Tuesday 20 March 2012

Uncle Tom's Cabin

"So this is the little lady who made this big war." 

So stated Abraham Lincoln upon his introduction in 1862 to author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, an anti-slavery novel which became the best-selling novel of the 19th Century and helped to turn many people into abolitionists. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Connecticut, was a teacher who belonged to the Abolitionist movement.  She became increasingly alarmed about slavery after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.  While living in Cincinnati Ohio, a stop on the Underground Railroad from Kentucky, a slave state, Harriet met and interviewed many escaped slaves there. 

One fugitive slave, named Rev. Josiah Henson, particularly caught her interest.  Born in Maryland, he had been a slave on a tobacco plantation for 41 years until he escaped to Upper Canada via the Underground Railroad in 1830.  Within 11 years, he ended up in Dresden, Ontario where he purchased land.  Rev. Henson helped found the British American Institute, which helped to educate fugitive slaves.  He became the inspiration for the fictional character Uncle Tom. 

Uncle Tom is a long suffering slave who suffers under the whip of Simon Legree.  However, although he is persecuted, he continues to pray to God and to trust in God.  And although he does not escape to freedom, two of Legree's other slaves do, Cassy and Emmeline.  Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 300,000 copies in its first printing in the United States.  In Britain, it sold 1.5 million copies.  Strangely, it went out of print for several years, but returned in 1862 with a new printing under a new company.  It was later translated into every major language.  The anti-slavery tale would become the second best-selling book of the 19th Century next to the Bible. 

Image courtesy www.wildwestweb.net.

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