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General Tom Thumb

Charles Sherwood Stratton and Lavinia Warren wedding photo. From left to right: George Washington Morrison Nutt (1844–1881), Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838–1883), Lavinia Warren Stratton (1841–1919), Minnie Warren (1841–1878).
Born Charles Sherwood Stratton
January 4, 1838(1838-01-04)
Bridgeport, Connecticut USA
Died July 15, 1883 (aged 45)
Bridgeport, Connecticut USA
Cause of death Stroke
Resting place Mountain Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport, Connecticut USA
41°10′19″N 73°13′29″W / 41.17189°N 73.22465°W / 41.17189; -73.22465
Nationality American
Height 102 centimeters (3.3 ft)
Weight 32 kilograms (71 lb)
Known for Celebrity midget, circus performer
Spouse(s) Lavinia Warren (1863-1883, his death)

General Tom Thumb was the stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), a dwarf who achieved great fame under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum.


Early life

Stratton was a son of a Bridgeport, Connecticut carpenter named Sherwood Edward Stratton, son of Seth Sherwood Stratton and Amy Sharpe. Sherwood married his first cousin Cynthia Thompson, daughter of Joseph Thompson and Mary Ann Sharpe. Charles Stratton's maternal and paternal grandmothers, Amy and Mary Ann Sharpe, were allegedly small twin girls born upon 11 July 1781/83 in Oxford, New Haven, Connecticut.

Born in Bridgeport to parents who were of medium height, Charles was a relatively large baby, weighing 9 pounds 8 ounces (4.3 kg) at birth [1]. He developed and grew normally for the first six months of his life, at which point he was 25 inches (64 cm) tall and weighed 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Then he stopped growing. His parents became concerned when, after his first birthday, they noticed he had not grown at all in the previous six months. They showed him to their doctor, who said there was little chance Charles would ever grow to, or reach normal height.

By late 1842, Stratton had not grown an inch in height or put on a pound in weight from when he was six months old. Apart from this, he was a totally normal, healthy child, with several siblings who were of average size.

Under Barnum

circa 1861

At this time, P.T. Barnum, a distant relative (half fifth cousin, twice removed[1]), heard about Stratton and after contacting his parents, taught the boy how to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate famous people. Barnum also went into business with Stratton's father, who died in 1855. Stratton made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as singing, dancing and comical banter with another performer who acted as a straight man. It was a huge success and the tour expanded.

A year later, Barnum took young Stratton on a tour of Europe making him an international celebrity.[2] Stratton appeared twice before Queen Victoria. He also met the three-year-old Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII. The tour was a huge success, with crowds mobbing him wherever he went; it made vast amounts of money for both Barnum and Stratton's family.

On his return home from his second tour in 1847 ( Black 47 of the Irish Famine), aboard the Cambria, he attracted the attention of the explorer John Palliser who "was not a little surprised, on entering the state-cabin, to hear the most unnatural shrill little pipe exclaiming, “Waiter! bwing me a Welsh wabbit ”.[3] It was the fashion of the day, popularized by Dickens, to employ a juvenile speech impediment, substituting 'w' for 'r', mocking the British aristocracy and their affectation in ordering Welsh rarebit. [4] Thus did Tom Thumb bring the voice of Elmer Fudd to America.

In 1847 he started to grow for the first time since the first few months of his life, but with extreme slowness. In January 1851 Stratton stood exactly 2 feet 5 inches (74 cm) tall. On his 18th birthday, he was measured at 2 feet 8.5 inches (82.6 cm) tall. Stratton became a Freemason on October 3, 1862. Stratton, by now 2 feet 11 inches (89 cm) tall, was sworn in with a man 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm).[5]

Marriage and later life

The wedding couple as they appeared on the February 21, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly magazine.

Stratton's marriage on February 10, 1863, to another dwarf, Lavinia Warren, became front-page news. The wedding took place at Grace Episcopal Church and the wedding reception was held at the Metropolitan Hotel. The couple stood atop a grand piano in New York City's Metropolitan Hotel to greet some 2,000 guests. The best man at the wedding was George Washington Morrison ("Commodore") Nutt, another dwarf performer in Barnum's employ. The maid of honor was Minnie Warren, Lavinia's even smaller sister. Following the wedding, the couple was received by President Lincoln at the White House. Stratton and his wife toured together in Europe as well as Japan.

Under Barnum's management, Stratton became a wealthy man. He owned a house in the fashionable part of New York and a steam yacht, and he had a wardrobe of fine clothes. He also owned a specially adapted home on one of Connecticut's Thimble Islands. When Barnum got into financial difficulty, Stratton bailed him out. Later, they became business partners. Stratton made his final appearance in England in 1878.

On January 10, 1883, Stratton was staying at the Newhall House in Milwaukee when a fire broke out, which Milwaukee historian John Gurda would call "one of the worst hotel fires in American history". More than 71 people died, but Tom and Lavinia were saved by their manager, Sylvester Bleeker.[6]

Stratton's grave at Mountain Grove Cemetery.


Six months later, Stratton died suddenly of a stroke. He was 45 years old, 102 centimetres (3.3 ft) tall and weighed 32 kilograms (71 lb). Over 10,000 people attended the funeral. P.T. Barnum purchased a life-sized statue of Tom Thumb and placed it as a grave stone at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut.[7] Lavinia Warren is interred next to him with a simple grave stone that reads, "His Wife".

The cause of Stratton's extreme shortness was and still is unknown. X-rays were not discovered until 1895, 12 years after Stratton's death, and the medical techniques of the day were unable to ascertain the pathology underlying his dwarfism.


Specific references:

  1. ^ Notable Kin, Gary Boyd Roberts, 1999.
  2. ^ P.T. Barnum's passport application for his European tour-1844
  3. ^ Palliser, John. 1853. Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies. John Murray, London, 326 p.
  4. ^ The Victorian Dictionary
  5. ^ 10,000 Famous Freemasons, William R. Denslow. Missouri Lodge of Research, Trenton, Missouri:1957-1961, vol 4. p. 200.
  6. ^ P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman, Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr., Kunhardt, Philip B., III and Kunhardt, Peter W., Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. ISBN 0-679-43574-3.
  7. ^ Charles Sherwood "General Tom Thumb" Stratton at Find a Grave

General references:

External links



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