“A Play to which No Apologist for Slavery Could Object”: The Conway/Kimball/Barnum Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • John W. Frick
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


In 1853, as the Aiken/Howard/Purdy adaptation was moving toward its record-setting run of 325 performances, productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were staged by local stock companies in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco; at Rice’s Theatre in Chicago; and, in a version by Clifton W. Tayleure in Detroit, as well as those in New York. By the end of the year, New Yorkers could see a version of Stowe’s classic at the National; one at Barnum’s American Museum; another at the Franklin Museum; several months later, a fourth version in German by a Herr von Olfers at the Deutches or Charles Street Theatre; and subsequently, yet another at the Bowery Theatre. Of these, the most threatening to Purdy was the version at Barnum’s American Museum—a production dubbed the Compromise Uncle Tom. Barnum had “inherited” his production from his friend and show business collaborator, Moses Kimball, proprietor of the Boston Museum. For years, the two show business impresarios had been trading acts and shows, the most notable being the temperance classic, The Drunkard, which had debuted at Kimball’s establishment in 1844 and subsequently was mounted at Barnum’s theatre in 1850. Kimball’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been written by house playwright H. J. Conway who, after being urged by Kimball and his stage manager Henry Sedley Smith (one of the coauthors of The Drunkard) to temper the “crude points” and “objectionable features” of Stowe’s novel, crafted an adaptation.


Slave System Stage Manager American Museum Educational Exhibit Lecture Room 
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© John W. Frick 2012

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  • John W. Frick

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