April 1: Litchfield-born Author’s Newspaper Story Takes America By Storm


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.

Harriet Beecher Stowe by Alanson Fisher, circa 1853. (National Portrait Gallery)

Born in Litchfield in 1811 as the daughter of the famous minister Lyman Beecher, Harriet witnessed the dehumanizing spectacle of chattel slavery firsthand while living as a young woman near the Ohio-Kentucky border. Like many Americans with anti-slavery leanings, Stowe was outraged after Congress passed the the controversial Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.  This law obliged all Americans, even those living in states where slavery was illegal, to return escaped slaves (or even alleged escaped slaves) to their Southern owners. In response, Stowe was inspired to write a story about the moral evils and inhumanity of American slavery — a story that eventually became Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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.

An excerpt of the final installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as it appeared in The National Era, April 1, 1852.

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Further Reading

Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Valerie Finholm, “Dusting off Uncle Tom’s Cabin,Hartford Courant

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