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
August 27, 2012
The “Brown and Reeves Band” on the 1869 poster above is the precursor to The
American Band out of Providence RI. I’m not sure about the Brown part but they
were referred to as “Reeves Band” They also played at our 200th anniversary. They
are still a performing group. Henry Morel plays with them. Click here for a history of
the band. Sent by Daniel Byer.