A Genealogy of the Barnum, Barnam and Barnham Family

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A One-Name Study for the BARNUM/BARNHAM Surname



Notes for Irene TAYLOR


Rena was the daughter of Phineas Taylor and his wife Mary Sherwood. Her father was the maternal grandfather and namesake of Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum, the famous American showman. From him his grandson inherited a tract of swampy, snake-infested land, known as "Ivy Island," and a propensity for practical jokes which the boy never outgrew. P. T. Barnum wrote of his grandfather: "He would go farther, wait longer, work harder, and contrive deeper, to carry out a practical joke, than for anything else under heaven."

In the days of P. T. Barnum's youth, the voyage to New York by boat depended upon the vagaries of the wind, sometimes requiring eight hours and sometimes several days. Phineas Taylor once took that voyage on an occasion which gave him the opportunity to enact what impressed his grandson as one of his most famous practical jokes. On that particular voyage, 14 men from Bethel were becalmed for seven days, at the end of which they all badly needed a shave. There was but one razor aboard, and that belonged to Phineas himself, who professed to be against the practice of shaving and refused the loan of it. Finally, as the boat approached New York on Sunday afternoon, he reluctantly agreed to lend his razor -- since all the barber shops would be closed when the vessel arrived.

Because time was short, he stipulated that each man must shave just half of his face before passing the razor on to the next in line; after all had finished, each could begin to shave the other half of his face. When half of each face had been duly shaved, Phineas took the razor and completed his own shave. He then began to strop the razor for the next man and, as if by accident, it flew from his hand into the water of New York harbor. All the other passengers created a sensation with their half-shaved faces when they arrived in New York that Sunday afternoon. Neither Phineas nor his grandson ever ceased to delight in that type of practical joke.

Following the death of her husband, in Sep 1825, Irena Barnum continued to operate the family tavern at Bethel, Connecticut, to support herself and her five children.

In the 1850 US Census for Danbury, Fairfield County, Connecticut Rena was enumerated with her daughter Cordelia and Grandson Charles, as follows:
Dwelling #48; Family #57
Irena Barnum, 65, F, Real property $2,000, b. Connecticut
Cordelia Benedict, 30, F, b. Connecticut
Charles Benedict, 6, M, b. Connecticut, Attended school within the year
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