On March 20th, 160 years ago, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that immediately captured the nation’s attention and precipitated increased anti-slavery agitation in the decade leading up to the Civil War.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin follows the personal lives of the slave known as Uncle Tom and his family as they suffer through the sales, violence, separation, and death that characterized American slavery. Fiercely religious and protective of his family, Tom puts himself in harm’s way to keep his family together and provide them with whatever protection he can.
Written partly in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in serialized form in the periodical the National Era. Immediately popular, the narrative was published in book form on March 20th, 1852, selling more than 300,000 copies in the United States within its first year of publication.
The narrative personalized the violent and horrifying nature of slavery, striking a nerve in an American culture which had for years looked the other way and allowed slavery to continue. In its 160-year history, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than sixty languages and is still widely read today.
Stowe’s main character, Uncle Tom, was partly inspired by the life and memoirs of the Reverend Josiah Henson, a former slave turned abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker. Henson’s autobiography, Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life, is available through the DocSouth Books publishing initiative, in e-book and print-on-demand paperback format.
For more information about the story and significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, check out the extensive information available online through the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
To learn more about the publication history of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, click here.
A great collection of primary documents—including copies of original illustrations and book reviews—is available here.
To learn more about Harriet Beecher Stowe, click here.
The News & Observer recently published a great contextual summary: click here.