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Uncle Tom’s Cabin Advertised by Local Maine Drama Club
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[HARRIET BEECHER STOWE]. Broadside. Uncle Tom’s Cabin playbill. Announcing performance by the Prospect Harbor, Maine, Dramatic Club, managed by E.W. Cleaves. Ca. 1890s. 1 p., 15⅜ x 27⅜ in.

Inventory #24716       Price: $1,800

Historical Background

Edwin W. Cleaves was active in Prospect Harbor’s local politics and society, and kept a hotel described in 1900 as “one of the most homelike one strikes anywhere on the coast.” The Prospect Harbor Dramatic Club was active in the 1890s, and Cleaves was the manager of a masquerade ball in Prospect Harbor in February 1895.

Although Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century, far more Americans saw the story as a stage play or musical than read the book. In only its first year alone, 1852, the book sold 300,000 copies. One scholar estimates that at least three million people saw a musical or play based on it during the nineteenth century. (Eric Lott, Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 211-33.)

Lax copyright laws and Stowe’s refusal to “authorize” a particular dramatic version led to the proliferation of productions, many based only loosely on her novel. Some changed Tom’s grim death to a happy reconciliation between Tom and his oppressors who come to see the error of their ways. “Tom shows” remained popular into the twentieth century when producers created silent film versions. By the beginning of the twentieth century, more than four hundred separate companies traveled and performed some theatrical version of the story.

With these blackface minstrel productions, the book that Abraham Lincoln credited with starting the war that led to Emancipation was thus unfortunately used over several generations to reinforce stereotypes of African Americans.

Edwin W. Cleaves (1833-1928) lived his entire life in Steuben and Prospect Harbor/ Gouldsboro, Maine. In the 1860s, he became a blacksmith and an expert ship iron man. He was a Mason, a Republican, and one of the founders of the Union League at Prospect Harbor. He taught several terms and also served as superintendent of schools there. He kept a hotel from at least 1876 to 1908. He married Isabell P. Cole (1837-1899), and after her death married Mrs. Ophelia Foster Burnham (1838-1923) in 1900.


Large bold wooden type, professionally mended and lined from the verso. A rare survival.

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