Scanned by Charles Keller with OmniPage Professional OCR
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 Needful.”
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 Bethel–Anecdotes
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 House
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 Matrimonial Agent
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 American Museum
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 France–Barnum’s Purchase
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 Dinner–Frank Leslie
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 Brerner
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 Encomium
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 Week
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 not Accepted
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 children.
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 added:
” ‘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 Island’ was.
” ‘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 wish.”
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 bushels short.
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 ten cents!
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 follows:
“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 education.
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 barefooted.
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 season.
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 you.”
“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, indignantly.
“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 assortment.”
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, then?”
“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 young Rushia.”
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 marry Rushia.”
“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 BETHEL–ANECDOTES.
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 increased.
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 of Sunday.
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 dollars.
“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 stand.”
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, who is?”
“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 sleigh.
“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 following:
“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 of Bethel.
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 following:]
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, “JACK MALLETT.
“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. “J. M.”
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 BOARDING-HOUSE.
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 up business.
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 street.
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 follows:
“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 subject.”
“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 know it.”
“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 c-c-creature, you.”
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 “whole shirt.”
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 vain.”
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 follows:
“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 Washington.’ “
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 said.
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 York.
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 Gospel.”
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 Barnum:
“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 way.”
“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,” he exclaimed.
“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 MATRIMONIAL AGENT.
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 impromptu preaching.
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 you handsomely.’
“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