1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published in two volumes. Harriet Beecher was born in 1811, the seventh of thirteen children. Her father was a Calvinist preacher; her mother died when she was five. Harriet was enrolled in her sister’s school, Hartford Female Seminary, and given a traditional education usually reserved for boys. When she was 21, she moved to Cincinnati where she helped her father, president of Lane Theological Seminary. She also joined a literary club. Cincinnati was a boom town on the Ohio River where many immigrants as well as free blacks competed for jobs on the canals and railroads. Riots broke out on at least three occasions as factions fought for scarce jobs.
Harriet met Calvin Stowe at the literary club but he was also a professor at the seminary. The two married. Both were abolitionists and they supported the Underground Railroad, even temporarily housing runaway slaves in their home. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, making it illegal to help runaways find their way to freedom. By that time, the Stowes were living in Maine and it was there Harriet had a dream about a dying slave and it inspired her to write this story. During this time, she also lost her toddler son, which increased her empathy. She wrote to the editor at National Era and her tale began serialization there on June 5, 1851. Weekly installments ran until April 1, 1852 and Harriet was paid $400 for her story.
John P Jewett made an initial print run of 5,000 copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly with each of the two volumes containing three drawings and the title page done by Hammatt Billings. In less than a year, 300,000 copies of the book had sold, an astounding number of books back then. The main goal of the book was to educate northerners about the horrible treatment of slaves in the South. A secondary goal was to increase empathy for those still enslaved in the South. Stowe wrote a total of 30 books, including a sequel to her most famous work. She also had travel memoirs and collections of articles and letters published.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin relates the tale of a benevolent slave holder forced by economic reasons into selling two of his slaves, Uncle Tom and the maid, Eliza’s, son. Eliza and her son escape, but Tom is sold. Eliza is hunted; Tom is horribly mistreated by Simon Legree. Tom’s faith in God and his stubborn refusal to be broken by his new owner enrage Legree to the point of ordering him to be killed. Eliza’s family tries to rescue him, but is too late. Eliza’s family survives and escapes to Liberia and George Shelby, the man who sold his slaves at the beginning of the tale, repents his ways and frees all his remaining slaves.
The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.
Friendships are discovered rather than made.
It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.
To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization. – all from Harriet Beecher Stowe