Did you know that Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was second only to the Bible, maikng it the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century?Stowe was an active abolitionist from Connecticut, and she was surely thrilled to see that her work could help to fuel the abolition effort in the 1850s, especially since she wrote it in response to the second Fugitive Slave Act being passed in 1850. On March 20, 1852, the book’s publication date, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold a remarkable 3,000 copies, and it sold 300,000 copies in America and one million in Great Britain over the next year.
In the 1840s, a man named Josiah Henson decided to publish his account of his escape from slavery, which he called The Life of Josiah Henson: Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Henson escaped in 1830 from a tobacco plantation in Maryland to present-day Ontario, Canada. After he arrived, he did his best to help other fugitive slaves become self-sufficient and productive members of society.
Stowe read Henson’s book and knew that this story needed to be told, and it needed to reach a wider audience, so she adapted Henson’s experiences into a novel. After Uncle Tom’s Cabin became so popular, Henson republished his autobiography as , linking it to Stowe’s work. There is now a museum near Dresden, Canada, established in 1940, called Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, where visitors can go to explore Henson’s chosen hometown and its history.
Though Harriet Beecher Stowe wanted her work to make an impact, she surely didn’t think its reach would be nearly as far as it is. It was a great force for abolition, and even today it has lessons to teach. On this 165th anniversary of the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, let’s celebrate that the institution of slavery is over and continue on a path of social progression.