Theater Group Vacationed in Mendon in 1856
James Cunnabell's invitation to his cousins to spend some vacation time in Mendon in the summer
of 1856 seemed like a great idea. George Cunnabell Howard, his family, and a few friends were
performers in a Boston based theater group, and they welcomed the opportunity to spend some quiet
time in the countryside to visit with their colorful relative, who lived at 7 Maple Street. James was well
known for his outgoing personality and sense of humor, so it was no surprise when he began to
tease his house guests about their line of work. His teasing continued, and after a while, it became
evident that he wanted the members of the group to put on a play in the Town Hall to give Mendon
people a sampling of their work. Surely, the theatrical cousins had to wonder if the summer of 1856
would be as relaxing as promised.
George agreed to "give a show," so the group built a stage and painted scenery in the upper Town
Hall. James invited his family and friends to an evening of entertainment.
The performance that evening was quite memorable. The "show" was Uncle Tom's Cabin based on
the controversial book by Harriet Beecher Stowe. George Howard's theatrical group had recently
performed the play to 326 sold out audiences at the National Theater in New York City, and most
recently to many sold out audiences at the Boston Museum Stock Company. The locals were treated
to a first class play by superb professional actors. The book and the play focused on the issue of
slavery, the divisive theme of the 1850's. Mrs. Stowe was originally against the idea of allowing the
dramatization of her book, but after watching Howard's play , she was pleased that her powerful
message was being spread about the evils of slavery. The stage production had become a tool of
enlightenment. Howard's production of Uncle Tom's Cabin filled capacity seating in city theaters
throughout the Northeast, but on a summer evening in 1856, in the Mendon Town Hall, James
Cunnabell's family and friends enjoyed a stage presentation that awoke the nation's conscience.
August 27, 2012
Mendon Town Hall
George Cunnabell Howard
The James Cunnabell home - 7 Maple Street.