University Archives


P.T. Barnum ALS on God and Religion - Outstanding

2pp autograph letter signed by American entertainer Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891) as "P.T. Barnum" on the inner page. On bifold paper stamped "P.T. Barnum / Bridgeport, CT. / Feb 1 1878" at upper left. The inner page is blank. Evenly toned. Expected light paper folds, some of which have been repaired. Mounting remnants on the last page. Else very good to near fine. 5" x 8".

In this significant letter, Barnum wrote a local black preacher named Mr. Davenport regarding the nature of God, the inevitability of sin, and the potential for redemption.

In part, with unchanged spelling and punctuation:

"Thanks for your letter. I desired you to show me your sermon last year to print it this year simply because I want to see and have the public see all that can be shown from scripture + oratory (?) on the side of endless seeking.

I am very thankful that you are such a zealous Temperance man and such of lover of your race. It speaks well, for those who think God will leave many poor sinners to endless suffering, that such believers are glad to comfort + reform such sinners in their life. I have wept many times on my knees + prayed God to take me out of the world if He would only save me. I thank Him that I have long since seen Him as an Almighty Father who rules in justice and love - and who was never so cruel or unwise as to give us the power to realize ourselves forever his secrecies (?) I should be very glad at some leisure time to have you at my house to talk over this subject in a friendly way, and with the sole desire to learn what is really God's truthÂ…"

The letter gives us a radically different view of Barnum, best known for his over-the-top showmanship and for lending his name to Barnum & Bailey Circus. The letter, in its exploration of the intersection between religion and race, is even more interesting when one considers that Barnum was a former slave-owner. Barnum bitterly regretted his past actions in later life, and it informed his personal faith and politics. The entertainer became an ardent member of the Universalist Church and an abolitionist. He had changed so much, then, that in 1878, Barnum could (and did) invite a black man to his home.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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