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Tales of Tom Thumb

Updated on November 29, 2012

Tom Thumb

The folk lore of Tom Thumb begins in the time of King Arthur. A poor, childless couple give refreshment and shelter to a beggar. Unknown to the couple the beggar is Merlin the magician in disguise and they tell him that they long for a son and would be content even if he was no bigger than a thumb. Merlin casts a spell and the wife eventually becomes pregnant, resulting in the birth of the tiny Tom Thumb. The tiny child is blessed by the fairy queen.

Young Tom is full of mischief and like all boys, always getting into trouble. On one occasion, he falls into a mixing bowl and is baked into a pudding. His mother thinks the dish is bewitched when it starts to move. Another time he is nearly eaten by a large red cow while climbing a thistle. Then a raven snatches Tom up and drops him at a giant's castle. The giant swallows the tiny boy but Tom thrashes about so much in the giant's stomach that he is vomited into the sea. Then he is swallowed by a fish, which is caught for King Arthur's supper, and the cook is astonished to see the little man emerge from the gutted fish.

Tom becomes a favourite at King Arthur's court and is made an honorary Knight of the round table, as well as becoming the court jester. He amuses the king and queen with tricks and dances, and goes hunting with the king on his tiny mouse steed. After a visit to fairyland, Tom returns to find King Arthur and most of his courtiers have died. He takes a position in the court of the new king Thunston. The king gives Tom a tiny coach pulled by six mice but the queen becomes jealous of his privileged treatment, and she frames Tom by saying he was "saucy" to her. Tom attempts to escape on a passing butterfly but is caught and imprisoned in a mousetrap. He is freed by a curious cat and once more wins back the favour of his king. Sadly, he does not live to enjoy it as he is killed by a venomous spider bite. Tom is laid to rest beneath a marble monument.

Tom hitches a ride

Henry Fielding

In 1730, The English playwright, Henry Fielding used Tom Thumb as the central figure of his play entitled, Tom Thumb. He rewrote it in 1731 as The Tragedy of Tragedies, or The history of Tom Thumb the Great. It was a farce based on the legend and the play is filled with 18th century political and literary satire.

General Tom Thumb

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 owner P.T.Barnum.

Charles was a son of a carpenter from Bridgeport, Connecticut named Sherwood Edward Stratton, son of Seth Sherwood Stratton and Amy Sharpe. Amy Sharpe was Sherwood's first cousin, and they married and produced Charles. Charles' grandmothers, Amy and Mary Ann Sharpe, were small twin girls born on 11 July 1781 in Oxford, New Haven, Connecticut.

Charles' parents were of medium height,and Charles was born a normal, relatively large baby, weighing nine and a half pounds. He grew normally for the first six months of his life, at which point he was 25 inches tall and weighed 15 pounds. Then he stopped growing. His parents were worried when, after his first birthday, he had not grown at all in the previous six months. They took him to their doctor, who said there was little chance that Charles would ever grow to reach normal height.

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

P.T.Barnum, a distant relative, heard about Charles and after contacting his parents, taught the boy how to sing, dance, and entertain people. Charles made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napolean Bonaparte. It was a huge success and the show expanded.

A year later, Barnum's toured Europe making Charles an International celebrity. He appeared twice before Queen Victoria, and met her son The Prince of Wales. The tour was a huge success, making vast amount of money for both Barnum and the Stratton family.

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 he stood exactly 2feet 5inches tall. On his 18th birthday, he was measured at 2feet 8.5inches tall.


Charles and Lavinia

Charles married Lavinia Warren, another dwarf, and it became front-page news. The wedding took place on February 10th 1863 at Grace Episcopal Church and the wedding reception was held at the New York's Metropolitan Hotel. The newly weds stood on top of a grand piano to welcome their 2,000 guests. Charles's best man was George Washington Morrison Nutt, another dwarf performer in Barnum's show. The maid of honour was Lavinia's even smaller sister, Minnie Warren. Following the wedding, the couple were received by the President, Abraham Lincoln. The happy couple later toured together in Europe as well as Japan. Charles made his final appearance in England in 1878.

On January 10, 1883, the couple were 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." Seventy one people died, but Charles and Lavinia were saved by their manager, Sylvester Blaker.

Six months later, Charles died suddenly of a stroke. He was 45 years old, 3.35ft tall and weighed 71lb. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral. P.T. Barnum purchased a life-sized statue of Tom Thumb and placed it as a grave stone at Mountain Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport Connecticut.

George Nutt, Charles, Lavinia, Minnie
George Nutt, Charles, Lavinia, Minnie


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    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks, JY

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Great info I had all but forgotten. Good article and very well written.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks for the tip.

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 7 years ago from SE MA

      Yes, though oddly enough I don't think my cousin has realized that yet.

      By the way, I recently read Barnums book "The Art of Money Getting" (you can find it in Kindle and iPad books for free - that's why I picked it, for a review I did comparing the two readers).

      Although written so long ago, almost all of his advice is quite relevant today.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Very interesting Pcunix. You must also be related to P.T.Barnum then, as he was a distant cousin of the General. Small world isn't it?

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 7 years ago from SE MA

      My cousin who researches genealogy recently told us that we are vaguely related to General Tom Thumb - several cousins removed. Five years ago, my wife and I moved to Middkeboro, MA, where he and his wife had a home.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks for commenting, Ralwus.

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      Great job on this one. I never knew that full story of Tom, but I did know most of the facts of the General and PT. Thanks scarytaff.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 7 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks for the comments, billyaustindillon.

      And thank you also, hello,hello.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Oh, that was wonderful to read about the real facts behind the creation of Tom Thumb. Thank you very much for your research and sharing.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Enjoyed the hub about King Arthur's Tom Thumb and Charles Stratton. A nice piece of British history.