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.

    Richard Grady

    August 27, 2012

   Mendon Menu  

Mendon Town Hall

George Cunnabell Howard

The James Cunnabell home - 7 Maple Street.