ANNOYING PERSECUTIONS OF CREDITORS--SUMMER ON LONG
ISLAND--THE BLACK WHALE PAYS THE BOARD BILL--THE WHEELER & WILSON COMPANY REMOVE TO
EAST BRIDGEPORT--SETTING SAIL FOR ENGLAND.
In the summer of 1855 Barnum had sold the American Museum to
Messrs. John Greenwood, Jr., and Henry D. Butler. They paid nearly twice as much for the
collection as it had originally cost, giving notes for nearly the entire amount, securing
the notes by a chattel mortgage, and hiring the premises from Mrs. Barnum, who owned the
Museum property lease, and on which, by agreement of the lessees, she realized something
like $19,000 a year. The chattel mortgage was, of course, turned over to the New York
assignees with the other property.
Barnum's widespread reputation for shrewdness was, in his
present difficulties, destined to be the cause of considerable annoyance to him. Certain
outside creditors who had bought clock notes at a tremendous discount, believing that
Barnum's means were still ample, made up their minds that they must be paid at once
without waiting for the sale of the property by assignees.
They, therefore, took what is known as "supplementary
proceedings," by which is meant an examination before a judge, compelling the debtor
to disclose, under oath, everything in regard to his property, his present means of
living, and so on.
"Putting Barnum through a course of sprouts," as
they expressed it, came to be a very frequent occurrence. One creditor after another
hauled him up, and the attorneys would ask the same questions which had already been
answered a dozen times.
This persistent and unnecessary annoyance created a great
deal of sympathy for the man, the papers took his part, and even the judges before whom he
appeared, personally sided with him, although they were obliged to administer the law.
After a while, the judges ruled that he need not answer any questions propounded by an
attorney, if he had already answered the same question in any previous examination.
In fact, one of the judges lost all patience on one occasion,
and said sharply to the examining attorney:
"This, sir, has become simply a case of persecution. Mr.
Barnum has many times answered every question that can properly be put to him, to elicit
the desired information; and I think it is time to stop these examinations. I advise him
not to answer one interrogatory which he has replied to under any previous inquiries.
One consequential little lawyer commenced his examination in
behalf of a note-shaver, who held a thousand dollar note which he had bought for seven
hundred. After the oath had been administered, he arranged his pen, ink, and paper, and in
a loud tone of voice asked:
"What is your name, sir?"
The answer was given, and the next question delivered in a
louder, more peremptory tone was:
"What is your business?"
"Attending bar," answered Barnum.
"Attending bar!" exclaimed the lawyer;
"attending bar! Why, I thought you were a teetotaler."
"So I am," declared the witness.
"And yet, sir, you have the audacity to assert that you
peddle rum all day, and drink none yourself?"
"That is not a relevant question," said Barnum.
"I will appeal to his Honor the Judge if you don't
answer it instantly," said the lawyer, gleefully.
"Very well; I do attend bar, and yet never drink
"Where do you attend bar, and for whom?" pursued
"I attend the bar of this court nearly every day, for
the benefit of two-penny lawyers and their greedy clients," replied the disgusted
On another occasion a young lawyer who had been pushing his
inquiries to a great length, said in a half-laughing tone of apology:
"You see, Mr. Barnum, I am searching after the small
thing; I am willing to take even the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table."
"Which are you, then, Lazarus or one of the dogs?"
asked Barnum, wearily.
"I guess a blood-hound would not smell out much on this
trial," returned the lawyer, good-naturedly, adding that he had no more questions to
On account of Mrs. Barnum's continued ill-health, the family
spent the summer in a farm-house at Westhampton, Long Island. The farm lay close to the
ocean, and the place was very cool and delightful. The respite from active life, and the
annoyance attendant to his financial troubles was of the greatest benefit to Mr. Barnum,
who spent the time shooting, fishing, and driving.
One morning they discovered that the waves had thrown up on
the beach a young black whale, nearly twelve feet long. The animal was dead, but still
hard and fresh, and Barnum bought it for a few dollars from the man who claimed it by
right of discovery. He sent it at once to the Museum, where it was exhibited in a huge
refrigerator for a few days, where crowds came to see it. The managers very properly gave
Barnum a share of the profits, which amounted to a sum sufficient to pay the board-bill of
the family for the entire season.
"Well," said the amazed landlord, when he heard of
it, "you do beat all for luck. Here you come and board for four months with your
family, and when the time is nearly up and you're getting ready to leave, out rolls a big
black whale on our beach, a thing never heard of before in this vicinity, and you take
that whale and pay your board-bill with it!"
Shortly after his return to New York an unforeseen event
occurred which Barnum realized was likely to extricate him from his difficulties.
The new city which had led him into ruin now promised to be
The now gigantic Wheeler & Wilson Sewing-Machine Company
was then doing a comparatively small yet rapidly growing business at Watertown,
Connecticut. The Terroy & Barnum clock factory was standing idle, almost worthless, in
East Bridgeport, and Wheeler & Wilson saw in the empty building, the situation, the
ease of communication with New York, and other advantages, precisely what they wanted,
provided they could procure the premises at a rate which would compensate them for the
expense and trouble of removing their establishment from Watertown. The clock factory was
sold for a trifle and the wheeler & Wilson Company moved into it and speedily enlarged
This important occurrence gave Barnum great hope for the
increased value of the land belonging to his estate. And moreover Mr. Wheeler offered him
a loan of $5,000 without security, which sum Barnum accepted, and devoted it, together
with Mrs. Barnum's money, to purchasing the East Bridgeport property at the assignees'
sale and also taking up such clock notes as could be purchased at a reasonable percentage.
Though this new plan did eventually result in putting more money in his pocket than the
Jerome complication had taken out, yet the process was a slow one. But Barnum concluded to
let it work itself out, and meanwhile, with the idea of doing something to help out the
accumulation and even saving something to add to the amount, he made up his mind to go to
He set sail in 1857, taking with him Tom Thumb and little
Cordelia Howard, who had attained celebrity for her artistic rendering of juvenile