Uncle Toms Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin may never be seen as a great literary work, because of its didactic nature, but it will always be known as great literature because of the reflection of the past and the impact on the present. Harriet Beecher Stowe seemed destined to write great protest novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin: her father was Lyman Beecher, a prominent evangelical preacher, and her siblings were preachers and social reformers. Born in 1811 in Litchfeild, Connecticut, Stowe moved with her family at the age of twenty-one to Cincinnati. During the eighteen years she lived there she was exposed to slavery. Although her only personal contact with the south was a brief trip to Kentucky she knew freed and fugitive slaves in Cincinnati. She also had friends who participated in the Underground Railroad.
She learned about slave life by talking to these people and reading antislavery tracts. She began writing while still living in Cincinnati. In 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a distinguished bible scholar and theological professor, and they had seven children. After marrying, Stowe continued to write supplementing her husbands limited earnings. In 1850, the United States congress voted to pass the Fugitive Slave Law, which prohibited Northerners from helping runaway slaves and required them to return the slaves to their owners in the south. Stowe having moved to Brunswick, Maine with her family had been planing to write a protest of slavery since her experiences in Cincinnati.
The passage of the fugitive slave law proved a powerful catalyst. She began working on Uncle Toms Cabin and published it first in serial form in the abolitionist magazine The National Era. The first installment appeared on June 5, 1851, but before the serial could be completed, the novel come out in a two-volume set in 1852. The book became an immediate and extraordinary success, selling over one million copies in America and England before the year was out. Thus, Stowe became the most famous American female writer of her day.
Because his Kentucky plantation was overrun by debt, Mr. Shelby made plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor; a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. While they were discussing the transaction, Eliza’s child, Harry, came into the room. Haley wanted to buy Harry to, but at first Shelby was unwilling to part with the child. Eliza listened to enough of the conversation to be frightened. She confided her fears to George Harris, her husband, a slave on an adjoining plantation. After supper in the cabin of Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe, the Shelby slaves gathered for a meeting.
They sang songs, and young George Shelby, who had eaten his supper there, read from the Bible. In the big house, Mr. Shelby signed the papers making Uncle Tom and little Harry the property of Haley. Eliza, learning her child’s fate from some remarks of Mr. Shelby to his wife, fled with her child, hoping to reach Canada and safety.
Uncle Tom hearing of the sale resigned himself to the wisdom of Providence. The next day, after Haley had discovered his loss, he set to capture Eliza; however, she had a good start. Moreover, Mrs. Shelby delayed the hunt by serving a later breakfast. When her pursuers came in sight, Eliza escaped across the Ohio River by jumping from one floating ice cake to another, young Harry in her arms. Haley hired two slave-catchers, Mark and Loker, to track Eliza across Ohio.
For their trouble, she was to be given to them. They set off that night. Eliza found shelter in the home of senator and Mrs. Bird. The senator took her to the house of a man known to aid fugitive slaves. Uncle Tom, however, was not so lucky.
Haley made sure Tom would not escape by shackling his ankles before taking him to the boat bound for New Orleans. When young George Shelby heard that Tom had been sold, he followed Haley on his horse. George gave Tom a dollar as a token of his sympathy and told him that he would buy him back one day. At the same time, George Harris began his escape. White enough to pass as a Spaniard, he appeared at a tavern as a gentleman and took a room there, hoping to find a station on the underground railway before too long.
Eliza was resting at the home of Rachel and Simeon Halliday when George Harris arrived in the same Quaker settlement. On board the boat bound for New Orleans, Uncle Tom saved the life of young Eva St. Clare, and in gratitude, Eva’s father purchased the slave. Eva told Tom he would now have a happy life, for her father was kind to everyone. Augustine St.
Clare was married to a woman who imagined herself sick therefore took no interest in her daughter Eva. He had gone north to bring back her cousin, Miss Ophelia, to provide care for the delicate Eva. When they arrived at the St. Clare plantation, Tom was made head coachman. Meanwhile, Loker and Marks were on the trail of Eliza and George.
They caught up with the fugitives, and there was a fight in which George wounded Loker. Marks fled, so the Quakers who were protecting the runaways took Loker in along with them and gave them medical treatment. Unused to lavish Southern customs, Miss Ophelia tried to understand the south. Shocked by the extravagance of St. Clare’s household, she attempted to bring order out of the chaos, but she received no encouragement.
Indulgent in all things St. Clare was indifferent to the affairs of his family and property. Uncle Tom had an easy life and a loft over the stable. He and little Eva became close friends, with St. Clare’s approval.
St. Clare bought an odd pixie like child for his prim and proper sister to educate. Eva grew frailer. Knowing that she was about to die, she begged her father to free the slaves, as he had so offend promised. After Eva’s death, St. Clare began to read his bible and to make plans to free his slaves.
He gave Topsy to Miss Ophelia legally. Then one evening he tried to separate quarreling men. He received a knife in the side and died a short time later. Mrs. St. Clare had no intentions to free the slaves.
She ordered Tom sent to the slave market. At auction Tom was sold to a brutal owner named Simon Legree. For weeks, Tom tried to please his harsh master. One day, he helped a sick woman by putting cotton in her basket. For this act, Tom was ordered to flog the woman.
When Tom refused, his master flogged Tom till he fainted. A slave named Cassy came to Tom’s aid. Meanwhile, far to the north, George, Eliza, and young harry were slowly making their way through the stations of the underground railway to Canada. Cassy and Emmeline, another slave, were determined to make their escape. Knowing the consequences if they get caught, they trick Legree into thinking they were hiding in the swamp.
When Legree sent the dogs and men after them, they sneaked back into the house and hid in the attic. Legree suspected that Tom knew where the women were hiding and decided to beat the truth out of Tom. He had Tom beaten till he could neither speak nor stand. Two days later, George Shelby arrived to buy Tom back, but he was too late. When George threatened to have Legree tried for murder, Legree mocked him.
George struck Legree in the face and knocked him down. Still hiding in the attic, Cassy and Emmeline pretended they were ghosts. Frightened Legree drank harder than ever. George Shelby helped them to escape. Later, on the riverboat headed north, the two women found a lady named Madame de Thoux, who said she was George Harris’ sister. With this disclosure, Cassy also learned that Eliza, her daughter who had been sold years before, was the Eliza who had married George and, with him and her child, had escaped safely to Canada.
These relatives were reunited in Canada after many years. In Kentucky, George Shelby freed all his slaves when his father died. He said he freed them in the name of Uncle Tom. When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, it created an immediate controversy in a United States that was divided-both geographically and politically-by the issue of slavery. It is impossible to Uncle Tom’s Cabin outside of historical forces that prompted Harriet Beecher Stowe to write it.
The early settlers of the Thirteen Colonies were well aware of the problem that was developing for the young nation as more and more slaves were kidnapped form Africa and brought to the U.S. to supply agricultural labor for the under populated colonies. Due to a complex combination of economic need, political indecision, scientific ignorance, and prior custom, no action was taken to rid the country of slaves while there were still few enough of them to return to their home in Africa. Thomas Jefferson said that America, “had a tiger by the ears,” meaning that the slaves were dangerous because, like a tiger in captivity, they would turn on the people that captured them if they were ever released. Jefferson concluded, as did most Americans in the 18th century, that the only way to control the “tiger” was to keep holding the tiger tightly by the ears, as terrible as that dilemma was for both the slaves and the slave owners. Thus when Jefferson wrote in the declaration of independence in 1776 that “all men are created equal,” he did not conclude the African slaves.
The “triangular trade” was ext …