Playing Poison: Mary Webb’s Antidote to the Tom Shows

  • Sara L. Crosby
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


In this chapter, Crosby follows the battle over the poisonous woman into the ephemera of antebellum popular culture. She examines how fake, sensational “true crime” pamphlets and “Tom shows”—the wildly popular unauthorized dramatic adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—tried to squeeze Harriet Beecher Stowe’s medicinal poisoner back into old, misogynist, and racist frames, such as the Democratic poisoner. Crosby, however, observes that Stowe pushed back by partnering with Mary Webb, an actress of mixed African and Spanish ethnicity, to create their own dramatic adaptation, The Christian Slave, which further amplified Cassy’s heroic centrality and active homeopathic resistance to white male supremacy.


Primary Sources

  1. Abolition Dramatized. National Anti-Slavery Standard, August 1853, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed Stephen Railton,, 9 June 2009.
  2. Aiken, George. 2005. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in Major Voices: The Drama of Slavery, ed. Eric Gardner, 171–256. New Milford: Toby Press.Google Scholar
  3. Aiken’s Uncle Tom. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 14 January 2015.
  4. Beecher, Catharine. 1837. An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the Duty of American Females. Addressed to Miss A. D. Grimké, 1837. Boston: Perkins & Marvin.Google Scholar
  5. Beecher, Henry Ward. 1890a. Popular Amusements. In Lectures to Young Men on Various Important Subjects, 129–150. New York: John B. Alden.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 1890b. The Strange Woman. In Lectures to Young Men on Various Important Subjects, 101–128. New York: John B. Alden.Google Scholar
  7. Beecher, Lyman Beecher. 1835. Lectures on Scepticism. Cincinnati: Corey and Webster.Google Scholar
  8. To the Congressional Committee of the District of Columbia. In History of Woman Suffrage, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al., 365, vol. 2. Rochester: Susan B. Anthony, 1881.Google Scholar
  9. Conway, H.J. 2015. Uncle Tom; or Life among the Lowly. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 14 January.
  10. Eastman, Mary H. 1852. Aunt Phillis’s Cabin, Or Southern Life as it Is. Philadelphia: Lippincott.Google Scholar
  11. To the Editor of the Christian Observer. The Christian Observer, 25, vol. 9. London: Ellerton and Henderson, 1811.Google Scholar
  12. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. 1974. My Kinsman, Major Molineux. In: The Snow-Image and Uncollected Tales, ed. William Charvat, et al., 208–231. Vol. 11 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. William Charvat, et al. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  13. The Illustrated London News August 1856. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 28 March 2012.
  14. Indicator. New York Correspondence. National Era 25 August 1853. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 10 June 2009.
  15. J. The Liberator 14 December 1855. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 28 March 2012.
  16. Lippard, George. 1852. The Bank Director’s Son, a Real and Intensely Interesting Revelation of City Life. Containing an Authentic Account of the Wonderful Escape of the Beautiful Kate Watson, from a Flaming Building in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E. E. Barclay and A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 1853. The Midnight Queen. New York: Garrett & Co.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1995. The Quaker City or, The Monks of Monk Hall: A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime, ed. David S. Reynolds. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
  19. Mowatt, Anna Cora. 1853. Autobiography of an Actress; Or, Eight Years on the Stage. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields.Google Scholar
  20. New York Atlas 16 October 1853. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 10 June 2009.
  21. Orton, Arthur R. 1852a. The Eventful Lives of Helen and Charlotte Lenoxa, The Twin Sisters of Philadelphia. Memphis\Richmond\Baltimore\Philadelphia: A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 1852b. The Life, Career, and Awful Death by the Garote, of Margaret C. Waldegrave; otherwise Margaret C. Florence—Alias Mrs. Belleville, Madame Rolande, Madame Le Hocq, the Poisoner and Murderess, at Havana, Cuba, June 9th, 1852. For the Murder of Charles D. Ellas, Lorenzo Cordoval, and Pierre Dupont (April 14th, 1852,) who were Three Desperate Members of a Powerful, and Sanguinary Band of Robber, Counterfeiters, and Assassins, known as, “The Alumni”. New Orleans\Charleston\Baltimore\Philadelphia: A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1852c. Private History and Confession of Pamela Lee, Who Was Convicted at Pittsburgh, Pa., December 19th, 1851, for the Wilful Murder of Her Husband and Sentenced to be Hanged on the 30th Day of January, A. D. 1852. Written at her Request and according to her Dictation, and Prepared by the Rev. Augustus Dimick. Philadelphia: n. p.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1852d. Zilla Fitz James, the Female Bandit of the South-West, or the Horrible, Mysterious, and Awful Disclosures in the Life of the Creole Murderess, Zilla Fitz James, Paramour and Accomplice of Green H. Long, the Treble Murderer, for the Space of Six Years. An Autobiographical Narrative, Edited by Rev. A. Richards. Little Rock\Arkansas: A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 1853. Two Eras in the Life of the Felon Grovenor I. Layton, who was Lynched by the Vigilance Committee at Sonora, Tuolumne County, California, June 17th, 1852. For Robbery, Murder, and Arson, He Having Robbed Three Chilians, Two Men and One Woman, of Ten Thousand Dollars in Gold Dust, at Mormon Gulch, Murdered and Burned them, together with their Cabin, May 28th, 1852. New Orleans\Charleston\Baltimore\Philadelphia: A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  26. ———. 1855. Isabella Narvaez, the Female Fiend and Triple Murderess, or The Life, Confession and Execution of Isabella Narvaez, the Atrocious Murderess of Three Husbands: who was Hung at Shelbyville, Mo., Friday, Sept. 30, 1853. Baltimore\Philadelphia\New York\Buffalo: A. R. Orton.Google Scholar
  27. ———. Ellen Irving, the Female Victimizer, who Cruelly Murdered Sixteen Persons in Cool Blood, for Revenge on her First Love, William Shannon, who had Betrayed her. Also an Account of her Association with Charles Dorian, an Italian Murderer. Complete in one Volume. Edited by Rev. Robert B. Russell. Baltimore\Philadelphia\New York\Buffalo: A. R. Orton, 1856.Google Scholar
  28. Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. 1971. Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences, 1815–1897. New York: Shocken.Google Scholar
  29. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. 1855. The Christian Slave. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2009. Harriet Beecher Stowe to Lady Hatherton, May 24, 1856. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton.,, 10 June.
  31. ———. 1994. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.Google Scholar
  32. ———. 1967. Woman’s Sphere. In Household Papers and Stories, 249–273. New York: AMS Press.Google Scholar
  33. Uncle Tom at the Bowery. New York Tribune 17 January 1854, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton,, 6 August 2009.
  34. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Southern Literary Messenger 18 (1852): 721–731.Google Scholar
  35. Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Tabernacle. New York Times, 18 December 1855. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, ed. Stephen Railton., 28 March 2012.
  36. Winchester, Reverend Samuel Gover. 1840. The Theatre. Philadelphia: William S. Martien.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Ackerman, Alan L., Jr. 1999. The Portable Theater: American Literature and the Nineteenth-Century Stage. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bank, Rosemarie K. 1997. Theatre Culture in America, 1825–1860. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, Michael. 2005. Democratic Discourses: The Radical Abolition Movement and Antebellum American Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Birdoff, Harry. 1947. The World’s Greatest Hit: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: S. F. Vanni.Google Scholar
  5. Black, Alex W. 2011. Abolitionism’s Resonant Bodies: The Realization of African American Performance. American Quarterly 63 (3): 619–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolton, H. Philip. 2000. Women Writers Dramatized: A Calendar of Performances from Narrative Works Published in English to 1900. London: Mansell.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, Susan. 1997. Solo Black Performance before the Civil War: Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Webb, and ‘The Christian Slave. New Theater Quarterly 13 (52): 339–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davis, Sue. 2008. The Political Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Women’s Rights and the American Political Traditions. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  9. DeLombard, Jeannine Marie. 2007. Slavery on Trial: Law, Abolitionism, and Print Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dudden, Faye. 1994. Women in the American Theatre: Actresses and Audiences, 1790–1870. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fredrickson, George. 1987. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Frick, John W. 2012. Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  13. Gardner, Eric. 2005a. Introduction to The Christian Slave, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. In Major Voices: The Drama of Slavery, ed. Eric Gardner, 259–264. New Milford: Toby Press.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 2005b. Introduction to Major Voices: The Drama of Slavery, ed. Eric Gardner. New Milford: Toby Press.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 2002. ‘A Nobler End’: Mary Webb and the Victorian Platform. Nineteenth-Century Prose 29 (1): 103–116.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1998. Stowe Takes the Stage: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Christian Slave. Legacy 15 (1): 78–84.Google Scholar
  17. Gossett, Thomas F. 1985. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Greenberg, Amy. 2005. Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Grimsted, David. 1968. Melodrama Unveiled: American Theater and Culture, 1800–1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gunderson, Robert Gray. 1957. The Log-Cabin Campaign. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.Google Scholar
  21. Harrison, Les. 2007. The Temple and the Forum: The American Museum and Cultural Authority in Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, and Whitman. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  22. Horowitz, Helen. 2002. Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Alfred Knopf.Google Scholar
  23. Hughes, Amy. 2012. Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, Claudia. 1984. American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 2008. Church and Stage: The Theater as Target of Religious Condemnation in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: McFarland.Google Scholar
  26. Jones, Martha S. 2007. All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  27. Lahmon, W.T., Jr. 2003. Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2000. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lasser, Carol, and Stacey Robertson. 2010. Antebellum Women: Private, Public, Partisan. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Lerner, Gerda. 1971. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition. New York: Schocken Books.Google Scholar
  31. Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. ———. 2002. Review of Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, by W. T. Lhamon, Jr. American Literature 74: 146–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mahar, William J. 1999. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Urbana: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.Google Scholar
  34. McConachie, Bruce. 2006. Cognitive Studies and Epistemic Competence in Cultural History: Moving Beyond Freud and Lacan. In Performance and Cognition: Theatre Studies and the Cognitive Turn, ed. Bruce McConachie and F. Elizabeth Hart, 52–78. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. ———. 1991. Out of the Kitchen and into the Marketplace: Normalizing Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the Antebellum Stage. The Journal of American Drama and Theater 3: 5–28.Google Scholar
  36. ———. 1993. Museum Theatre and the Problem of Respectability for Mid-century Urban Americans. In The American Stage: Social and Economic Issues from the Colonial Period to the Present, ed. Ron Engle and Tice L. Miller, 65–80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. McDade, Thomas M. 1956. Lurid Literature of the Last Century: The Publications of E. E. Barclay. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 80 (4): 452–464.Google Scholar
  38. Meer, Sarah. 2005. Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s. Athens: University of Georgia University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Meserve, Walter J. 1986. Heralds of Promise: The Drama of the American People during the Age of Jackson, 1829–1849. New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  40. Mullenix, Elizabeth Reitz. 2000. Wearing the Breeches: Gender on the Antebellum Stage. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  41. Nathans, Heather S. 2009. Slavery and Sentiment on the American Stage, 1787–1861: Lifting the Veil of Black. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Pearson, Carole, and Katherine Pope. 1981. The Female Hero in American and British Fiction. New York: R. R. Bowker.Google Scholar
  43. Peterson, Carla L. 1995. Doers of the Word’: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830–1880). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Pullen, Kirsten. 2014. Like a Natural Woman: Spectacular Female Performance in Classical Hollywood. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Rael, Patrick. 2002. Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  46. Reynolds, David S. 1988. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Richards, Jason. 2006. Imitation Nation: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Making of American Selfhood in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Novel 39 (2): 204–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Riggio, Thomas P. Spring, 1976. Uncle Tom Reconstructed: A Neglected Chapter in the History of a Book. American Quarterly 28 (1): 56–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Riis, Thomas L. 1986. The Music and Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. American Music 4 (3): 269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Robbins, Sarah. Introduction to. 2007. The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roberts, Diane. 1994. The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  52. Romero, Lora. 1997. Home Fronts: Domesticity and its Critics in the Antebellum United States. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Senelick, Laurence. 1999. The Age and Stage of George L. Fox, 1825–1877. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.Google Scholar
  54. Shiffler, Harrold C. 1953. The Opposition of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to the Theatre in America, 1750–1891. PhD Dissertation, University of Iowa.Google Scholar
  55. Smith, Stephanie. 1994. Conceived by Liberty: Maternal Figures and Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Stevens, Louise L. 2014. Virtue Displayed: The Tie-Ins of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In: Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Multi Media Archive, directed by Stephen Railton, 2007,, 10 September.
  57. Toll, Robert C. 1974. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. White, Shane. 2002. Stories of Freedom in Black New York. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Williams, Judith. 2001. Uncle Tom’s Women. In African American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader, ed. Harry J. Elam and David Krasner, 19–39. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Winship, Michael. 2018. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: History of the Book in the 19th-Century United States. In: Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Multi Media Archive, directed by Stephen Railton, 2007,, 22 March.
  61. Wilentz, Sean. 2005. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara L. Crosby
    • 1
  1. 1.The Ohio State University at MarionMarionUSA

Personalised recommendations