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.