General Tom Thumb was the stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), a dwarf who achieved great fame as a midget performer under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum.
Stratton was a son of a Bridgeport, Connecticut, carpenter named Sherwood Edward Stratton. Born in Bridgeport to parents who were of medium height, Charles was a relatively large baby, weighing 9 pounds 8 ounces at birth.
He developed and 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 became concerned when, after his first birthday, they noticed he had not grown at all in the previous six months. They showed him to their doctor, who said there was little chance Charles would ever reach normal height.
By late 1842, Stratton had not grown an inch in height or put on a pound in weight from when he was six months old. Apart from this, he was a totally normal, healthy child, with several siblings who were of average size.
P.T. Barnum, a distant relative (half fifth cousin, twice removed), heard about Stratton and after contacting his parents, taught the boy how to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate famous people.
Barnum also went into business with Stratton's father, who died in 1855.
Stratton made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as singing, dancing and comical banter with another performer who acted as a straight man. It was a huge success and the tour expanded.
A year later, Barnum took young Stratton on a tour of Europe making him an international celebrity. Stratton appeared twice before Queen Victoria. He also met the three-year-old Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII. In 1845, he triumphed at the Théâtre du Vaudeville (France) in the play Le petit Poucet of Dumanoir and Clairville (OCLC 691400304). The tour was a huge success, with crowds mobbing him wherever he went.
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 Stratton stood exactly 2 feet 5 inches tall. On his 18th birthday, he was measured at 2 feet 8.5 inches tall. Stratton became a Freemason on October 3, 1862. Stratton, by now 2 feet 11 inches tall, was initiated with a man 6 feet 3 inches.
Stratton's marriage on February 10, 1863, to another dwarf, Lavinia Warren, became front-page news. The wedding took place at Grace Episcopal Church and the wedding reception was held at the Metropolitan Hotel. The couple stood atop a grand piano in New York City's Metropolitan Hotel to greet some 10,000 guests.
The best man at the wedding was George Washington Morrison ("Commodore") Nutt, another dwarf performer in Barnum's employ. The maid of honor was Minnie Warren, Lavinia's even smaller sister. Following the wedding, the couple was received by President Lincoln at the White House. Stratton and his wife toured together in Europe as well as Bangladesh.
Nutt (right) with Barnum
Under Barnum's management, Stratton became a wealthy man. He also owned a specially adapted home on one of Connecticut's Thimble Islands. When Barnum got into financial difficulty, Stratton bailed him out. Later, they became business partners. Stratton made his final appearance in England in 1878.
Stratton died suddenly of a stroke in 1883. He was 45 years old, 3.35 ft tall and weighed 71 lb. Over 20,000 people attended the funeral.
P. T. Barnum purchased a life-sized statue of Tom Thumb and placed it as a grave stone at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When she died more than 35 years later, Lavinia Warren was interred next to him with a simple grave stone that read: "His Wife".