ORIGINAL "UNCLE TOM" ACTOR DEAD AT SOLDIERS HOME
Daniel Worcester Was In "First Night" of Famous Drama
BORN AT WARREN, VT., IN 1833
Associated With Many Theatrical Stars Half a Century Ago - Veteran of Civil War.
Daniel Worcester, the first actor to play the part of "Uncle Tom" in the dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" died shortly before 6 o'clock Friday afternoon at the Vermont soldiers' home here where he had been an inmate during the past five years. For many months he had been confined to his bed.
Worcester was an actor of the old school. To him "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as originally written, was a great drama and he had no patience with the modern productions in which the comedy element superseded the dramatic. For many years preceding his death he had refrained from witnessing the play with its double characters and vaudeville features. He was a man of magnificent physique, six feet in height and in middle life weighed over two hundred pounds.
"Uncle Tom", as he was known to everybody at the home and to many residents of this village, was a man of the kindliest disposition, always considerate of others and respected and loved by his fellow veterans and the officials of the home.
Worcester leaves one brother at St. Johnsbury, also a brother living just out of Boston and a sister, Mrs. George Huntington of Montpelier who has been a frequent visitor at the soldiers' home since Worcester became an inmate of the institution. The remains will be sent Saturday morning to Roxbury for burial.
Daniel Worcester was a Vermonter, having been born in a log cabin, in the town of Warren, August 24, 1833. His father was a farmer and the family consisted of ten boys and two girls. From his educational opportunities, which were limited to the winter terms of the district school, he could have obtained no possible insight into the life he ultimately followed. During the years of his boyhood there was not such a thing as a theater in the state and certainly no tidings of the footlights penetrated to that home in the wilderness, of which the site today is 20 miles distant from the nearest railway station. And yet some dormant spark of inspiration must have come into the world with the boy, for Worcester, in later years, recalled the fact that the rhetorical exercises held on the last day of each term of school, and which were the plague of his companions, had no terrors for him. As he expressed it, he remembered that he "was always happy when speaking a piece."
At the age of 17 he left home and went to Lowell, Mass., where he apprenticed himself to learn the trade of a painter. Soon after his arrival in the city he purchased his first theater ticket an admission the old Lowell museum. Sheridan Knowles in "The Hunchback" was the attraction. The boy was carried away with the play which made such a strong impression upon him that on the following morning he was able to repeat from memory a large portion of the dialogue and he then and there made up his mind to become as actor. With some difficulty he secured a membership in an amateur theatrical organization called the Aurora club and showed so much enthusiasm that he was soon elected president and stage manager.
His first professional engagement was at the Howard Athenaeum in Lowell where he played minor parts for a period of about six months. In the fall of 1851 he became associated with George Aitkin, who wrote the first dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's great novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and was given the leading part in the company which Aitkin organized for the purpose of trying out the production. William S. Hutchins, the famous lightning mathematical calculator who made such a reputation with Barnum's circus and who was for years the lecturer at the Austin Stone museum in Boston, was also a member of the company and impersonated "St. Claire." Hutchins, previous to his death in Boston in August 1911, other than Worcester was the only survivor of the company. Denman Thompson, who was a co-member with Worcester in the Aurora club, had agreed with Aitkin to take a part in the production but, while the rehearsals were in progress, obtained what he believed was a better engagement and was released from his contract.
The drama was produced for the first time in Natick, Mass. The two incidents of this opening night that remained in Worcester's memory during his declining years were the large audience and the presence on one of the front seats of Henry Wilson, at that time a member of the Massachusetts senate and just beginning to make himself felt as a factor in the abolitionist movement, who later represented his state in the upper house of congress, made a brilliant record in the civil war and was elected vice-president on the republican ticket with U.S. Grant in the campaign of 1872.
From Natick, the company made a tour of the cities and larger towns of Massachusetts, exclusive of Boston. The theaters, or museums as they were called at the time, were all controlled by the stock companies and it was necessary for the little troupe with its new production to make its appearance in halls, which were often connected with the hotels and used for dances, or in churches. One night the company played in a barn. At Springfield, where the company played in Hampden Hall, Harriet Beecher Stowe, then living in Hartford, was in the audience. From Springfield, the company went to Greenfield. It crossed the Hoosac mountains in coaches to North Adams and Williamstown.
The company did not enter Vermont for the reason that there was at the time a law on the statute books of the Green Mountain state prohibiting traveling theatrical companies. This law also applied to circuses.
Avoiding Vermont, Manager Aitkin took his company through the north-eastern counties in New York. He played the towns on Lake Champlain, giving the Vermonters living on the opposite shore an opportunity to see the drama. When the company appeared at Port Henry, Essex and Westport, fully half the seats were occupied by people from the Vermont towns who crossed the lake in boats or on ferries. In Westport there was an engagement of a week and a steamer was run each night from Vergennes to accommodate residents of that city. From the lake towns the company went north to Ogdensburg and then into the western section of New York.
During these early productions the drama was in a crude state and the author was continually changing the lines as he observed opportunities for improvement. The parts were in manuscript, having not as yet been printed. Aitkin was with the company less than six months. As soon as he had completed the revisions he thought necessary he went to Troy, NY, where he gathered a Company of recognized professional Actors and where on the evening of June 18, 1852, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was produced for the first time by a ?.. organization. Writers of stage history generally have credited the opening night by Aitkin's company in Troy as the initial production of the drama, but the play had been on the road for fully half a year and had been witnessed by hundreds of people while being welded into shape for the large theaters. The old Troy museum, although the interior was later used for other purposes, remained in existence until January 26, 1911, when the building was completely destroyed by fire.
After his arrival at the soldiers home, Worcester was never able to recall the name of the young woman who took the part of Eva in Aitkin's first company. She was a novice and did not follow the stage for any length of time. In the stock company which Aitkin organized in Troy the part of Eva was taken by Cordelia Howard who made a reputation in the role. Mrs. Howard was Topsey and her father was St. Clair.
When Aitkin left his original company, Worcester became its manager and it was under his direction that the tour of western New York was made. The actors remained together for over a year but "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was the only production attempted. After the drama had proved itself with the theater-going public it was taken to New York City by the company organized in Troy and had a phenomenal run. "Uncle Tom Cabin companies were soon organized in all parts of the east and middle west and in a short time there were half a hundred of them on the road.
After his success with the original "Uncle Tom's cabin" company. Worcester had no difficulty in securing engagements with the leading stock companies. His name usually appeared on the books as "first old man." By several companies he was employed as stage manager and after his return from the war most of his engagements were in that capacity. During the presidential campaign of 1860 he was touring the middle west with a repertoire company. On one occasion the troupe was booked to appear at Springfield, Ill., following a political debate by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. At Worcester's suggestion a change was made in the program. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was given in place of the piece which had been advertised with Worcester in the title role and the two candidates in the audience.
During the years that he was connected with the theatrical business Worcester owned and managed a number of traveling companies. In the winter of 1861 he took a company into the southern states and became stranded in Mobile by the opening of the civil war. His company was composed of both northerners and southerners. The male members who sympathized with the south voluntarily entered the confederate service; the others were drafted. One of the actors who sided with the south disclosed the fact that Worcester had taken the part of "Uncle Tom" in the north and a number of the hot heads in camp were about ready to lynch the actor. The plot was revealed to Worcester by a newspaper man connected with the New Orleans Picayune and with whom Worcester had formed an acquaintance when the company was playing in Mississippi. Both were members of the Masonic order. Being warned of his danger, Worcester and two other members of the company made a break for liberty during the night. One of the three was shot and killed but Worcester and his companion through the assistance of negroes by whom they were concealed during the day finally reached the Ohio river and crossed into federal territory. The reporter who had been instrumental in saving Worcester's life immobile entered the confederate, was wounded and made a prisoner. He was taken to one of the federal hospitals near New York city where he was found by Worcester and again thanked for the timely warning.
Worcester enlisted in the 27th Connecticut regiment. When his term expired he returned to his native state somewhat broken in health by the hardships of the service. He remained at his old home in Warren until he had recovered his strength and then sought an engagement with Forester's New York troupe. In the fall of 1864 his company was at Montpelier during the session of the legislature and he remembered announcing President Lincoln's re-election from the stage. At that time he was playing the part of "Old Hurricane" in "The Hidden Mind." Later, he became stage manager for Amy Stone and when she secured an opportunity to make a tour in Australia he bought out the company and kept it on the road for several years with a repertoire of sensational dramas. He was stage manager for Laura Keene during the years preceding her retirement from the stage.
Worcester gave up the theatrical business in 1874 and took up residence in Bridgeport, Conn., where for 11 years he was a member of the police force. From Bridgeport he moved to Vermont and located at Montpelier where he purchased a small farm just outside the city limits. He sold this property and purchased another home at Roxbury in the same county where in February, 1909 his nervous system broke down, following the long and fatal illness of Mrs. Worcester, and he was admitted to the Vermont soldiers' home here. While living at Montpelier he held one political office, that of county commissioner, the duties being the appointment in the separate towns of the county of the agents who under the prohibitory law were the legalized dealers in intoxicating liquors. His term of office expired when the prohibitory law was superceded by the present local option system.
The Bennington Banner
16 Dec 1915
Susan E. Blynn Worcester
1841–1910 (m. 1863)
Hiram Jackson Worcester
Daniel Parker Worcester
Hartwell Powers Worcester
Almond F. Worcester
Earl Cushman Worcester
James Burney Worcester
Hubert V. Worcester
Philura Jane Worcester Huntington
Emeline Eliza Worcester
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