University Archives


Phineas T. Barnum Remarkable ALS to Black Preacher: "my desires + plans for the bettering of the race"

1p autograph letter inscribed overall by American businessman Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891), and signed by him as "P T Barnum" at lower right. Written in Bridgeport, Connecticut on June 14, 1876. Stamped "P.T. Barnum / Bridgeport, CT. / June / 14 / 1876" at upper right. On cream blue-ruled stationery, probably once bifold, but now a single sheet. Light overall toning, isolated discoloration, and expected paper folds. Mounting traces verso. Else very good to near fine. 5" x 7.75".

Barnum wrote this letter to one "Reverend Davenport", a black preacher, explaining why he was unable to make a donation to a local charity.

In full:

"My dear Mr Davenport

I am sure you are doing a good work, and it is anything but pleasant for me to return a negative to such an offer as yours. But if you knew one half the reasons which constrain me to do so, I am confident you would regard them as ample.

I cannot think you will fail in your present endeavor, but I find it difficult under present financial pressure to carry out all my desires + plans for the bettering of the race.

In haste Truly yours,

P T Barnum".

Barnum had a mixed track record when it came to race relations. A former slave-owner, Barnum fully admitted that he had physically abused and exploited his slaves. Barnum bitterly regretted his past actions in later life, and his experiences informed his politics. The entertainer became an ardent abolitionist leading up to the Civil War and even switched sides to the Republican Party.

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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