Best Wishes from Rockport Postmaster ‘Uncle Bill’, 1909

William-Parsons-post

Here is a highly unusual postcard that was both printed for and sent by William E. Parsons, long known around Rockport as “Uncle Bill” or “Uncle Billy.” Parsons was postmaster of Rockport between 1898 and 1914 and also gained acclaim as half the theatrical team of Parsons & Pool, who traveled widely in the late 1800s putting on performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Most likely, Parsons had a number of these cards printed as his personal note cards. The left side of the card is printed. It shows a picture of Parsons, presumably at his desk in the Post Office. The words under the picture that look like handwriting are also printed on the card. They read:

Yours, Wm Parsons.
Better known by the Postmasters as Uncle Bill.
Rockport, Mass.

The right side of the card contains a handwritten note from Parsons dated Nov. 18, 1909. It says:

Rockport. Nov. 18 – 09
Best Wishes
from your old
Schoolmate
Uncle Bill

The card has an undivided back. That tells us that it was printed before 1907, when postal regulations first allowed divided backs.

The card is addressed to Dana L. Brooks in Worcester. Brooks was born in Rockport in 1857 and lived here at least until 1881, when he married Geneva Hooper from Gloucester. At some point he moved to Worcester and then to Millbury, where he worked as a farmer and also as warden of an almshouse.

Parsons & Pool

As noted above, Parsons traveled the country as part of the theatrical team Parsons & Pool putting on stage productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Pool of the team was F.E. Pool, but I do not know more about him (or her). They may have started doing this as early as 1880 and continued through at least 1990. Below is a slideshow of some of their posters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The novel, of course, is the famous anti-slavery novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel was originally published in serial form in The National Era, an abolitionist newspaper, from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. It was then published as a book in 1852 and was the best-selling novel of the 19th Century.

After the Civil War, stage productions based on the novel — known as “Tom shows” –became wildly popular, although they were not authorized by Stowe. In his 2012 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen, author John W. Frick wrote that, by 1902, the play had more than a quarter-million presentations, and the total audience during the half century of its existence equaled the total population of the United States.

There were hundreds of Tom companies, Frick wrote, but it appears that the Parsons & Pool company was among the more popular. They toured with the Tennessee Jubilee Singers (originally known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers), a nationally known group in the 1890s who sang early black spirituals. One of the posters above claims that their production had been presented “2300 times to nearly 2,000,000 delighted people.”

 

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