Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896) was an American abolitionist and novelist, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) attacked the cruelty of slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential, even in Britain. It made the political issues of the 1850's regarding slavery tangible to millions, energizing anti-slavery forces in the American North. It angered and embittered the South. The impact is summed up in a commonly quoted statement apocryphally attributed to Abraham Lincoln. When he met Stowe, it is claimed that he said, "So you're the little woman that started this great war!" Harriet Beecher was born June 14, 1811, the seventh child of Protestant preacher, Lyman Beecher, whose children would later include the famed abolitionist theologian, Henry Ward Beecher. Harriet worked as a teacher with her older sister Catharine: her earliest publication was a geography for children, issued under her sister's name in 1833. In 1836, Harriet married Calvin Stowe, a clergyman and widower. Later she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine when he obtained an academic position at Bowdoin College. Harriet and Calvin had seven children, but some died in early childhood. Her first children, twin girls Hattie and Eliza, were born on September 29, 1836. Four years later, in 1840, her son Frederick William was born. In 1848 the birth of Samuel Charles occurred, but in the following year, he died from a cholera epidemic. Stowe helped to support her family financially by writing for local and religious periodicals. During her life, she wrote poems, travel books, biographical sketches, and children's books, as well as adult novels. She met and corresponded with people as varied as Lady Byron, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and George Eliot. While she wrote at least ten adult novels, Harriet Beecher Stowe is predominantly known for her first, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Begun as a serial for the Washington anti-slavery weekly, the National Era, it focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial. In writing the book, Stowe drew on her personal experience: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Following publication of the book, she became a celebrity, speaking against slavery both in America and Europe.
Uncle Tom's Cabin - Originalby Harriet Beecher Stowe
Eliza overhears that her son has been sold and makes a
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Uncle Tom’s Cabin opens as Mr. Shelby and a slave trader, Mr. Haley, discuss how many slaves Mr. Shelby will need to sell in order to clear up his debt. Despite his misgivings, Mr. Shelby decides to sell Tom, a faithful and honest man, and Harry, the son of his wife’s favorite slave, Eliza.
Eliza overhears that her son has been sold and makes a split-second decision to take him and run away to Canada that very night. Earlier that day, her husband, George Harris, had let her know that he planned to leave his own master, and she hopes they will both be able to escape and reunite in Canada.
As Eliza takes off, the slave trader Mr. Hadley follows her and almost catches her. She escapes into Ohio by crossing a river on a piece of floating ice. Mr. Haley sends slave catchers after her, and returns to collect his remaining property, Tom. Tom chooses not to run because he knows his master (at this point, Mr. Shelby) relies on his honesty.
Tom and Mr. Haley leave for the South. En route, Tom saves a little girl from drowning. The girl's father decides to buy Tom to be his daughter's personal servant. Tom has lucked out (insofar as being sold can be called lucky) because the girl’s father, Augustine St. Clare, treats his slaves relatively well. The little girl, Eva, is also a sweet child, devoted to her servants and family. Unfortunately, the mother, Marie St. Clare, is a more typical slave owner and runs her slaves ragged as they try to satisfy her endless demands.
Tom grows fond of little Eva. They discuss their mutual Christian faith on a daily basis. Eva even transforms the life of a hardened young slave girl named Topsy, and begins to teach another slave, Mammy, to read.
When it is clear that Eva is ill and going to die, she calls all the slaves together to give them a speech about God’s love (and her love) for them. She gives each slave one of her blonde curls so they will remember her. Then she dies of consumption (known now as tuberculosis).
Meanwhile, Eliza and her husband George are reunited in a Quaker camp. From there, they escape to Canada successfully, though not without a couple of run-ins with slave catchers on the way.
Back at St. Clare household, Augustine St. Clare is heartbroken at his daughter Eva’s death, as are all the slaves. St. Clare promises Tom his freedom but, before he finishes making out the papers, he is killed in a barroom brawl. Tom is sold at auction, along with many of the other St. Clare slaves.
Tom’s new master is Simon Legree, an evil and violent man who works his slaves until they die, then buys new ones cheaply in a never-ending cycle. Despite Legree’s treatment, Tom maintains his honest, kind behavior. Legree does his worst to "harden" Tom so that he can use Tom as an overseer on the plantation, but Tom refuses to change no matter how hard or how often Legree beats him.
When Tom encourages two female slaves, whom Legree uses as prostitutes, to escape, Legree beats Tom to death. It takes a few days for him to die, however, and in the meantime, his old master’s son, George Shelby, arrives to emancipate (or free) Tom – too late. Instead, "Master" George buries Tom then leaves.
The two female slaves who escaped Legree’s house, Cassy and Emmeline, end up on the same ship as George Shelby. Cassy confesses her story to him, realizing that George’s heart is soft towards the plight of escaping slaves. Another woman on the ship soon confesses her story to George as well, and it turns out that she is George Harris’s sister, sold south into slavery many years earlier.
George Shelby relates that George Harris married Eliza and they both escaped to Canada. Cassy, overhearing the story, puts two and two together and realizes that Eliza is her own daughter, who was taken from her many years before.
The two women travel to Canada together and are reunited with their families. Although Tom’s life ended in tragedy, there is much happiness among these slaves who survived and escaped the trials and tribulations of slavery, either through emancipation or by fleeing to Canada.
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Meet the Author
- Date of Birth:
- June 14, 1811
- Date of Death:
- July 1, 1896
- Place of Birth:
- Litchfield, Connecticut
- Place of Death:
- Hartford, Connecticut
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By mistake I ordered two copies of this book that we have chosen for the fall selection in our book club. One is illustrated and I haven't looked at that one. Will be interesting to compare. Am enjoying the read