The 1870s

Chicago was the center of gravity for Cotton during the 1870's. In part his orbit was a reflection of the growing importance of this midwestern industrial hub, but just as clearly, there was the attraction of a woman who felt at home in this city. How Nellie met Cotton, who she was, are open questions.  There is no record of her maiden name. For a family quite used to Cotton's long periods of absence, Nellie's sudden appearance was abrupt, unsettling and painful because all of them - siblings, former wife, children - were now on the outside.  There was a transition in the minstrel business as well. Blackface - the white performance of blackness - was under review; not necessarily for moral or ethical reasons, but for the measure of fidelity to reality - a standard not likely to favor impersonators. Sam Sharply's death at age 45, and Dan Bryant's shortly afterward, surely pointed to a different future.