterprises and few successes.
Besides being the proprietor of a hotel he owned a livery-stable,
ran a sort of an express, and kept a country store. Phineas was
his confidential clerk, and, if he did not reap much financial
benefit from his position, he at least obtained a good business
On the 7th of September, 1825, the father, after a six months'
illness, died at the age of forty-eight, leaving a wife and five
children and an insolvent estate. There was literally nothing
left for the family; the creditors seized everything; even the
small sum which Phineas had loaned his father was held to be the
property of a minor, and therefore belonging to the estate. The
boy was obliged to borrow money to buy the shoes he wore to the
funeral. At fifteen he began the world not only penniless but
He went at once to Grassy Plain, a few miles northwest of Bethel,
where he managed to obtain a clerkship in the store of James S.
Keeler and Lewis Whitlock, at the magnificent salary of six
dollars a month and his board. He had chosen his uncle, Alanson
Taylor, as his guardian, but made his home with Mrs. Jerusha
Wheeler and her two daughters; Mary and Jerusha. He worked hard
and faithfully, and so gained the esteem of his employers that
they afforded him many opportunities for making money on his own
account. His small speculations proved so successful that before
long he found himself in possession of quite a little sum.
"I made," says Barnum, "a very remarkable trade at one time for
my employers by purchasing, in their absence, a whole wagon-load
of green glass bottles of various sizes, for which I paid in
unsalable goods at very profitable prices. How to dispose of the
bottles was then the problem, and as it was also desirable to get
rid of a large quantity of tin-ware which had been in the shop
for years and was con-siderably 'shop worn,' I conceived the idea
of a lottery, in which the highest prize should be twenty-five
dollars, payable in any goods the winner desired, while there
were to be fifty prizes of five dollars each, payable in goods,
to be designated in the scheme. Then there were one hundred
prizes of one dollar each, one hundred prizes of fifty cents
each, and three hundred prizes of twenty-five cents each. It is
unnecessary to state that the minor prizes consisted mainly of
glass and tin-ware; the tickets sold like wildfire, and the worn
tin and glass bottles were speedily turned into cash."
Mrs Barnum still continued to keep the village hotel at Bethel,
and Phineas went home every Saturday night, going to church with
his mother on Sunday, and returning to his work Monday morning.
One Saturday evening Miss Mary Wheeler, at whose house the young
man boarded, sent him word that she had a young lady from Bethel
whom she desired him to escort home, as it was raining violently,
and the maiden was afraid to go alone. He assented readily
enough, and went over to "Aunt Rushia's," where he was introduced
to Miss Charity ("Chairy," for short) Hallett. She was a very
pretty girl and a bright talker, and the way home seemed only too
short to her escort. She was a tailoress in the village, and went
to church regularly, but, although Phineas saw her every Sunday
for many weeks, he had no opportunity of the acquaintance that
Mrs. Jerusha Wheeler and her daughter Jerusha were familiarly
known, the one as "Aunt Rushia," and the other as "Rushia." Many
of the store customers were hatters, and among the many kinds of
furs sold for the nap of hats was one known to the trade as
"Russia." One day a hatter, Walter Dibble, called to buy some
furs. Barnum sold him several kinds, including "beaver" and
"cony," and he then asked for some "Russia." They had none, and
as Barnum wanted to play a joke upon him, he told him that Mrs.
Wheeler had several hundred pounds of "Rushia."
"What on earth is a woman doing with 'Russia?' " said he.
Barnum could not answer, but assured him that there were one
hundred and thirty pounds of old Rushia and one hundred and fifty
pounds of young Rushia in Mrs. Wheeler's house, and under her
charge, but whether or not it was for sale he could not say. Off
he started to make the purchase and knocked at the door. Mrs.
Wheeler, the elder, made her appearance.
"I want to get your Russia," said the hatter.
Mrs. Wheeler asked him to walk in and be seated. She, of course,
supposed that he had come for her daughter "Rushia."
"What do you want of Rushia?" asked the old lady.
"To make hats," was the reply.
"To trim hats, I suppose you mean?" responded Mrs. Wheeler.
"No, for the outside of hats," replied the hatter.
"Well, I don't know much about hats," said the old lady, "but I
will call my daughter."
Passing into another room where "Rushia" the younger was at work,
she informed her that a man wanted her to make hats.
"Oh, he means sister Mary, probably. I suppose he wants some
ladies' hats," replied Rushia, as she went into the parlor.
"This is my daughter," said the old lady.
"I want to get your Russia," said he, addressing the young lady.
"I suppose you wish to see my sister Mary; she is our milliner,"
said young Rushia.
"I wish to see whoever owns the property," said the hatter.
Sister Mary was sent for, and, as she was introduced, the hatter
informed her that he wished to buy her "Russia."
"Buy Rushia!" exclaimed Mary, in surprise; I don't understand
"Your name is Miss Wheeler, I believe," said the hatter, who was
annoyed by the difficulty he met with in being understood.
"It is, sir."
"Ah! very well. Is there old and young Russia in the house?"
"I believe there is," said Mary, surprised at the familiar manner
in which he spoke of her mother and sister, who were present.
"What is the price of old Russia per pound?" asked the hatter.
"I believe, sir, that old Rushia is not for sale," replied Mary,
"Well, what do you ask for young Russia?" pursued the hatter.
"Sir," said Miss Rushia the younger, springing to her feet, "do
you come here to insult defenceless females? If you do, sir, our
brother, who is in the garden, will punish you as you deserve."
"Ladies!" exclaimed the hatter, in astonishment, "what on earth
have I done to offend you? I came here on a business matter. I
want to buy some Russia. I was told you had old and young Russia
in the house. Indeed, this young lady just stated such to be the
fact, but she says the old Russia is not for sale. Now, if I can
buy the young Russia I want to do so--but if that can't be done,
please to say so, and I will trouble you no further."
"Mother, open the door and let this man go out; he is undoubtedly
crazy," said Miss Mary.
"By thunder! I believe I shall be if I remain here long,"
exclaimed the hatter, considerably excited. "I wonder if folks
never do business in these parts, that you think a man is crazy
if he attempts such a thing?"
"Business! poor man!" said Mary soothingly, approaching the door.
"I am not a poor man, madam," replied the hatter. "My name is
Walter Dibble; I carry on hatting extensively in Danbury; I came
to Grassy Plain to buy fur, and have purchased some 'beaver' and
'cony,' and now it seems I am to be called 'crazy' and a 'poor
man,' because I want to buy a little 'Russia' to make up my
The ladies began to open their eyes; they saw that Mr. Dibble was
quite in earnest, and his explanation threw considerable light
upon the subject.
"Who sent you here?" asked sister Mary.
"The clerk at the opposite store," was the reply.
"He is a wicked young fellow for making all this trouble," said
the old lady; "he has been doing this for a joke."
"A joke!" exclaimed Dibble, in surprise, "have you no Russia,
"My name is Jerusha, and so is my daughter's," said Mrs. Wheeler,
"and that, I suppose, is what he meant by telling you of old and
Mr. Dibble, without more words, left the house and made for the
store. "You young villain!" he cried, as he entered, "what did
you mean by sending me over there to buy Russia?"
"I didn't," answered the young villain, with a perfectly solemn
face, "I thought you were a widower or a bachelor who wanted to
"You lie," said the discomfited Dibble, laughing in spite of
himself; "but never mind, I'll pay you off some day." And
gathering up his furs he departed.
On another occasion this sense of humor and love of joking was
turned to very practical account. Among the customers at the
store were a half a dozen old Revolutionary pensioners, who were
permitted to buy on credit, leaving their pension papers as
security. One of these pensioners was a romancing old fellow
named Bevans--more commonly known as "Uncle Bibbins." He was very
fond of his glass, and fonder still of relating anecdotes of the
Revolution, in which his own prowess and daring were always the
conspicuous features. His pension papers were in the possession
of Keeler & Whitlock, but it was three months before the money
was due, and they grew very weary of having him for a customer.
They tried delicately suggesting a visit to his relatives in
Guilford, but Uncle Bibbins steadily refused to take the hint.
Finally young Barnum enlisted the services of a journeyman hatter
named Benton, and together they hit on a plan. The hatter was
inspired to call Uncle Bibbins a coward, and to declare his
belief that if the old gentleman was wounded anywhere it must
have been in the back. Barnum pretended to sympathize with the
veteran's just indignation, and finally fired him up to the pitch
of challenging the hatter to mortal combat. The challenge was
promptly accepted, and the weapons chosen were muskets and ball,
at a distance of twenty feet. Uncle Bibbins took his second
(Barnum, of course) aside, and begged him to see that the guns
were loaded only with blank cartridges. He was assured that it
would be so, and that no one would be injured in the encounter.
The ground was measured back of the store, the principals and
seconds took their places, and the word of command was given.
They fired, Uncle Bibbins, of course, being unhurt, but the
hatter, with a fearful yell, fell to the ground as if dead.
Barnum rushed up to the frightened Bevans and begged him to fly,
promising to let him know when it was safe for him to return. The
old fellow started out of town on a run, and for the next three
months remained very quietly at Guilford. At the end of that time
his faithful second sent for him, with the assurance that his
late adversary had not only recovered from his wound but had
freely forgiven all. Uncle Bibbins then returned and paid up his
debts. Meeting Benton on the street some days later, the two foes
shook hands, Benton apologizing for his insult. Uncle Bibbins
accepted the apology, "but," he added, "you must be careful after
this how you insult a dead-shot."
CHAPTER III. BUSINESS LIFE.
REMOVAL TO BROOKLYN--SMALLPOX--GOES HOME TO RECOVER HIS
HEALTH--RENEWED ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE PRETTY TAILORESS, FIRST
INDEPENDENT BUSINESS VENTURE--RESIDENCE IN NEW YORK --RETURN TO
In the fall of 1826, Oliver Taylor, who had removed from Danbury
to Brooklyn, induced Barnum to leave Grassy Plain, offering him a
clerkship in his grocery store, which offer was accepted, and
before long the young man was intrusted with the purchasing of
all goods for the store. He bought for cash, going into lower New
York in search of the cheapest market, frequenting auction sales
of merchandise, and often entering into combines with other
grocers to bid off large lots, which were afterward divided
between them. Thus they were enabled to buy at a much lower rate
than if the goods had passed through the hands of wholesale
dealers, and Barnum's reputation for business tact and shrewdness
The following summer he was taken ill with smallpox, and during
his long confinement to the house his stock of ready money became
sadly di-minished. As soon as he was able to travel he went home
to recover his strength, and while there had the happiness of
renewing the acquaintance, so pleasantly begun, with the pretty
tailoress, Charity Hallett.
His health fully restored he returned to Brooklyn, but not to his
old position. Pleasant as that had been, it no longer contented
the restless, ambitious Barnum. He opened a "porter-home," but
sold out a few months later, at a good profit, and took another
clerkship, this time at 29 Peck Slip, New York, in the store of a
certain David Thorp. He lived in his employer's family, with
which he was a great favorite, and where he had frequent
opportunities of meeting old friends, for Mr. Thorp's place was a
great resort for Bethel and Danbury hatters and combmakers.
At this time Barnum formed his first taste for the theatre. He
went to the play regularly and soon set up for a critic. It was
his one dissipation, however. A more moral young fellow never
existed; he read his Bible and went to church as regularly as
ever, and to the day of his death was wont to declare that he
owed all that was good in his character to his early observance
In the winter of 1898 his grandfather offered to him, rent free,
his carriage-house, which was situated on the main street, if he
would come back to Bethel. The young man's capital was one
hundred and twenty dollars; fifty of this was spent in fixing up
his store, and the remainder he invested in a stock of fruit and
confectionery. Having arranged with fruit dealers of his
acquaintance in New York to receive his orders, he opened his
store on the first of May--in those times known as "training
day." The first day was so successful that long before noon the
proprietor was obliged to call in one of his old schoolmates to
assist in waiting on customers. The total receipts were
sixty-three dollars, which sum was promptly invested in a stock
of fancy goods --pocket-books, combs, knives, rings, beads, etc.
Business was good all summer, and in the fall oysters were added
to the list of attractions. The old grandfather was delighted at
the success of the scheme, and after a while induced Barnum to
take an agency for lottery tickets on a commission of ten per
cent. Lotteries in those days were looked upon as thoroughly
respectable, and the profit gained from the sale of the tickets
was regarded as perfectly legitimate by the agent; his views on
the subject changed very materially later on.
The store soon became the great village resort, the centre of all
discussions and the scene of many practical jokes.
The following scene, related by Barnum himself, makes a chapter
in the history of Connecticut, as the State was when "blue laws"
were something more than a dead letter:
"To swear in those days was according to custom, but contrary to
law. A person from New York State, whom I will call Crofut, who
was a frequent visitor at my store, was equally noted for his
self-will and his really terrible profanity. One day he was in my
little establishment engaged in conversation when Nathan Seelye,
Esq., one of our village justices of the peace, and a man of
strict religious principles, came in, and hearing Crofut's
profane language he told him he considered it his duty to fine
him one dollar for swearing.
"Crofut responded immediately with an oath, that he did not care
a d----n for the Connecticut blue laws.
" 'That will make two dollars,' said Mr. Seelye.
"This brought forth another oath.
" 'Three dollars,' said the sturdy justice.
"Nothing but oaths were given in reply, until Esquire Seelye
declared the damage to the Connecticut laws to amount to fifteen
"Crofut took out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to the
justice of the peace, with an oath.
" 'Sixteen dollars,' said Mr. Seelye, counting out four dollars
to hand to Mr. Crofut as his change.
" 'Oh, keep it, keep it,' said Crofut, 'I don't want any change;
I'll d----n soon swear out the balance.' He did so, after which
he was more circumspect in his conversation, remarking that
twenty dollars a day for swearing was about as much as he could
About this time Barnum appeared, on at least one occasion, in the
role of lawyer. A man charged with assault and battery was
brought before the justice of the peace, Barnum's grandfather,
for trial. A medical student, Newton by name, had volunteered to
defend the prisoner, and Mr. Couch, the grand juryman, in irony,
offered Phineas a dollar to represent the State. The court was
crowded. The guilt of the prisoner was established beyond a
doubt, but Newton, undaunted, rose to make his speech. It
consisted of a flood of invective against the grand juryman,
Couch; the court listened for five minutes, and then interrupted
a magnificent burst of eloquence by informing the speaker that
Mr. Couch was not the plaintiff in the case at all.
"Not the plaintiff!" stammered Newton; "well, then, your honor,
"The State of Connecticut," was the answer.
The young man dropped into his seat, speechless, and the
prosecuting attorney arose and in an elaborate speech declared
the guilt of the prisoner shown beyond question, adding that he
was astonished that both the prisoner and his counsel had not
pleaded guilty at once. In the midst of his soarings the
grandfather interrupted with--"Young man, will you have the
kindness to inform the court which side you represent--the
plaintiff or the defendant?"
The orator stared helplessly at the justice for a moment, and
then sat down. Amid peals of laughter from the spectators the
prisoner was bound over to the county court for trial.
But Phineas did not often come out so ingloriously in encounters
with his grandfather. The old gentleman was always ready to lend
his grandson any of his turnouts except one, and this one Phineas
especially desired one day for a sleighing party, in which he was
to escort the fair Charity Hallett. So he boldly went to the
grandfather and asked if he might take Arabian and the new
"Oh, yes," said the old man, jokingly, "if you have twenty
dollars in your pocket."
Whereupon Phineas showed the money, and putting it back in his
pocket, remarked, "You see; I am much obliged for the sleigh."
Of course, the grandfather had meant to ask an impossible price
for the horse and sleigh; but being caught up so suddenly, there
was nothing to do but to consent, and Phineas and "Chairy" had
the finest turnout of the party.
There was a young fellow in the town, Jack Mallett, whose
education was rather deficient, and who had been somewhat
unsuccessfully paying his addresses to a fair but hard-hearted
maiden, named Lucretia. One Sunday evening she cruelly refused to
accept his escort after church, and added insult to injury by
walking off before his very eyes with another man. Accordingly,
he determined to write her a letter of remonstrance, and enlisted
the aid of Phineas and another young blade known as "Bill"
Shepherd. The joint effort of the three resulted in the
"MISS LUCRETIA: I write this to ask an explanation of your
conduct in giving me the mitten on Sunday night last. If you
think, madam, that you can trifle with my affections, and turn me
off for every little whipper-snapper that you can pick up, you
will find yourself considerably mistaken. [We read thus far to
Mallett, and it met his approval. He said he liked the idea of
calling her "madam," for he thought it sounded so "distant," it
would hurt her feelings very much. The term "little
whipper-snapper" also delighted him. He said he guessed that
would make her feel cheap. Shepherd and myself were not quite so
sure of its aptitude, since the chap who succeeded in capturing
Lucretia, on the occasion alluded to, was a head and shoulders
taller than Mallett. However, we did not intimate our thoughts to
Mallett, and he desired us to "go ahead and give her another
dose."] You don't know me, madam, if you think you can snap me up
in this way. I wish you to understand that I can have the company
of girls as much above you as the sun is above the earth, and I
won't stand any of your impudent nonsense no how. [This was duly
read and approved. "Now," said Mallett, "try to touch her
feelings. Remind her of the pleasant hours we have spent
together;" and we continued as follows:] My dear Lucretia, when I
think of the many pleasant hours we have spent together--of the
delightful walks which we have had on moonlight evenings to
Fenner's Rocks, Chestnut Ridge, Grassy Plain, Wild Cat and Puppy
Town--of the strolls which we have taken upon Shelter Rocks,
Cedar Hill--the visits we have made to Old Lane, Wolfpits, Toad
Hole and Plum Trees--when all these things come rushing on my
mind, and when; my dear girl, I remember how often you have told
me that you loved me better than anybody else, and I assured you
that my feelings were the same as yours, it almost breaks my
heart to think of last Sunday night. ["Can't you stick in some
affecting poetry here?" said Mallett. Shepherd could not
recollect any to the point, nor could I; but as the exigency of
the case seemed to require it, we concluded to manufacture a
verse or two, which we did, as follows:]
 These were the euphonious names of localities in the vicinity
Lucretia, dear, what have I done,
That you should use me thus and so,
To take the arm of Tom Beers' son,
And let your dearest true love go?
Miserable fate, to lose you now,
And tear this bleeding heart asunder!
Will you forget your tender vow?
I can't believe it--no, by thunder.
[Mallett did not like the word "thunder," but being informed that
no other word could be substituted without destroying both rhyme
and reason, he consented that it should remain, provided we added
two more stanzas of a softer nature; something, he said, that
would make the tears come, if possible, We then ground out the
Lucretia, dear, do write to Jack,
And say with Beers you are not smitten;
And thus to me in love come back,
And give all other boys the mitten.
Do this, Lucretia, and till death
I'll love you to intense distraction;
I'll spend for you my every breath,
And we will live in satisfaction.
["That will do very well," said Mallett. "Now I guess you had
better blow her up a little more." We obeyed orders as follows:]
It makes me mad to think what a fool I was to give you that
finger-ring and bosom-pin, and spend so much time in your
company, just to be flirted and bamboozled as I was on Sunday
night last. If you continue this course of conduct, we part
forever, and I will thank you to send back that jewelry. I would
sooner see it crushed under my feet than worn by a person who
abused me as you have done. I shall despise you forever if you
don't change your conduct towards me, and send me a letter of
apology on Monday next. I shall not go to meeting to-morrow, for
I would scorn to sit in the same meeting-house with you until I
have an explanation of your conduct. If you allow any young man
to go home with you to-morrow night, I shall know it, for you
will be watched, ["There," said Mallett, "that is pretty strong.
Now, I guess, you had better touch her feelings once more, and
wind up the letter." We proceeded as follows:] My sweet girl, if
you only knew the sleepless nights which I have spent during the
present week, the torments and sufferings which I endure on your
account; if you could but realize that I regard the world as less
than nothing without you, I am certain you would pity me. A
homely cot and a crust of bread with my adorable Lucretia would
be a paradise, where a palace without you would be a hades.
["What in thunder is hades?" inquired Jack. We explained. He
considered the figure rather bold, and requested us to close as
soon as possible.] Now, dearest, in bidding you adieu, I implore
you to reflect on our past enjoyments, look forward with pleasure
to our future happy meetings, and rely upon your affectionate
Jack in storm or calm, in sickness, distress or want, for all
these will be powerless to change my love. I hope to hear from
you on Monday next, and, if favorable, I shall be happy to call
on you the same evening, when in ecstatic joy we will laugh at
the past, hope for the future, and draw consolation from the fact
that "the course of true love never did run smooth." This from
your disconsolate but still hoping lover and admirer,
"P. S.--On reflection I have concluded to go to meeting
to-morrow. If all is well, hold your pocket-handkerchief in your
left hand as you stand up to sing with the choir--in which case I
shall expect the pleasure of giving you my arm to-morrow night.
The effect of this letter upon Lucretia was not as favorable as
could have been desired. She declined to remove her handkerchief
from her right hand, and she returned the "ring and bosom-pin" to
her disconsolate admirer, while, not many months after, Mallett's
rival led Lucretia to the altar. As for Mallett's agreement to
pay Shepherd and Barnum five pounds of carpet-rags and twelve
yards of broadcloth "lists" for their services, owing to his ill
success, they compromised for one-half the amount.
CHAPTER IV. TRYING MANY VENTURES.
VISIT TO PITTSBURG--SUCCESSFUL LOTTERY BUSINESS--MARRIAGE--FIRST
EDITORIAL VENTURE--LIBEL SUIT, IMPRISONMENT AND
LIBERATION--REMOVAL TO NEW YORK--HARD TIMES--KEEPING A
About this time Barnum, with a Mr. Samuel Sherwood, of
Bridgeport, started for Pittsburg, where they proposed to open a
lottery office. On reaching New York, however, and talking over
the scheme with friends, the venture was abandoned and the two
men took, instead, a pleasure trip to Philadelphia. They stayed a
week, at the end of which time they returned to New York, with
exactly twenty-seven cents between them. Sherwood managed to
borrow two dollars--enough to take him to Newark, where he had a
cousin, who obligingly loaned him fifty dollars. The two friends
remained in New York on the strength of their newly acquired
wealth for several days, and then went home considerably richer
in experience at least.
Barnum now went into the lottery business exclusively, taking his
uncle, Alanson Taylor, into partnership. They established a
number of agencies throughout the country, and made good profits
from the sale of tickets. Several of the tickets sold by them
took prizes and their office came to be considered "lucky."
The young man was prospering also in another direction. The fair
tailoress smiled on him as sweetly as ever, and in the summer of
1827 they became formally engaged. In the fall Miss Hallett went
"on a visit" to her uncle, Nathan Beers, in New York. A month
later her lover followed, "to buy goods," and on the 8th of
November, 1829, there was a wedding in the comfortable house at
No. 3 Allen street. Having married at the age of nineteen, Barnum
always expressed his disapproval of early marriages, although his
own was a very happy one.
Returning to Bethel, Mr. and Mrs. Barnum, after boarding for a
few months, moved into their own house, which was built on a
three acre plat purchased from the grandfather.
The lottery business still prospered, but it was mostly in the
hands of agents, in Danbury, Norwalk, Stamford and Middletown,
and Barnum began to look around for some field for his individual
energies. He tried travelling as a book auctioneer, but found it
uncongenial and quit the business. In July, 1831, with his uncle
Alanson Taylor, he opened a grocery and general store, but the
venture was not particularly successful, and in the fall the
partnership was dissolved, Barnum buying his uncle's interest.
The next enterprise was an important one, it being the real
beginning of Phineas T. Barnum's public career.
In a period of strong political excitement, he wrote several
communications for the Danbury weekly paper, setting forth what
he conceived to be the dangers of a sectarian interference which
was then apparent in political affairs. The publication of these
communications was refused, and he accordingly purchased a press
and types, and October 19, 1831, issued the first number of his
own paper, The Herald of Freedom.
"I entered upon the editorship of this journal," says Mr. Barnum,
"with all the vigor and vehemence of youth. The boldness with
which the paper was conducted soon excited widespread attention
and commanded a circulation which extended beyond the immediate
locality into nearly every State in the Union. But lacking that
experience which induces caution, and without the dread of
consequences, I frequently laid myself open to the charge of
libel, and three times in three years I was prosecuted. A Danbury
butcher, a zealous politician, brought a civil suit against me
for accusing him of being a spy in a Democratic caucus. On the
first trial the jury did not agree, but after a second trial I
was fined several hundred dollars. Another libel suit against me
was withdrawn. The third was sufficiently important to warrant
the following detail:
"A criminal prosecution was brought against me for stating in my
paper that a man in Bethel, prominent in church, had 'been guilty
of taking USURY of an orphan boy,' and for severely commenting on
the fact in my editorial columns. When the case came to trial the
truth of my statement was substantially proved by several
witnesses and even by the prosecuting party. But 'the greater the
truth, the greater the libel,' and then I had used the term
'usury,' instead of extortion, or note-shaving, or some other
expression which might have softened the verdict. The result was
that I was sentenced to pay a fine of one hundred dollars and to
be imprisoned in the common jail for sixty days.
"The most comfortable provision was made for me in Danbury jail.
My room was papered and carpeted; I lived well; I was overwhelmed
with the constant visits of my friends; I edited my paper as
usual and received large accessions to my subscription list; and
at the end of my sixty days' term the event was celebrated by a
large concourse of people from the surrounding country. The court
room in which I was convicted was the scene of the celebration.
An ode, written for the occasion, was sung; an eloquent oration
on the freedom of the press was delivered; and several hundred
gentlemen afterwards partook of a sumptuous dinner followed by
appropriate toasts and speeches. Then came the triumphant part of
the ceremonial, which was reported in my paper of December 12,
1832, as follows:
" 'P. T. Barnum and the band of music took their seats in a coach
drawn by six horses, which had been prepared for the occasion.
The coach was preceded by forty horsemen, and a marshal, bearing
the national standard. Immediately in the rear of the coach was
the carriage of the orator and the President of the day, followed
by the committee of arrangements and sixty carriages of citizens,
which joined in escorting the editor to his home in Bethel.
" 'When the procession commenced its march amidst the roar of
cannon, three cheers were given by several hundred citizens who
did not join in the procession. The band of music continued to
play a variety of national airs until their arrival in Bethel (a
distance of three miles), when they struck up the beautiful and
appropriate tune of "Home, Sweet Home!" After giving three hearty
cheers, the procession returned to Danbury. The utmost harmony
and unanimity of feeling prevailed throughout the day, and we are
happy to add that no accident occured to mar the festivities of
the occasion.' "
The editorial career continued as it had begun. In 1830 The
Herald of Freedom was sold to Mr. George Taylor.
The mercantile business was also sold to Horace Fairchild, who
had been associated with it as partner since 1831, and a Mr.
Toucey, who formed a partnership under the name of Fairchild &
Co. Barnum had lost considerable money in this store; he was too
speculative for ordinary trade, too ready, also to give credit,
and his ledger was full of unpaid accounts when he finally gave
In 1835 he removed his family to New York, taking a house in
Hudson street. For a time he tried to get a position in a
mercantile house, not on a fixed salary, but so as to derive a
commission on his sales, trusting to his ability to make more
money in this way than an ordinary clerk could be expected to
receive. Failing in this he acted as a "drummer" for several
stores until spring, when he was fortunate enough to receive
several hundred dollars from his agent at Bethel. In May he
opened a private boarding-house at 52 Frankfort street, which was
well patronized by his Connecticut acquaintances as often as they
visited the metropolis. This business not occupying his entire
time, he bought an interest in a grocery store at 156 South
Although the years of manhood brought cares, anxieties, and
struggles for a livelihood, they did not change Barnum's nature,
and the jocose element was still an essential ingredient of his
being. He loved fun, practical fun, for itself and for the
enjoyment which it brought. During the year he occasionally
visited Bridgeport, where he almost always found at the hotel a
noted joker, named Darrow, who spared neither friend nor foe in
his tricks. He was the life of the bar-room, and would always try
to entrap some stranger in a bet and so win a treat for the
company. He made several ineffectual attempts upon Barnum, and at
last, one evening, Darrow, who stuttered, made a final trial, as
"Come, Barnum, I'll make you another proposition; I'll bet you
hadn't got a whole shirt on your back." The catch consists in the
fact that generally only one-half of that convenient garment is
on the back; but Barnum had anticipated the proposition --in fact
he had induced a friend, Mr. Hough, to put Darrow up to the
trick--and had folded a shirt nicely upon his back, securing it
there with his suspenders. The bar-room was crowded with
customers who thought that if Barnum made the bet he would be
nicely caught, and he made presence of playing off and at the
same time stimulated Darrow to press the bet by saying:
"That is a foolish bet to make; I am sure my shirt is whole
because it is nearly new; but I don't like to bet on such a
"A good reason why," said Darrow, in great glee; "it's ragged.
Come, I'll bet you a treat for the whole company you hadn't got a
whole shirt on your b-b-b-back!"
"I'll bet my shirt is cleaner than yours," Barnum replied.
"That's nothing to do w-w-with the case; it's ragged, and y-y-you
"I know it is not," Barnum replied, with pretended anger, which
caused the crowd to laugh heartily.
"You poor ragged f-f-fellow, come down here from D-D-Danbury, I'm
sorry for you," said Darrow tantalizingly.
"You would not pay if you lost," Barnum remarked.
"Here's f-f-five dollars I'll put in Captain Hinman's (the
landlord's) hands. Now b-b-bet if you dare, you ragged
Barnum put five dollars in Captain Hinman's hands, and told him
to treat the company from it if he lost the bet.
"Remember," said Darrow, "I b-b-bet you hadn't got a whole shirt
on your bob-back!"
"All right," said Barnum, taking off his coat and commencing to
unbutton his vest. The whole company, feeling sure that he was
caught, began to laugh heartily. Old Darrow fairly danced with
delight, and as Barnum laid his coat on a chair he came running
up in front of him, and slapping his hands together, exclaimed:
"You needn't t-t-take off any more c-c-clothes, for if it ain't
all on your b-b-back, you've lost it."
"If it is, I suppose you have!" Barnum replied, pulling the whole
shirt from off his back!
Such a shriek of laughter as burst forth from the crowd was
scarcely ever heard, and certainly such a blank countenance as
old Darrow exhibited it would be hard to conceive. Seeing that he
was most incontinently "done for," and perceiving that his
neighbor Hough had helped to do it, he ran up to him in great
anger, and shaking his fist in his face, exclaimed:
"H-H-Hough, you infernal r-r-rascal, to go against your own
neighbor in favor of a D-D-Danbury man. I'll pay you for that
some time, you see if I d-d-don't."
All hands went up to the bar and drank with a hearty good will,
for it was seldom that Darrow got taken in, and he was such an
inveterate joker they liked to see him paid in his own coin.
Never till the day of his death did he hear the last of the
CHAPTER V. BEGINNING AS A SHOWMAN.
FINDING HIS TRUE VOCATION--THE PURCHASE OF JOICE HETH--EVIDENCE
AS TO HER AGE--HER DEATH--SIGNOR VIVALLA--A VISIT TO
WASHINGTON--JOINING A TRAVELLING CIRCUS--CONTROVERSIES WITH
MINISTERS--THE VICTIM OF A PRACTICAL JOKE.
Barnum was now satisfied that he had not yet found his proper
level. He had not yet entered the business for which nature had
designed him. There was only a prospect of his going on from this
to that, as his father had done before him, trying many callings
but succeeding in none. He had not yet discovered that love of
amusement is one of the strongest passions of the human heart.
This, however, was a lesson that he was soon to learn; and he was
to achieve both fame and fortune as a caterer to the public
desire for entertainment.
Philosophizing on this theme in later years, Mr. Barnum once
said: "The show business has all phases and grades of dignity,
from the exhibition of a monkey to the exposition of that highest
art in music or the drama which entrances empires and secures for
the gifted artist a worldwide fame which princes well might envy.
Men, women and children, who cannot live on gravity alone, need
something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he
who ministers to this want is in a business established by the
Author of our nature. If he worthily fulfils his mission, and
amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived
In the summer of 1835, Mr. Barnum was visited by Mr. Coley
Bartram, of Reading, Connecticut, who told him that he had owned
an interest in a remarkable negro woman, who was confidently
believed to be one hundred and sixty-one years old and to have
been the nurse of Washington. Mr. Bartram showed him a copy of an
advertisement in The Pennsylvania Inquirer for July 15, 1835, as
"CURIOSITY.--The citizens of Philadelphia and its vicinity have
an opportunity of witnessing at the Masonic Hall one of the
greatest natural curiosities ever witnessed, viz.: JOICE HETH, a
negress, aged 161 years, who formerly belonged to the father of
General Washington. She has been a member of the Baptist Church
one hundred and sixteen years, and can rehearse many hymns, and
sing them according to former custom. She was born near the old
Potomac River in Virginia, and has for ninety or one hundred
years lived in Paris, Kentucky, with the Bowling family.
"All who have seen this extraordinary woman are satisfied of the
truth of the account of her age. The evidence of the Bowling
family, which is respectable, is strong, but the original bill of
sale of Augustine Washington, in his own handwriting, and other
evidences which the proprietor has in his possession, will
satisfy even the most incredulous.
"A lady will attend at the hall during the afternoon and evening
for the accommodation of those ladies who may call."
Mr. Bartram told him, moreover, that he had sold out his interest
in the woman to R. W. Lindsay, of Jefferson county, Kentucky, who
was then exhibiting her as a curiosity, but was anxious to sell
her. Mr. Barnum had seen in some of the New York papers an
account of Joice Heth, and was so much interested in her that he
at once proceeded to Philadelphia to see her and Mr. Lindsay. How
he was impressed by her he has himself told. "Joice Heth," he
says, "was certainly a remarkable curiosity, and she looked as if
she might have been far older than her age as advertised. She was
apparently in good health and spirits, but from age or disease,
or both, was unable to change her position; she could move one
arm at will, but her lower limbs could not be straightened; her
left arm lay across her breast and she could not remove it; the
fingers of her left hand were drawn down so as nearly to close
it, and were fixed; the nails on that hand were almost four
inches long and extended above her wrist; the nails on her large
toes had grown to the thickness of a quarter of an inch; her head
was covered with a thick bush of grey hair; but she was toothless
and totally blind, and her eyes had sunk so deeply in the sockets
as to have disappeared altogether.
"Nevertheless she was pert and sociable, and would talk as long
as people would converse with her. She was quite garrulous about
her protege, 'dear little George,' at whose birth she declared
she was present, having been at the time a slave of Elizabeth
Atwood, a half-sister of Augustine Washington, the father of
George Washington. As nurse she put the first clothes on the
infant, and she claimed to have 'raised him.' She professed to be
a member of the Baptist Church, talking much in her way on
religious subjects, and she sang a variety of ancient hymns.
"In proof of her extraordinary age and pretensions, Mr. Lindsay
exhibited a bill of sale, dated February 5, 1727, from Augustine
Washington, county of Westmoreland, Virginia, to Elizabeth
Atwood, a half-sister and neighbor of Mr. Washington, conveying
'one negro women named Joice Heth, aged fifty-four years, for and
in consideration of the sum of thirty-three pounds lawful money
of Virginia.' It was further claimed that she had long been a
nurse in the Washington family; she was called in at the birth of
George and clothed the newborn infant. The evidence seemed
authentic, and in answer to the inquiry why so remarkable a
discovery had not been made before, a satisfactory explanation
was given in the statement that she had been carried from
Virginia to Kentucky, had been on the plantation of John S.
Bowling so long that no one knew or cared how old she was, and
only recently the accidental discovery by Mr. Bowling's son of
the old bill of sale in the Record Office in Virginia had led to
the identification of this negro woman as 'the nurse of
Everything seemed to Barnum to be entirely straightforward, and
he decided, if possible, to purchase the woman. She was offered
to him at $1,000, although Lindsay at first wanted $3,000. Barnum
had $500 in cash, and was able to borrow $500 more. Thus he
secured Joice Heth, sold out his interest in the grocery business
to his partner, and entered upon his career as a showman. He
afterward declared that the least deserving of all his efforts in
the show line was this one which introduced him to the business;
it was a scheme in no sense of his own devising; but it was one
which had been for some time before the public, and which he
honestly and with good reason believed to be genuine. He entered
upon his new work with characteristic enterprise, resorting to
posters, transparencies, advertisements, newspaper paragraphs,
and everything else calculated to attract the attention of the
public, regardless of expense. He exhibited in New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, Albany, and many other places, where his rooms were
thronged and much money made. But in the following February Joice
Heth died of old age, and was buried at Bethel. A postmortem
examination was made by a surgeon and some medical students, who
were inclined to doubt if she really was as old as Lindsay had
Thus ended Barnum's first enterprise as a showman. It had been
profitable to him, and had pointed out to him the path of
success. His next venture was entirely genuine and
straightforward. He engaged an Italian, who called himself Signor
Antonio, and who was a skilful performer on stilts, on the tight
rope and at juggling. Barnum engaged him for a year at $12 a week
and his expenses, and got him to change his stage name to Signor
Vivalla. He then resorted to his former means of advertising, and
started on his tour. For Vivalla's first week of performances
Barnum received $50, and for the second week three times as much.
At the close of the first performance, in response to loud
applause, Barnum appeared upon the stage and made a speech to the
audience, a performance which he repeated thousands of times in
after years. This engagement was at the Franklin Theatre in New
The show next appeared in Boston, with great success. Next it
went to Washington and had a most disastrous week, for every
night was stormy. Indeed Barnum found himself literally stranded
there, with not enough money to get away. He was driven to pawn
his watch and chain for $35, and then met a friend who helped him
out of his dilemma.
"As this was my first visit to Washington, I was much
interested," says Barnum, "in visiting the capitol and other
public buildings. I also satisfied my curiosity in seeing Clay,
Calhoun, Benton, John Quincy Adams, Richard M. Johnson, Polk, and
other leading statesmen of the time. I was also greatly gratified
in calling upon Anne Royall, author of the Black Book, publisher
of a little paper called 'Paul Pry,' and quite a celebrated
personage in her day. I had exchanged The Herald of Freedom with
her journal, and she strongly sympathized with me in my
persecutions. She was delighted to see me, and although she was
the most garrulous old woman I ever saw, I passed a very amusing
and pleasant time with her. Before leaving her I manifested my
showman propensity by trying to hire her to give a dozen or more
lectures on 'Government' in the Atlantic cities, but I could not
engage her at any price, although I am sure the speculation would
have been a very profitable one. I never saw this eccentric woman
again; she died at a very advanced age, October 1, 1854, at her
residence in Washington."
From Washington the show went to Philadelphia and appeared at the
Walnut Street Theatre. The audiences were small and it was
evident that something must be done to arouse public interest.
"And now," says Barnum, "that instinct which can arouse a
community and make it patronize one, provided the article offered
is worthy of patronage, an instinct which served me greatly in
later years, astonishing the public and surprising me, came to my
relief, and the help, curiously enough, appeared in the shape of
an emphatic hiss from the pit!
"This hiss, I discovered, came from one Roberts, a circus
performer, and I had an interview with him. He was a professional
balancer and juggler, who boasted that he could do all Vivalla
had done and something more. I at once published a card in
Vivalla's name, offering $1,000 to any one who would publicly
perform Vivalla's feats at such place as should be designated,
and Roberts issued a counter card accepting the offer. I then
contracted with Mr. Warren, treasurer of the Walnut Street
Theatre, for one-third of the proceeds, if I should bring the
receipts up to $400 a night--an agreement he could well afford to
make as his receipts the night before had been but seventy-five
dollars. From him I went to Roberts, who seemed disposed to 'back
down,' but I told him that I should not insist upon the terms of
his published card, and ask him if he was under any engagement?
Learning that he was not I offered him thirty dollars to perform
under my direction one night at the Walnut, and he accepted. A
great trial of skill between Roberts and Vivalla was duly
announced by posters and through the press. Meanwhile, they
rehearsed privately to see what tricks each could perform, and
the 'business' was completely arranged.
"Public excitement was at fever heat, and on the night of the
trial the pit and upper boxes were crowded to the full. The
'contest' between the performers was eager, and each had his
party in the house. So far as I could learn, no one complained
that he did not get all he paid for on that occasion. I engaged
Roberts for a month, and his subsequent 'contests' with Vivalla
amused the public and put money in my purse."
In the spring of 1836 Barnum joined his show with Aaron Turner's
travelling circus, himself acting as ticket seller, secretary and
treasurer, at thirty dollars a month and one-fifth of the total
profits, while Vivalla was to get fifty dollars a month. Barnum
was himself paying Vivalla eighty dollars a month, so that he
really had left for himself only his one-fifth share of the
profits. The combined show set out from Danbury, Connecticut, for
West Springfield, Massachusetts, on April 26. On the first day,
Barnum relates, instead of stopping for dinner, Turner simply
distributed to the company three loaves of rye bread and a pound
of butter, which he bought at a farmhouse for fifty cents. On
April 28 they began their performances at West Springfield, and
as their band of music had not arrived from Providence, as
expected, Barnum made a speech to the audience in place of it,
which seemed to please everybody. The engagement was successful,
and the tour was continued during the summer through numerous
towns and cities in New England, the Middle States, Maryland,
Virginia and North Carolina.
Many incidents, humorous and otherwise, marked their progress. At
Cabotville, Massachusetts, on going to bed one night one of the
company threw a lighted cigar stump into a box of sawdust, and
the result was that, an hour or two later, they all narrowly
escaped suffocation from the smoke. At Lenox, Massachusetts, they
spent Sunday and Barnum went to church as usual. The sermon was
directed against the circus, denouncing it in very abusive terms
as an immoral and degrading institution. "Thereupon," says
Barnum, "when the minister had read the closing hymn, I walked up
the pulpit stairs and handed him a written request, signed 'P. T.
Barnum, connected with the circus, June 5, 1836,' to be permitted
to reply to him. He declined to notice it, and after the
benediction I lectured him for not giving me an opportunity to
vindicate myself and those with whom I was connected. The affair
created considerable excitement, and some of the members of the
church apologized to me for their clergyman's ill behavior. A
similar affair happened afterward at Port Deposit, on the lower
Susquehanna, and in this instance I addressed the audience for
half an hour, defending the circus company against the attacks of
the clergyman, and the people listened, though their pastor
repeatedly implored them to go home. Often have I collected our
company on Sunday and read to them the Bible or a printed sermon,
and one or more of the men frequently accompanied me to church.
We made no pretense of religion, but we were not the worst people
in the world, and we thought ourselves entitled to at least
decent treatment when we went to hear the preaching of the
Turner, the proprietor of the circus, was a self-made man. He had
made himself rich through industry, as he believed any other man
with common sense could do, and he was very proud of the fact. He
was also an inveterate practical joker, and once, at Annapolis,
Maryland, he played upon Barnum a trick which came very near
having a serious result. They got there on Saturday night, and
the next morning Barnum went out for a walk, wearing a fine new
suit of black clothes. As he passed through the bar-room and out
of the hotel Turner said to some bystanders, who did not know
"I think it very singular that you permit that rascal to march
your streets in open day. It wouldn't be allowed in Rhode Island,
and I suppose that is the reason the scoundrel has come down this
"Why, who is he?" they demanded.
"Don't you know? Why, that is the Rev. E. K. Avery, the murderer
of Miss Cornell."
Instantly there was a rush of the whole crowd to the door, eager
to get another look at Barnum, and uttering threats of vengeance.
This man Avery had only lately been tried in Rhode Island for the
murder of Miss Cornell, whose dead body was discovered in a
stack-yard, and though he was acquitted by the court everybody
believed him guilty. Accordingly, Barnum soon found himself
overtaken and surrounded by a mob of one hundred or more and his
ears saluted with such remarks as "the lecherous old hypocrite,"
"the sanctified murderer," "the black-coated villain," "lynch
him," "tar and feather him," and others still more harsh and
threatening. Then one man seized him by the collar, while others
brought a fence rail and some rope.
"Come," said the man who collared him, "old chap, you can't walk
any further; we know you, and as we always make gentlemen ride in
these parts, you may just prepare to straddle that rail!"
His surprise may be imagined. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed, as
they all pressed around, "gentlemen, what have I done?"
"Oh, we know you," exclaimed half a dozen voices; "you needn't
roll your sanctimonious eyes; that game don't take in this
country. Come, straddle the rail, and REMEMBER THE STACK-YARD!"
He grew more and more bewildered; he could not imagine what
possible offence he was to suffer for, and he continued to
exclaim, "Gentlemen, what have I done? Don't kill me, gentlemen,
but tell me what I have done."
"Come, make him straddle the rail; we'll show him how to hang
poor factory girls," shouted a man in the crowd.
The man who had him by the collar then remarked "Come, MR. AVERY,
it's no use; you see, we know you, and we'll give you a touch of
lynch law, and start you for home again."
"My name is NOT Avery, gentlemen; you are mistaken in your man,"
"Come, come, none of your gammon; straddle the rail, Ephraim."
The rail was brought and Barnum was about to be placed on it,
when the truth flashed upon him.
"Gentlemen," he exclaimed, "I am not Avery; I despise that
villain as much as you can; my name is Barnum; I belong to the
circus which arrived here last night, and I am sure Old Turner,
my partner, has hoaxed you with this ridiculous story."
"If he has we'll lynch him," said one of the mob.
"Well, he has, I'll assure you, and if you will walk to the hotel
with me, I'll convince you of the fact."
This they reluctantly assented to, keeping, however, a close hand
upon him. As they walked up the main street, the mob received a
re-enforcement of some fifty or sixty, and Barnum was marched
like a malefactor up to the hotel. Old Turner stood on the piazza
ready to explode with laughter. Barnum appealed to him for
heaven's sake to explain this matter, that he might be liberated.
He continued to laugh, but finally told them "he believed there
was some mistake about it. The fact is," said he, "my friend
Barnum has a new suit of black clothes on and he looks so much
like a priest that I thought he must be Avery."
The crowd saw the joke and seemed satisfied. Barnum's new coat
had been half-torn from his back, and he had been very roughly
handled. But some of the crowd apologized for the outrage,
declaring that Turner ought to be served in the same way, while
others advised Barnum to "get even with him." Barnum was very
much offended, and when the mob-dispersed he asked Turner what
could have induced him to play such a trick.
"My dear Mr. Barnum," he replied, "it was all for our good.
Remember, all we need to insure success is notoriety. You will
see that this will be noised all about town as a trick played by
one of the circus managers upon the other, and our pavilion will
be crammed to-morrow night."
It was even so; the trick was told all over town, and every one
came to see the circus managers who were in a habit of playing
practical jokes upon each other. They had fine audiences while
they remained at Annapolis, but it was a long time before Barnum
forgave Turner for his rascally "joke."
CHAPTER VI. INCIDENTS OF A CIRCUS TOUR.
BEATING A LANDLORD--A JOKE ON TURNER--BARNUM AS A PREACHER AND AS
A NEGRO MINSTREL--A BAD MAN WITH A GUN--DEALING WITH A
SHERIFF--"LADY HAYES"--AN EMBARASSED JUGGLER--BARNUM AS A
At almost every place visited by the travelling company, some
notable incident occurred. At Hanover Court House, Virginia, for
example, it was raining so heavily that they could not give a
performance, and Turner therefore decided to start for Richmond
immediately after dinner. Their landlord, however, said that as
their agent had engaged three meals and lodgings for the whole
troupe, the whole bill must be paid whether they went then or
stayed until next morning. No compromise could be made with the
stubborn fellow, and Turner was equally stubborn in his
determination both to go at once and also to have the worth of
his money. The following programme was accordingly carried out,
Turner insisting upon every detail:
Dinner was ordered at twelve o'clock and was duly prepared and
eaten. As soon as the table was cleared, supper was ordered, at
half past twelve. After eating as much of this as their dinner
had left room for, the whole company went to bed at one o'clock
in the afternoon. Each man insisted upon taking a lighted candle
to his room, and the whole thirty-six of them undressed and went
to bed as though they proposed to stay all night. Half an hour
later they arose and dressed again and went down to breakfast,
which Turner had ordered served at two o'clock sharp. They could
eat but little of this meal, of course, but they did the best
they could, and at half past two in the afternoon were on their
way to Richmond. Throughout the whole absurd proceedings the
landlord was furiously angry. Turner was as solemn as a corpse,
and the rest of the company were convulsed with laughter.
After the performance one evening at Richmond, Barnum tried to
pay Turner for that practical joke about the Rev. Mr. Avery. A
score of the company were telling stories and singing songs in
the sitting room of the hotel. Presently somebody began
propounding some amusing arithmetical problems. Then Turner
proposed one, which was readily solved. Barnum's turn came next,
and he offered the following, for Turner's especial benefit:
"Suppose a man is thirty years of age, and he has a child one
year of age; he is thirty times older than his child. When the
child is thirty years old, the father, being sixty, is only twice
as old as his child. When the child is sixty the father is
ninety, and therefore only one-third older than the child. When
the child is ninety the father is one hundred and twenty, and
therefore only one-fourth older than the child. Thus you see, the
child is gradually but surely gaining on the parent, and as he
certainly continues to come nearer and nearer, in time he must
overtake him. The question therefore is, suppose it was possible
for them to live long enough, how old would the father be when
the child overtook him and became of the same age?"
The company generally saw the catch; but Turner was very much
interested in the problem, and although he admitted he knew
nothing about arithmetic, he was convinced that as the son was
gradually gaining on the father he must reach him if there was
time enough--say, a thousand years, or so--for the race. But an
old gentleman gravely remarked that the idea of a son becoming as
old as his father while both were living, was simply nonsense,
and he offered to bet a dozen of champagne that the thing was
impossible, even "in figures." Turner, who was a betting man, and
who thought the problem might be proved, accepted the wager; but
he was soon convinced that however much the boy might relatively
gain upon his father, there would always be thirty years
difference in their ages. The champagne cost him $25, and he
failed to see the fun of Barnum's arithmetic, though at last he
acknowledged that it was a fair offset to the Avery trick.
From Richmond they went to Petersburg, and thence to Warrenton,
North Carolina, and there, on October 30, Barnum and Turner
separated, Barnum's engagement having expired with a clear profit
to himself of about $1,200. Barnum took Vivalla, a negro singer
and dancer named James Sandford, several musicians, horses and
wagons, and a small canvas tent. With these he proposed to carry
on a travelling show of his own. His first stop was on Saturday,
November 12, 1836, at Rocky Mount Falls, North Carolina. The next
day, being Sunday, Barnum set out for church. "I noticed," he
says, "a stand and benches in a grove near by, and determined to
speak to the people if I was permitted. The landlord who was with
me said that the congregation, coming from a distance to attend a
single service, would be very glad to hear a stranger, and I
accordingly asked the venerable clergyman to announce that after
service I would speak for half an hour in the grove. Learning
that I was not a clergyman, he declined to give the notice, but
said that he had no objection to my making the announcement,
which I did, and the congregation, numbering about three hundred,
promptly came to hear me.
"I told them I was not a preacher, and had very little experience
in public speaking, but I felt a deep interest in matters of
morality and religion, and would attempt in a plain way, to set
before them the duties and privileges of man. I appealed to every
man's experience, observation and reason, to confirm the Bible
doctrine of wretchedness in vice and happiness in virtue. We
cannot violate the laws of God with impunity, and He will not
keep back the wages of well-doing. The outside show of things is
of very small account. We must look to realities and not to
appearances. 'Diamonds may glitter on a vicious breast,' but 'the
soul's calm sunshine and the heart-felt joy is virtue's prize.'
The rogue, the passionate man, the drunkard, are not to be envied
even at the best, and a conscience hardened by sin is the most
sorrowful possession we can think of."
Barnum proceeded in this strain with various scriptural
quotations and familiar illustrations, for three-quarters of an
hour. At the end of his address several persons came up to shake
hands with him, saying that they had been greatly pleased and
edified by his remarks and asking to know his name. He went away
feeling that possibly he had done some good by means of his
The negro singer and dancer, Sandford, abruptly deserted the show
at Camden, South Carolina, and left Barnum in a bad plight. An
entertainment of negro songs had been advertised, and no one was
able to fill Sandford's place. Barnum was determined, however,
that his audience should not be disappointed, and so he blackened
his own face and went on the stage himself, singing a number of
plantation melodies. His efforts were received with great
applause, and he was recalled several times. This performance was
repeated for several evenings.
One night after thus personating a negro, Barnum heard a
disturbance outside the tent. Hastening to the spot he found a
man quarreling with one of his company. He interfered, whereupon
the man drew a pistol and pointing it at Barnum's head,
exclaimed, "you black scoundrel! How dare you use such language
to a white man?" He evidently took Barnum for a real negro, and
in another moment would have blown his brains out. But quick as a
flash the showman exclaim, "I am as white as you!" and at the
same moment rolled up his sleeves showing the white skin of his
arm. The other man dropped his pistol in consternation and humbly
begged Barnum's pardon.
"On four different occasions in my life," said Mr. Barnum not
long before his death, "I have had a loaded pistol pointed at my
head and each time I have escaped death by what seemed a miracle.
I have also often been in deadly peril by accidents, and when I
think of these things I realize my indebtedness to an
all-protecting Providence. Reviewing my career, too, and
considering the kind of company I kept for years and the
associations with which I was surrounded and connected, I am
surprised as well as grateful that I was not ruined. I honestly
believe that I owe my preservation from the degradation of living
and dying a loafer and a vagabond, to the single fact that I was
never addicted to strong drink. To be sure, I have in times past
drank liquor, but I have generally wholly abstained from
intoxicating beverages, and for many years, I am glad to say, I
have been a strict 'teetotaller.' "
At Camden, Barnum also lost one of his musicians, a Scotchman
named Cochran. This man was arrested and, in spite of Barnum's
efforts to save him, imprisoned for many months for advising a
negro barber who was shaving him to run away to the Free States
or to Canada. To fill up his ranks Barnum now hired Bob White, a
negro singer, and Joe Pentland, a clown, ventriloquist, comic
singer, juggler, and sleight-of-hand performer, and also bought
four horses and two wagons. He called this enlarged show
"Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theatre."
At Raleigh, North Carolina, Barnum had sold a half interest in
his show to a man called Henry,--not his real name. The latter
now acted as treasurer and ticket taker. When they reached
Augusta, Georgia, the Sheriff served a writ upon Henry for a debt
of $500. As Henry had $600 of the Company's money in his pockets,
Barnum at once secured a bill of sale of all his property in the
exhibition. Armed with this he met Henry's creditor and his
lawyer, who demanded the key of the stable, so that they might
levy on the horses and wagons. Barnum asked them to wait a little
while until he could see Henry, to which they agreed. Henry was
anxious to cheat his creditor, and accordingly was glad to sign
the bill of sale. Then Barnum returned and told the creditor and
his lawyer that Henry would neither pay nor compromise the claim.
The Sheriff thereupon demanded the stable key, so that he might
attach Henry's share of the property. "Not yet," said Barnum,
pulling out the bill of sale, "I am in possession as entire owner
of this property. I have already purchased it, and you have not
yet levied on it. You will touch my property at your peril."
The creditor and the sheriff were thus baffled, but they
immediately arrested Henry and took him to prison. The next day
Barnum learned that Henry really owed $1,300, and that he had
promised his creditor that he would pay him $500 of the company's
money and a bill of sale of his interest in the show at the end
of the Saturday night performance, in consideration of which the
creditor was to allow him to take one of the horses and run away,
leaving Barnum in the lurch. Learning this, Barnum was not
disposed to help Henry any further. Finding that Henry had
intrusted the $500 to Vivalla, to keep it from the sheriff,
Barnum secured it from Vivalla on Henry's order, under pretense
of securing bail for the prisoner. Then he paid the creditor the
full amount obtained from Henry as the price of his half-interest
and received in return an assignment of $500 of the creditor's
claim and a guarantee that he should not be troubled by Henry for
it. Thus his own promptness rescued Barnum from one of the most
unpleasant situations in which he was ever placed.
After this they got into one of the most desolate parts of
Georgia. One night their advance agent, finding it impossible to
reach the next town, arranged for the whole show to spend the
night at a miserable and solitary hovel owned by an old woman
named Hayes. The horses were to be picketed in a field, and the
company were to sleep in the tent and the out houses. Posters
were scattered over the country, announcing that a performance
would be given there the next day, the agent thinking that, as a
show was a rarity in that region, a considerable number of small
farmers would be glad to attend.
"Meanwhile," says Barnum, "our advertiser, who was quite a wag,
wrote back informing us of the difficulty of reaching a town on
that part of our route, and stating that he had made arrangements
for us to stay over night on the plantation of 'Lady Hayes,' and
that although the country was sparsely settled, we could
doubtless give a profitable performance to a fair audience.
"Anticipating a fine time on this noble 'plantation,' we started
at four o'clock in the morning so as to arrive at one o'clock,
thus avoiding the heat of the afternoon. Towards noon we came to
a small river where some men, whom we afterwards discovered to be
down-east Yankees, from Maine, were repairing a bridge. Every
flooring plank had been taken up, and it was impossible for our
teams to cross. 'Could the bridge be fixed so that we could go
over?' I inquired. 'No; it would take half a day, and meantime,
if we must cross, there was a place about sixteen miles down the
river where we could get over. 'But we can't go so far as that;
we are under engagement to perform on Lady Hayes's place
to-night, and we must cross here. Fix the bridge and we will pay
"They wanted no money, but if we would give them some tickets to
our show they thought they might do something for us. I gladly
consented, and in fifteen minutes we crossed that bridge. The
cunning rascals had seen our posters and knew we were coming; so
they had taken up the planks of the bridge and had hidden them
till they had levied upon us for tickets, when the floor was
re-laid in a quarter of an hour.
"Towards dinner-time we began to look out for the grand mansion
of 'Lady Hayes,' and seeing nothing but little huts we quietly
pursued our journey. At one o'clock--the time when we should have
arrived at our destination--I became impatient, and riding up to
a poverty-stricken hovel and seeing a ragged, bare-footed old
woman, with her sleeves rolled up to her shoulders, who was