Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin
UncleTomsCabinCover.jpg
Title page for Volume I of the first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)
AuthorHarriet Beecher Stowe
Original titleUncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly
IllustratorHammatt Billings
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
Published1852 (two volumes)
PublisherJohn P. Jewett and Company, after serialization in The National Era beginning June 5, 1851
1077982310
813.3
LC ClassPS2954 .U5
Followed byA Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin 

Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly,[1][2] is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the U.S. and is said to have "helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War".[3]

Stowe, a Connecticut-born teacher at the Hartford Female Seminary and an active abolitionist, featured the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings.[4][5][6]

Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible.[7][8] It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s.[9] In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies in Great Britain.[10] In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called "the most popular novel of our day."[11] The impact attributed to the book is great, reinforced by a story that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln declared, "So this is the little lady who started this great war."[12] The quote isapocryphal; it did not appear in print until 1896, and it has been argued that "The long-term durability of Lincoln's greeting as an anecdote in literary studies and Stowe scholarship can perhaps be explained in part by the desire among many contemporary intellectuals ... to affirm the role of literature as an agent of social change."[13]

The book and the plays it inspired helped popularize a number of stereotypes about black people.[14] These include the affectionate, dark-skinned "mammy"; the "pickaninny" stereotype of black children; and the "Uncle Tom", or dutiful, long-suffering servant faithful to his white master or mistress. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom's Cabin have, to an extent, overshadowed the historical impact of the book as a "vital antislavery tool."[15]

Sources

Stowe, a Connecticut-born teacher at the Hartford Female Seminary and an active abolitionist, wrote the novel as a response to the passage, in 1850, of the second Fugitive Slave Act. Much of the book was composed in Brunswick, Maine, where her husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, taught at his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

An engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe from 1872, based on an oil painting by Alonzo Chappel

Stowe was partly inspired to create Uncle Tom's Cabin by the slave narrative The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849). Henson, a formerly enslaved black man, had lived and worked on a 3,700-acre (15 km2) tobacco plantation in North Bethesda, Maryland, owned by Isaac Riley.[16] Henson escaped slavery in 1830 by fleeing to the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario), where he helped other fugitive slaves settle and become self-sufficient, and where he wrote his memoirs. Stowe acknowledged in 1853 that Henson's writings inspired Uncle Tom's Cabin.[17] When Stowe's work became a best-seller, Henson republished his memoirs as The Memoirs of Uncle Tom and traveled on lecture tours extensively in the United States and Europe.[16] Stowe's novel lent its name to Henson's home—Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, near Dresden, Ontario, Canada—which since the 1940s has been a museum. The cabin where Henson lived while he was enslaved no longer exists, but a cabin on the Riley farm erroneously thought to be the Henson Cabin was purchased by the Montgomery County, Maryland, government in 2006.[18] It is now a part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program,[19] and plans are underway to build a museum and interpretive center on the site.

American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, a volume co-authored by Theodore Dwight Weld and the Grimké sisters, is also a source of some of the novel's content.[20] Stowe said she based the novel on a number of interviews with people who escaped slavery during the time when she was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state. In Cincinnati the Underground Railroad had local abolitionist sympathizers and was active in efforts to help runaway slaves on their escape route from the South.

Stowe mentioned a number of the inspirations and sources for her novel in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853). This non-fiction book was intended to verify Stowe's claims about slavery.[21] However, later research indicated that Stowe did not read many of the book's cited works until after she had published her novel.[21]