The Littlest General, Tom Thumb
Charles Sherwood Stratton was four years old in 1842 when the famous P. T. Barnum discovered him in Bridgeport, Connecticut and made him famous as General Tom Thumb. He was 25 inches tall. Barnum trained the child to sing, dance, and imitate famous people. He was to become one of the world’s most famous midgets.
Tom Thumb performed and toured the world until his death in 1883 at the age of 46. Barnum made huge profits by featuring a number of "human curiosities" like Tom Thumb. Today such exhibitions of people would be considered in bad taste but were not uncommon in mid and late nineteenth-century popular culture.
Stratton was born January 4, 1838 and weighed 9 and ½ lbs. slightly above the usual birth weight of children. He grew normally until the age of eighteen months when he ceased to grow. This fact became better known when at about 2 years old; people began noticing he hadn’t grown an inch for some time. He became no shorter or heavier, but according to his peers much handsomer.
Although his stature was diminutive, his appetite outmatched his size. Amazingly his girth never increased and additionally he always seemed to be in perfect health with the exception of a few common colds.
Interestingly, his parents had three other children of normal size. In fact, there is nothing, which provides the slightest clue to Stratton’s miniature condition.
After lengthy training as Barnum’s protégé, he was introduced to the world with much fanfare. In January, 1844, he sailed for Europe, appearing in Liverpool and London where Queen Victoria invited him to Buckingham Palace. He was also introduced to the Prince of Wales and the Royal Family. The Queen, thoroughly impressed with the little General, presented him with an elegant costly gift making him the instant rage of London’s upper crust. The giving of expensive gifts became a common practice by the elite of European society.
After visiting the major cities of Europe, Tom Thumb returned to America where his success abroad had made him even more popular and quite wealthy. He became an adept businessman in his own right and amassed a comfortable estate including land, houses, horses and a yacht. He also carried specially made firearms tailored expressly for his size.
Despite his great wealth, exciting life and star status, Stratton was lonely and expressed a desire to find a suitable wife. Twice he retired, but both times returned to his life of exhibitionism. He figured the duties of having a family would occupy his attention enough to where he wouldn’t feel the need to return to the stage.
Stratton found a suitable person for marriage in the form of miniature 19 year old Miss Lavinia Warren. Lavinia, likewise, had become famous because of her size. While in Boston she was introduced to Mr. Stratton, but the meeting was a short one. Lavinia Warren was born on October 31, 1841, in Middleboro, Massachusetts. She stopped growing at age 10, was 32 inches tall and 29 pounds.
Lavinia’s mother however, didn’t approve, seeing the little showman as a threat and rival to her daughter’s success. Therefore, she made him the butt of much criticism. She also found Stratton’s partially grown handlebar moustache offensive. However, her attempts to keep the two apart were unsuccessful. Their first meeting had sparked the flames of passion in the little General.
True to Barnum’s great showmanship the wedding was orchestrated into one of the world’s most famous weddings and became the topic of all society circles. They married February 10, 1863. She died November 25,1919 at the age of 79.
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