As a boy, P. T. Barnum was know to family and friends as Taylor Barnum.
Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum was born on 5 Jul 1810 in Bethel, Connecticut; died on 7 Apr 1891 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. P. T. Barnum was a celebrated American showman, who employed sensational forms of presentation and publicity to popularize such amusements as the public museum, the musical concert, and the three-ring circus. In partnership with James A. Bailey, he made the American circus a popular and gigantic spectacle, the so-called "Greatest Show on Earth."
Between 1831 and 1834 Barnum edited his own newspaper in Danbury, the Herald of Freedom. After having several articles refused by a Danbury newspaper, he started the Herald of Freedom to combat what he saw as sectarian attempts to bring about a union of church and state. Three times charged with libel for statements he made about opponents, he was once convicted and was jailed for 60 days. He issued 160 editions before handing the paper over to his brother-in-law John W. Amerman, who sold the paper to George Taylor in 1835.
US Passports were issued in the name of Phineas T. Barnum on at least three occasions: 11 Jan 1844, 11 Nov 1856, and 5 Jan 1870.
In the 1850 US Census for Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut the family of Phineas T. Barnum was enumerated as follows:
Dwelling #21; Family #25
Phineas T. Barnum, 40, M, Museum manager, Real property $150,000, b. Connecticut
Charity Barnum, 42, F, b. Connecticut
Caroline C. Barnum, 17, F, b. Connecticut, Attended school within the year
Hellen M. Barnum, 10, F, b. New York, Attended school within the year
Pauline T. Barnum, 4, F, b. Connecticut, Attended school within the year
David Butler, 45, M, Museum [illegible], b. Connecticut
Ann Monaghan, 19, F, b. Ireland
Mary Mabersey, 20, F, b. Ireland
Ann Sally, 25, F, b. Ireland
Presence Jackson, 45, F, Mulatto, b. Connecticut
In the 1860 US Census for Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut the family of Phineas T. Barnum was enumerated as follows:
Dwelling #338; Family #374
Phineas T. Barnum, 50, M, Showman, b. Connecticut
Charity Barnum, 51, F, b. Connecticut
Pauline Barnum, 14, F, b. Connecticut
John Stephenson, 33, M, Domestic, b. Ireland
Terressa O'Tool, 23, F, Domestic, b. Ireland, Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read & write
Fanny Readdy, 55, F, Domestic, b. Ireland, Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read & write
In the 1870 US Census for New York Ward 21 District 19 (2nd Enum), New York, New York the family of Phineas T. Barnum was enumerated as follows:
Dwelling #438; Westside 5th between W 38th & 39th Streets
Barnum, Phineas T.; 60; M; b. Connecticut
Barnum, Charity; 63; F; b. Connecticut
Hallet, Hannah; 85; F; b. Connecticut
Riley, Mary; 35; F; Servant; b. Ireland
Maxwell, Maggie; 37; F; Servant; b. Ireland
Judge, Mary; 30; F; Servant; b. Ireland
In the 1880 US Census for District 128, Bridgeport, Fairfield County, Connecticut the family of Phineas T. Barnum was enumerated as follows:
Dwelling #364; Family #471
Barnum, P. T.; W; M; 69; Married; b. Connecticut; Both parents b. Connecticut
Barnum, Nancy; W; F; 30; Wife; Married; b. England; Both parents b. England
Seeley, Emily; W; F; 50; Married; Servant; b. New Brunswick; Both parents b. Ireland
Cogswell, Kate; W; F; 28; Single; Servant; b. Ireland; Both parents b. Ireland
O'Reilly, Annie; W; F; 26; Single; Servant; b. England; Both parents b. Ireland
Flinter, Edward; W; M; 23; Single; Outdoor servant; b. Connecticut; Both parents b. Ireland
At the peak of his career, Barnum's own appearance was nearly as familiar to the public as the exhibits he promoted. An impressive figure six feet two inches tall, semi-bald, with blue eyes, a bulbous nose, and potbelly, he called himself the "Prince of Humbugs." He dwelt in a three-story Oriental mansion, named Iranistan, on a 17-acre estate in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he played host to such notables as George Custer, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley and Matthew Arnold. Close friends regarded him as good-natured, thoughtful, and kind, as well as parsimonious and egotistical.
The quote "There's a sucker born every minute" is often attributed to him, but Barnum doubted ever having uttered those words -- although he conceded that he may have said, "The people like to be humbugged." In the appendix to A. H. Saxon, 'P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man' (1989), it's claimed that the phrase: "There's a sucker born every minute, but none of them ever die" actually originated with a notorious con-man known as "Paper Collar Joe" (real name, Joseph Bessimer), and was later falsely ascribed to Barnum by show-business rival Adam Forepaugh in a newspaper interview. Barnum never took specific pains to deny it, and even thanked Forepaugh for the free publicity.
In spite of the confusion about the statement given above, Barnum was fond of making extravagant and colorful statements, many of which have been properly quoted. Among them is the paraphrased statement, "Every crowd has a silver lining."
Barnum was offered, but declined, the Democratic nomination for governor of Connecticut in 1852. He served two terms in the Connecticut legislature (1865-67) and a term as mayor of Bridgeport (1875). He was nominated by the Republican Party as a candidate for US Congress (1867), but was defeated. His Democratic opponent was William H. Barnum, a third cousin once , who was the political boss of Fairfield County, Connecticut. [See the entry in this genealogy for Senator William H. Barnum for the text of a letter written by P.T. Barnum concerning their political campaign].
In his application for a passport, dated 4 January 1870, P.T. Barnum described himself as follows: Age 59 years; Stature 5 feet 10-1/2; Forehead High & broad; Eyes Grey; Nose Regular; Mouth Medium; Chin Round; Hair Light; Complexion Fair; Face Full.
What is now New York's famous Madison Square Garden opened in April, 1874 under the name "Barnum's Hippodrome." At the north end of the city's 38-year-old Madison Square Park, on Fifth Avenue, was a shed which had been used until 1871 as a freight depot for the New York and Harlem Railroad. Barnum spent $35,000 to remodel the roofless structure and sold his lease that winter to Patrick S. Gilmore for a handsome profit. Gilmore renamed it "Gilmore's Garden" and used it for flower shows, policemen's balls, America's first beauty contest, religious and temperance meetings, and the first Westminster Kennel Club Show, while Barnum pitched his circus tent at Gilmore's Garden each spring. Madison Square Garden got its present name on May 30, 1879 when it was acquired and renamed by railroad heir William K. Vanderbilt, who announced that it would be used primarily as an athletic center.
The sort of life lived by P. T. Barnum and his contemporaries in Bethel, in the first years of the 19th century, was eloquently described by Barnum himself. In his 71st year he presented a bronze fountain to the citizens of his birthplace, accompanying the presentation with the following speech.
"My friends: Among all the varied scenes of an active and eventful life, crowded with strange incidents of struggle and excitement, of joy and sorrow, taking me often through foreign lands and bringing me face to face with the King in his palace and the peasant in his turf-covered hut, I have invariably cherished with most affectionate remembrance the place of my birth, the old village meeting house, without steeple or bell, where in its square family pew I sweltered in summer and shivered through my Sunday- school lessons in winter, and the old school-house where the ferule, the birchen rod and rattan did active duty, and which I deserved and received a liberal share. I am surprised to find that I can distinctly remember events which occurred before I was four years old.
"I can see as if but yesterday our hard-working mothers hetcheling their flax, carding their tow and wool, spinning, reeling, and weaving it into fabrics for bedding and clothing for all the family of both sexes. The same good mothers did the knitting, darning, mending, washing, ironing, cooking, soap and candle making. picked the geese, milked the cows, made butter and cheese, and did many other things for the support of the family.
"We babies of 1810, when at home, were dressed in tow frocks, and the garments of our elders were not much superior, except on Sunday, when they wore their 'go-to-meeting clothes' of homespun and linsey-woolsey.
"Rain water was caught and used for washing, while that for drinking and cooking was drawn from wells with their 'old oaken buckets' and long poles and well sweeps.
"Fire was kept over night by banking up the brands in ashes in the fireplace, and if it went out one neighbor would visit another about daylight the next morning with a pair of tongs to borrow a coal of fire to kindle with. Our candles were tallow, home-made, with dark tow wicks. In summer nearly all retired at early dark without lighting a candle except on extraordinary occasions. Home-made soft soap was used for washing hands, faces and everything else. The children in families of ordinary circumstances ate their meals on trenchers, wooden plates. As I grew older our family and others got an extravagant streak, discarded the trenchers and rose to the dignity of pewter plates and leaden spoons. Tin peddlers who traveled through the country with their wagons supplied these and other luxuries. Our food consisted chiefly of boiled and baked beans, bean porridge, coarse rye bread, apple sauce, hasty pudding beaten in milk, of which we all had plenty. The elder portion of the family ate meat twice a day -- had plenty of vegetables, fish of their own catching, and occasionally big clams, which were cheap in those days, and shad in their season. . . .
"Our dinners several times each week consisted of 'pot luck, ' which was corned beef, salt pork, and vegetables, all boiled together in the same big iron pot hanging from the crane which was supplied with iron hooks and trammels and swung in and out of the huge fireplace. In the same pot with the salt pork, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots, cabbage, and sometimes onions, was placed an Indian pudding, consisting of plain Indian meal mixed in water, pretty thick, salted and poured into a home-made brown linen bag which was tied at the top. When dinner was ready the Indian pudding was first taken from the pot, slipped out of the bag and eaten with molasses. Then followed the 'pot luck.' . . .
"There were but few wagons and carriages in Bethel when I was a boy. Our grists of grain were taken to the mill in bags on horseback, and the women rode to church on Sundays and around the country on weekdays on horseback, usually on a cushion called a pillion fastened behind the saddle, the husband, father, brother, or lover riding in front on the saddle.
"The country doctor visited his patients on horseback, carrying his saddle-bags, containing calomel, jalap, Epsom salts, lancet and a turnkey, those being the principal aids in relieving the sick. Nearly every person sick or well was bled every spring. Teeth were pulled with a turnkey, and a dreadful instrument it was in looks, and terrible in execution. . . .
"I remember seeing my father and our neighbors put through military drill every day by Capt. Noah Ferry in 1814, for the war with Great Britain of 1812-15.
"My uncles, aunts, and others, when I was a child, often spoke about ravages of Indians from which their ancestors had suffered, and numbers of them remembered and described the burning of Danbury by the British in 1777. . . .
"Esquire Tom Taylor sometimes wore white-topped boots. He was a large, majestic-looking man, of great will-force, and was considered the richest man in Bethel. Mr. Eli Judd was marked second in point of wealth. Every year I took twelve dollars to Esquire Tom Taylor to pay the interest on a two hundred dollar note which my father owed him. I also annually carried four dollars and fifty cents to Eli Judd for interest on a seventy-five dollar note which he held against my father. As these wealthy men quietly turned over each note filed away in a small package until they found the note of my father, and then indorsed the interest thereon, I trembled with awe to think I stood in the presence of such wonderfully rich men. It was estimated that the richer of them was actually worth three thousand dollars!
"Esquire Tom Taylor made quite a revolution here by one act. He got two yards of figured carpet to put down in front of his bed in the winter, because the bare board floor was too cold for his feet, while he was dressing. This was a big event in the social life of that day, and Esquire Tom was thought to be putting on airs which his great wealth alone permitted.
"When I was but ten years old, newspapers came only once a week. The man who brought us the week's papers came up from Norwalk, and drove through this section with newspapers for subscribers and pins and needles for customers. He was called Uncle Silliman. I can remember well his weekly visit through Bethel, and his queer cry. On coming to a house or village he would shout, 'News! News! The Lord reigns!' One time he passed our school-house when a snow storm was prevailing. He shouted: 'News! News! The Lord reigns -- and snows a little.'
"Everybody had barrels of cider in their cellars and drank cider-spirits called 'gumption.' Professors of religion and the clergy all drank liquor. They drank it in all the hat and comb shops, the farmers had it at hay and harvest times. Every sort of excuse was made for being treated. A new journeyman must give a pint or quart of rum to pay his footing. If a man had a new coat he must 'sponge' it by treating. Even at funerals the clergy, mourners, and friends drank liquor. At public vendues the auctioneer held a bottle of liquor in his hand and when bidding lagged he would cry 'a dram to the next bidder,' the bid would be raised a cent, and the bidder would take his boldly and be the envy of most of the others.
"The public whipping post and imprisonment for debt both flourished in Bethel in my youthful days. Suicides were buried at crossroads. How blessed are we to live in a more charitable and enlightened age, to enjoy the comforts and conveniences of modern times, and to realize that the world is continually growing wiser and better.
"I sincerely congratulate my native village on her character for temperance, industry, and other good qualities.
"And now, my friends, I take very great pleasure in presenting this fountain to the town and borough of Bethel as a small evidence of the love which I bear them and the respect which I feel for my successors, the present and future citizens of my native village."
The remarkable showman lived yet another ten years following the presentation outlined above, passing away at the age of 80 years, 9 months and 2 days, in his home at Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1890 he had visited Denver, intending to go on to the Pacific Coast, but gave up the trip and returned home on 1 Nov. He appeared as well as usual, but after 6 Nov 1890 he no longer left his house, and he died on 7 Apr 1891.
He married (1st) Charity Hallett on 8 Nov 1829 in New York, New York. The marriage was performed Nov the Rev. Dr. McAuley. Charity was born in 1808 in Bethel, Connecticut; died on 17 NOV 1873. She was a tailoress in Bethel, Connecticut, prior to her marriage to P. T. Barnum. 'The Barnum Family, 1350-1907' calls her Charity Hallot.
Following the death of his first wife, P. T. Barnum married (2nd) Nancy FISH on 16 Sep 1874. She was born in 1850 in Southport, Lancashire, England. His new wife, 40 years his junior, was the daughter of John FISH, a Manchester cotton mill owner and an old friend, who had based his commercial success on the principles laid down by Barnum. A marriage certificate discovered in 1994 revealed that the couple had secretly married the previous Valentine's Day, 13 weeks after the death of his first wife. A copy of this marriage certificate can be seen in 'P.T. Barnum, America's Greatest Showman' by Philip Kunhardt.
Barnum was laid to rest in beautiful Mountain Grove Cemetery, which he himself had created. In poignant contrast to the garish notices that had accompanied his 60-year career, the inscription on his tombstone was a modest one. "P. T. Barnum," it read, "Not My Will But Thine Be Done."
National Archives and Records Administration, Film M277, Reel 22. P. T. Barnum's first wife, Charity Hallett, was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1808. He met her in 1827 in his hometown of Bethel, where she was employed as a seamstress. They married two years later in a secret ceremony conducted in New York City and attended only by the bride's family, because Barnum's mother, Irena, initially felt that Charity was not good enough for her son. However, within a month, she relented and welcomed her new daughter-in-law. After a few years of marriage, Barnum viewed his wife as old-fashioned, a hypochondriac, nervous and proper, and she often was the object of her husband's criticism and practical jokes. Charity was content to remain at home with her children, while Barnum traveled the country and abroad on trips of business and pleasure. By 1847, Barnum's heavy bouts of alcoholism threatened their marriage, but, through the intervention of a Universalist clergyman, he gave up drinking and became a staunch supporter of the Temperance Movement. Charity Barnum's chronic illnesses and complaints lingered for several years until, in 1873, after 44 years of marriage, she died of heart disease.
At the time of his wife's death, the 63-year-old Barnum was in Europe, ostensibly on business, but also meeting with an old friend, John Fish, and Fish's 22-year-old daughter, Nancy, with whom Barnum had been corresponding for more than two years. Rather than return home for Charity's funeral, Barnum remained in England to be consoled by Nancy. P. T. Barnum and Nancy Fish were secretly married Feb. 14, 1874, in London, just 13 weeks and two days after Charity's death. He returned to the United States in April and soon sent for Nancy to join him. They were remarried at a public ceremony in New York City in September 1874. No records of the Feb. 14 wedding were ever found among belongings of the Barnum or Fish families, and the marriage certificate of that ceremony was not discovered until 120 years later. After Barnum's death in 1891, Nancy Fish Barnum lived abroad and married two more times. She died in Paris in 1927.
For information about the development of the Barnum and Bailey Circus "The Greatest Show on Earth" following the death of its founder, see the history article found on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey website at http://www.ringling.com/explore/history/bailey_1.aspx
An interesting article appeared in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 18 Issue 3, page 486. The article, titled "Barnum's Brothel: P.T.'s 'Last Great Humbug'", discusses a brothel that was run in a residential building in New York City in the 1880s and was owned by P. T. Barnum. It includes a discussion of the arrest of a woman named Minnie Fischer, who worked at the brothel, located in the Manhattan district of New York, as well as Barnum's involvement in prohibition-related activities, his work as a political figure and his 1874 marriage to Nancy Fish, 40 years his junior, which occurred just 13 weeks after the death of his first wife.
From Life of Hon. Phineas T. Barnum, by Joel Benton, First edition. Edgewood Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1891: April 10th, 1891, was the day set for Mr. Barnum's funeral. The morning was cold, gray, and dismal. Nature's heart, with the spring joy put back and deadened, symboled the melancholy that had fallen upon Bridgeport. No town was ever more transformed than was this city by one earthly event. On the public and private buildings were hung the habiliments of woe; flags were at half mast, and, in the store windows were to be seen innumerable portraits and likenesses of the dead citizen, surrounded by dark drapery, or embedded in flowers. Nor was this all. The people on the street and in the windows of their houses seemed to be thinking of but one thing -- their common loss. The pedestrian walked slower; the voices of talkers, even among the rougher classes, were more subdued, and in their looks was imprinted the unmistakable signal of no common or ordinary bereavement. The large church was not only filled, with its lecture-room, a considerable time before the hour set for the services; but thousands of people crowded the sidewalks near-by for hours, knowing they could only see the arrival and departure of the funeral cortege. The private services at the house, "Marina," near the Seaside Park, which preceded the public services in the church, were simple and were only witnessed and participated in by the relatives and immediate friends.
The immense congregation that filled to repletion the South Congregational Church, while the last services were being held over the remains of Hon. P. T. Barnum, were deeply impressed with the touching tribute which was paid the great showman and public benefactor by his old friend, Rev. Robert Collyer, D.D. It was a pathetic picture which met the eyes of the vast throng. The aged preacher, with long white hair hanging loosely on his shoulders, and an expression of keen sorrow on his kindly face, standing in a small pulpit looking down on the remains of his old and cherished friend. The speaker's voice was strong and steady throughout his sermon. Each word of that sad panegyric could be distinctly heard in every part of the edifice, but in offering up the last prayer, he broke down. The aged preacher made a strong effort to control himself, but his voice finally became husky, and tears streamed down his wrinkled cheeks. The audience was deeply touched by this display of feeling, and many ladies among the congregation joined with the preacher and wept freely. The immense gathering were unusually quiet when the aged minister took his place in the pulpit, and his words were strangely clear, and distinct in all portions of the church, In his feeling tribute, Dr. Collyer said: "P. T. Barnum was a born fighter for the weak against the strong, for the oppressed against the oppressor. The good heart, tender as it was brave, would always spring up at the cry for help and rush on with the sword of assistance. This was not all that made him loved, for the good cheer of his nature was like a halo about him. He had always time to right a wrong and always time to be a good citizen and patriot of the town, State, or republic in which he lived. His good, strong face, was known almost as well on the other side. You may be proud of him as he was proud of his town. He helped to strengthen and beautify it, and he did beautify it in many places. 'It is said that the hand that grasps takes away the strength from the hand that ought to give,' and that such a man must die without friends or blessings. He was not that man. He was always the open and generous man, who could not do too much for Bridgeport. He often told me of his desire to help this place, and he was not content to wait until after death. What he has done for Bridgeport is the same as he has done for other noble works. As my brother, Rev. Mr. Fisher, said today, there was never anything proposed in this city that had any promise of goodness but that he was ready to pour out money and assistance for it. "Faith in one's self fails in the spring if one has not faith in God also. He had that faith I know. He had worship, reverence, and love in his heart, and as he rests from his labors we meet and linger here for a few minutes and pay respect and honor to the memory of a great and good man. We can forget that we belong to divers churches, and stand here as children of one faith and one baptism, honoring for the last time one who has finished his labors here and with a crown of glory for his reward, has joined in his eternal home the Father he served so well." When the church services were over, the procession moved to Mountain View Cemetery, a mile or more distant, where, in a beautiful plat, long ago arranged, with a modest monument above it, rest the remains of Mr. Barnum's first wife. Here, in a place made beautiful by nature and improved by art, was consigned the mortal part of him whose story we have tried, weakly, perhaps, to tell. Great masses of flowers, similar to those displayed in the house and church, were upon the grave and about it, and the people, who came there in large numbers, did not leave for hours after the religious service had been read. A book of good size might be made of the notable expressions called forth by Mr. Barnum's death from leading journals and men known to fame. It is impossible to give any fair sample of them here, but the London Times' leader of April 8th may serve, perhaps, as a good specimen: "Barnum is gone. That fine flower of Western civilization, that arbiter elegantiarum to Demos, has lived. At the age of eighty, after a life of restless energy and incessant publicity, the great showman has lain down to rest. He gave, in the eyes of the seekers after amusement, a lustre to America. * * * He created the metier of showman on a grandiose scale worthy to be professed by a man of genius. He early realized that essential feature of a modern democracy, its readiness to be led to what will amuse and instruct it. He knew that 'the people' means crowds, paying crowds; that crowds love the fashion and will follow it; and that the business of the great man is to make and control the fashion. To live on, by, and before the public was his ideal. For their sake and his own, he loved to bring the public to see, to applaud, and to pay. His immense activity, covering all those years, marked him out as one of the most typical and conspicuous of Yankees. From Jenny Lind to Jumbo, no occasion of a public 'sensation' came amiss to him. "Phineas Taylor Barnum, born in 1810, at Bethel, Connecticut -- how serious and puritanical it sounds! -- would have died with a merely local reputation unless chance had favored him by putting in his way something to make a hit with. He stumbled across Charles H. Stratton, the famous, the immortal 'General Tom Thumb' of our childhood. Together they came to Europe and held 'receptions' everywhere. It was the moment when the Queen's eldest children were in the nursery, and Barnum saw that a fortune depended on his bringing them into friendly relations with Tom Thumb. He succeeded; and the British public flocked to see the amusing little person who had shown off his mature yet miniature dimensions by the side of the baby Heir Apparent. Then came the Jenny Lind furore. Then came a publicity of a different sort. Mr. Barnum became a legislator for his State, and even, in 1875, Mayor of Bridgeport. Why not? The man who can organize the amusements of the people may very well be trusted to organize a few of their laws for them. "When, in 1889, the veteran brought over his shipload of giants and dwarfs, chariots and waxworks, spangles and circus-riders, to entertain the people of London, one wanted a Carlyle to come forward with a discourse upon 'the Hero as Showman.' It was the ne plus ultra of publicity. * * * There was a three-fold show -- the things in the stalls and cages, the showman, and the world itself. And of the three perhaps Barnum himself was the most interesting. The chariot races and the monstrosities we can get elsewhere, but the octogenarian showman was unique. His name is a proverb already, and a proverb it will continue."
His illness caused him to be confined to the house for several months.