On this day in 1852, the final installment of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in The National Era, a weekly abolitionist newspaper. Stowe originally envisioned her story, written in the popular sentimental and melodramatic style of her day, as a brief tale that would “paint a word picture of slavery” in a handful of weekly installments. But as she began fleshing out the sympathetic characters of Eliza and Uncle Tom, and the villainous slave master Simon Legree, , the story took on a life of its own. Before it was completed, it filled a total of 43 weekly installments, each one read by a larger and more enthralled public.
Because of its success as a newspaper serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was rushed into publication in book form later in 1852, and proceeded quickly to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, catapulting the Connecticut-born Harriet Beecher Stowe to instant fame. During the entire 19th century, the only book that sold more copies in the United States than Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the Bible. Stowe’s tale of the trials and tribulations of an enslaved family bolstered Northern abolitionist and anti-slavery movements and was denounced as an outrageous slander by southern slave owners, fanning the flames of the slavery debate that threatened to tear the nation apart in the 1850s. According to family tradition, when Harriet Beecher Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, the President greeted her with an acknowledgement of the incredible influence of her famous story, saying “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” One of the most significant American stories of the 19th century was first completed — today in Connecticut history.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Valerie Finholm, “Dusting off Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Hartford Courant