“O’ It Was a Sight Worth Seeing”: Uncle Tom Hits the Road

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


On September 11, 1853, roughly 2 months after the Aiken/Howard Uncle Tom’s Cabin opened at Purdy’s theatre in New York, the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch announced that “the most extraordinary scene ever presented in our theatrical annals was witnessed [recently] at the NATIONAL.”1 In this fashion, Philadelphians learned that “The Cabin,” as the Dispatch writer dubbed it, had been brought out in “fine style” and that Uncle Tom mania had seized the city. While the Dispatch column applied only to the production that had recently opened at Philadelphia’s National Theatre, it might have equally described what was happening worldwide, because almost immediately upon the release of the novel, stage versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin began appearing in foreign capitals and American cities large and small. But nowhere, however, was the proliferation of the drama more evident than in New York, the site of the first notable theatrical Uncle Toms. By the end of 1853, in addition to Aiken’s adaptation at the National and the Conway version at Barnum’s Museum, Odell lists an obscure production by Robert Marsh at the Odeon Theatre, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; a version staged by a Mr. Thorne at the St. Charles that The Spirit of the Times described as “doing extremely well;” and a tableaux/magic lantern version at the Franklin Museum that consisted of a series of tableaux—3 parts and 25 pictures.2


Slave Owner Legitimate Theatre Opera House Double Character Grand Opus 
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  1. 3.
    George C. D, Annals of the New York Stage. 15 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press (1927–41): VI: 277, 328; “From Things Theatrical,” The Spirit of the Times, September 3, 1853. {*}Google Scholar
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© John W. Frick 2012

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  • John W. Frick

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