February 19, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 34

Chapter XXXIV.

“And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
Back on the heart a weight it fain would fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound,
A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we’re darkly bound.
Childe Harold’s Pil., Canto iv.

The sitting room of Legree’s establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fire-place. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn, and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar, sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt, and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced in spots, by slops of beer or wine, garnished with chalk memorandums and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practicing arithmetic there. In the open fire-place stood a brazier, full of burning charcoal, for the weather was not cold, yet the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room. Saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding whips, overcoats and various other articles of clothing, were scattered up and down the room in confused variety, and the dogs of whom we have before spoken had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.

Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling as he did so—

“Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won’t be fit to work for a week, now, right in the press of the season!”

“Yes, just like you,” said a voice behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.

“Hah! you she devil, you’ve come back, have you?”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 34, here.]

Commentary by Patricia Hill

 Professor of History at Wesleyan University

Today’s installment, with its Byronian epigraph, offers a fascinating account of the power of memories associated with material objects.  Stowe uses Legree’s horror at seeing the ringlet of Eva’s hair to segue into Legree’s personal history. Uncle Tom had kept the ringlet, along with the dollar George gave him on parting, in a paper suspended by a black cord around his neck. Sambo, who calls it a “witch thing,” informs Legree that such items were acquired to ward off the pain of beatings such as the one Tom had just endured.  Stowe was aware, as she makes clear in her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that African religious culture included a belief in spells, “fetish and obi,” and “the evil eye.” In the Key she suggests that this reflects a “peculiarity of constitution” in the African race. But the reader knows, of course, that Sambo is wrong is assuming that Tom kept these objects about his person as anything other than cherished mementoes of people he loved. And Legree’s reaction reveals a susceptibility to belief in witchcraft that is not racially delimited. In this passage from the novel, Stowe offers a psychological rather than a racial explanation for the ringlet’s powerful effect on Legree. She also sets the stage for Cassy’s successful strategy of haunting Legree.

We learn that Legree’s pedigree is divided; born inNew Englandto a devout Christian mother and an abusive father, Legree rejects the better element in his nature inherited from his mother in favor of his father’s legacy of brutality. In contrast to a common trope in sentimental fiction where sainted mothers’ dying prayers and disembodied spirits guard sons against vice, Legree strikes his mother senseless and burns the lock of hair sent with a message of love and forgiveness when she dies. Stowe tells us that Legree was haunted thereafter by dreams of his mother despite his most strenuous efforts to erase her memory. Stowe uses this to make a rather abstruse theological argument about how a God of love and a God of wrath can coexist in the same divine being. She posits a “necromancy of evil” that turns an emblem of perfect love into an instrument of torment. Both the mother’s lock and Eva’s ringlet are mementoes of such perfect love, of the Christ who inhabited them both. The persistence of memory—especially dark memories–and the inability to forget at will are triggered by the fetish object as the Byronian epigraph suggests. Legree attempts to bury these memories, initially in his plan to gratify his lust with Emmeline and then, when the hymn she is singing about the judgment day triggers another image of his mother, by calling Sambo and Quimbo to join him in drunken carousing.

The picture Stowe paints by detailing Legree’s history is of a man who has chosen evil and who willfully does evil. His character allows Cassy to contemplate murder.  Her rumination on whether it would be “a sin to rid the world of such a wretch” prepares the reader to accept Cassy’s efforts to do just that. Stowe is not quite endorsing murder but she has already presented Cassy’s killing of her infant as understandable, even as an expression of maternal love in the distorting context of slavery. What slavery has done to Cassy is also a central concern in today’s installment. It has clearly hardened her, but it has not reduced her power.  Stowe’s description of her as a “strong, impassioned woman” who can maintain influence over “even the most brutal man” explains her ability to manipulate Legree.  Cassy stands up to Legree; she criticizes him with impunity because he is afraid of her. Stowe tells us that he fears her because the “hideous yoke” of slavery had made her liable to fits of raving insanity. It is this element of slave-induced insanity that seems to give Cassy permission to contravene the moral code that Stowe would ordinarily insist upon in a sympathetic character. What this passage also reveals is Cassy’s pride and her cleverness. Cassy sees in Legree’s reaction to the ringlet a superstitious weakness that makes him vulnerable.  She will find a way to exploit that weakness in a way that this passage foreshadows.

[Continue reading the full text of  Patricia Hill’s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!


February 12, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 32, Part 2 and Chapter 33

Chapter XXXII—Continued.

Slowly the weary, dispirited creatures wound their way into the room, and one by one, with crouching reluctance, presented their baskets to be weighed. As each was weighed, Legree noted on a slate, on the side of which was pasted a list of names, the amount. Tom’s basket was weighed and approved; but he hesitated and lingered to see the success of the poor woman he had befriended. Tottering with weakness, she came forward and delivered her basket. It was of full weight, as Legree well perceived; but affecting anger, he said:

“What, you lazy beast, short again! Stand aside; you’ll catch it this time.”

The woman gave a groan of utter despair, and sat down on a board.

The person who had been called Misse Cassy now came forward, and with a haughty, negligent air, delivered her basket. As she delivered it, Legree looked in her eyes with a sneering yet inquiring glance. She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French—what it was, no one knew; but Legree’s face became for a moment perfectly demoniac as she spoke, and he half raised his hand, as if to strike—a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away.

“And now,” said Legree, “come here, you Tom; ye see I telled ye I didn’t buy you jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to-night yer begin to get yer hand in. So now yer jest take this yer woman and flog her. You’ve seen enough to know how”——

“I beg mass’rs pardon,” said Tom; “hope mass’r won’t set me at that; it’s what I aint used to, never did do, and know I couldn’t do any way.”

“You’ll learn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye,” said Legree, taking up a cowhide that lay near, and striking Tom a heavy blow across the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.

“There!” he said, as he stopped to rest. “Now will yer tell me yer can’t do it?”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 32 and Chapter 33 here.]

Commentary by Robert Levine

 Professor of English at the University of Maryland

Jane Tompkins has influentially argued that the Quaker woman Rachel Halliday is “God in human form,” and that “The Quaker Settlement,” Chapter XIII of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, provides a utopian, millenarian vision of women’s ability to reform the nation through the power of matriarchy located in the kitchen. Women’s power, in Tompkins’s formulation, is sentimental power—the power of feeling—and it has the potential to do significant “culture work.”[1]

In that context, what are we to make of bitter, violent Cassy, who tells Tom, even as she nurses him, that she has lost her faith in God and has committed infanticide—a crime, she states, that was no crime at all, but instead a liberation of her baby son from slavery. Anticipating the historical Margaret Garner, who killed her baby daughter in 1856, Cassy had experienced enough of the horrors of slavery to feel justified in her action, even as she suggests that it was the loss of her religion that allowed her to act as she did. Tom’s steadfast Christianity to some extent keeps him from acting in violently rebellious ways, though as we see in the continuation of Chapter XXXII, it does not keep him from being rebellious. Hardly the acquiescent “Uncle Tom” of twentieth-century caricatures, Tom, in the spirit of Christ, calmly but firmly tells the demonic Legree that he refuses to flog an elderly slave woman. Thus we have what can seem to be a paradox: that Tom is termed “unresisting” in the final sentence of that chapter even as he resists. In her depiction of the unresisting resistant Tom, Stowe addresses the paradoxical nature of Christ Himself, whom she similarly depicts in her 1853 poem “Caste and Christ” as simultaneously peaceful and militant. Though Tom ultimately refuses Cassy’s entreaties to assist her with a violent escape from Legree’s plantation, the linking of Tom and Cassy points to their similarities, both as rebels and Christians.

As Cassy nurses Tom in Chapter XXXIII, Tom attempts to convert her to his Christian vision. But were she to “convert” at that moment, she would not have been able to escape with Emmeline and wreak havoc on the plantation. Stowe needs to keep her empowered by keeping her a doubter. The dialogue then becomes more a monologue as Cassy tells her life history, which recapitulates some of the earlier stories of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Like Mr. Shelby, her lover and the father of her children went into debt, which makes Cassy vulnerable in the way of Uncle Tom, as she is eventually sold to Legree. Prior to that, however, we see how black women are vulnerable in ways that black men are not: She is purchased by her lover’s cousin, who basically wins her as part of a gambling debt and then sells off her children and makes her into his sexual slave. As she puts it, “he made me as submissive as he desired.” She snaps mentally when he keeps her from her children (or becomes enraged in the way of a sane person who hates to see her children suffer), and attempts to kill him with a bowie knife. Nowhere in the novel is there any suggestion that Stowe condemns her for that; and there is little sense that she condemns Cassy’s subsequent decision to kill the baby son that she eventually has with the kindly Captain Stuart.

Cassy will eventually rediscover her Christianity; and there is every indication by the end of the novel that Stowe envisions her as saved. In other words, the Victorian Harriet Beecher Stowe presents a woman who is multiply raped (the clear implication of what happens after the cousin of the beloved white father takes “possession” of Cassy) and the acknowledged killer of one of her children, who nonetheless by the novel’s end lives happily ever after in salvific grace. What I want to suggest here is that Stowe, by making Cassy irreligious at the start, gives her the latitude to act out her rage against the patriarchal institution, and patriarchy itself (as embodied by Legree) in ways that point to the existence of other forms of female power capable of doing cultural work. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar famously identified the figure of the rebellious “madwoman” haunting the Victorian novel (see their seminal The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination [1979]), and the rebellious Cassy, who eventually plots her escape with the enslaved Emmeline from a second-story attic-like room, fits the bill of the “dark” woman who can be read in dualistic relationship to the more conventional Rachel Halliday.

[1] Jane Tompkins, The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 142.

[Continue reading the full text of  Robert Levine’s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

February 5, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 31, Part 2 and Chapter 32, Part 1

Chapter XXXI—Continued.

It was late in the evening when the weary occupants of the shanties came flocking home—men and women in soiled and tattered garments, surly and uncomfortable, and in no mood to look pleasantly on new-comers. The small village was alive with no inviting sounds; hoarse guttural voices contending at the hand-mills where their morsel of hard corn was yet to be ground into meal, to fit it for the cake that was to constitute their only supper. From the earliest dawn of the day they had been in the fields, pressed to work under the driving lash of the overseers, for it was now in the very heat and hurry of the season, and no means was left untried to press every one up to the top of their capabilities. “True,” says the negligent lounger, “Picking cotton isn’t hard work.” Isn’t it? And it isn’t much inconvenience, either, to have one drop of water fall on your head, yet the worst torture of the inquisition is produced by drop after drop, drop after drop, falling moment after moment, with monotonous succession, on the same spot; and work in itself not hard becomes so by being pressed hour after hour with unvarying, unrelenting sameness, with not even the consciousness of free will to take from its tediousness. Tom looked in vain among the gang, as they poured along, for companionable faces. He saw only sullen, scowling, imbruted men, and feeble, discouraged women, or women that were not women—the strong pushing away the weak—the gross, unrestricted animal selfishness of human beings, of whom nothing good was expected and desired, and who, treated in every way like brutes, had sunk as nearly to their level as it was possible for human beings to do. To a late hour in the night, the sound of the grinding was protracted, for the mills were few in number compared with the grinders, and the weary and feeble ones were driven back by the strong, and came on last in their turn.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 31, Part 2, and Chapter 32, Part 1, here.]

Commentary by Susan M. Ryan

 Associate Professor and vice chair of English at the University of Louisville

In this installment of Stowe’s novel, Tom has arrived at the Legree plantation, dispirited and physically exhausted. It’s the end of a typically long workday, which timing allows Tom to witness the ways in which overwork and abuse have affected Legree’s slaves, the “sullen, scowling, imbruted men and feeble, discouraged women” trudging in from the fields to grind their meager share of corn. As a means of underscoring the slaves’ degradation, Stowe’s narrator emphasizes the plantation’s systematic destruction of domesticity—readers have already learned from the previous week’s offering that Tom is disappointed to find that his new master will not even provide him with the refuge of a neat, quiet little cabin—instead, he’s assigned to a filthy shack, where he’ll sleep on a dirt floor among similarly arranged strangers. Stowe further emphasizes the disintegration of home life in her description of the evening meal—instead of preparing and sharing food as families, Legree’s slaves subsist as competitive, atomized beings, hostile toward one another by habit and necessity. Hardship has isolated them, left them bereft of affiliation. Here Tom’s habitual, constitutional benevolence intrudes: he grinds corn and revives the cooking fire on behalf of two weary women, (re)awakening in them a “womanly kindness” that leads them to make his dinner while he reads aloud from the bible.

Tom’s first night at the Legree plantation sets the stage for spiritual trials to come. He’s already struggling with despair; Stowe describes him as sitting “alone, by the smouldering fire, that flickered up redly in his face,” suggesting that the hellish qualities of the world Legree and slavery have created might engulf even Tom. But this “disconsolate” figure, as Stowe describes him, is not in fact beyond spiritual comfort—that night he dreams of (or is visited by?) Eva, whose “deep eyes” exude “rays of warmth and comfort” that go directly to Tom’s heart. The pattern thus established, of despair and spiritual renewal, will be repeated with increasing intensity across the narrative’s next several installments.

The following chapter, the action of which takes place a few weeks later, introduces the desolate and embittered—but still powerful—figure of Cassy, whom readers have previously encountered only via a glimpse of her “wild” face and her unidentified voice from within Legree’s house. It becomes clear by the end of the installment that Legree is setting a trap for Tom, in which the latter will be forced either to beat another slave or be beaten himself.  But the pseudo-cliffhanger with which the segment ends carries no real suspense. Tom’s Christ-like forbearance and penchant for self-sacrifice are so well established by this point in the narrative that the reader cannot imagine his failing Legree’s diabolical moral test.  Tom’s trajectory, in other words, entails no more uncertainty than do scriptural accounts of Christ’s passion. The point is not what ultimately happens to Tom—that most readers steeped in the New Testament could readily guess—but rather the ways in which his gentle resistance and brutal murder allow Stowe to emphasize the cruelties of slavery and the redemptive power of Christian faith.

[Continue reading the full text of  Susan M. Ryan’s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

January 29, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 31, Part 1

Chapter XXXI.

“The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.”

Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon and over a ruder road, Tom and his associates faced onward.

In the wagon was seated Simon Legree, and the two women, still fettered together, were stowed away with some baggage in the back part of it, and the whole company were seeking Legree’s plantation, which lay a good distance off.

It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log causeways through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funereal black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the moccasin snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered branches that lay here and there rotting in the water.

It is disconsolate enough, this riding, to the stranger, who, with well-filled pocket and well-appointed horse, threads the lonely way on some errand of business; but wilder, drearier, to the man enthralled, whom every weary step bears further from all that man loves and prays for.

So one should have thought, that witnessed the sunken and dejected expression on those dark faces—the wistful, patient weariness with which those sad eyes rested on object after object that passed them in their sad journey.

Simon rode on, however, apparently well pleased, occasionally pulling away at a flask of spirit which he kept in his pocket.

“I say, you!” he said, as he turned back and caught a glance at the dispirited faces behind him! “Strike up a song, boys—come!”

The men looked at each other, and the “come” was repeated with a smart crack of the whip, which the driver carried in his hands. Tom began a Methodist hymn—

“Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me;
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joys when shall”——

“Shut up, you black cuss,” roared Legree, “did ye think I wanted any o’ yer infernal old Methodism? I say, tune up, now, something real rowdy—quick!”

One of the other men struck up one of those unmeaning songs common among the slaves.

Massa see’d me cotch a coon,
High boys high!
He laughed to split, d’ye see the moon,
Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
Ho! yo! hi—e! oh!

The singer appeared to make up the song to his own pleasure, generally hitting on rhyme, without much attempt at reason, and all the party took up the chorus at intervals,

Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
High—e—oh! high—e—o!

It was sung very boisterously, and with a forced attempt at merriment; but no wail of despair, no words of impassioned prayer, could have had such a depth of woe in them as the wild notes of the chorus. As if the poor dumb heart, threatened—prisoned—took refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a language in which to breathe its prayer to God. There was a prayer in it, which Simon could not hear. He only heard the boys singing noisily, and was well pleased; he was making them “keep up their spirits.”

“Well, my little dear,” said he, turning to Emmeline, and laying his hand on her shoulder, “we’re almost home!”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 31, Part 1, here.]

Commentary by Les Harrison

 Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University

With Tom’s arrival at the Legree plantation in chapter 31, “Dark Places,” the action of the novel moves to the third and final setting in Stowe’s symbolic geography of the United States under slavery. As Jane Tompkins once noted: “Ultimately, there are only three places to be this story: heaven, hell, or Kentucky”(1). Thus far we’ve already seen Kentucky on the Shelby plantation, and, while New Orleans under slavery is a dark place in its own right, particularly for slaves such as Old Prue, the presence of Little Eva made the St. Clare household a heaven-like respite on Tom’s journey to his cavalry at the Legree plantation.

There are two important elements to the “darkness” which envelopes the Legree plantation. On the one hand, there is the palpable air of malign neglect with which Stowe characterizes the plantation. Keeping with Stowe’s theme of the threat Slavery poses to domestic happinesses of all types, her initial description of the Legree’s grouns emphasizes its former status as a beautiful and well-ordered home, with a “smooth-shaven lawn,” “ornamental shrubs,” and “what had once been a conservatory.”

Here, and in her subsequent description of the the house’s “desolate and uncomfortable” appearance, its boarded-up windows, and, finally, at the close of this installment, the revelation of a “dark wild face” at the window (later revealed to be Cassy), Stowe begins her deployment of the gothic setting and other gothic elements which will characterize events in the final chapters of the novel. Writing specifically about Stowe, as well as other authors, Teresa Goddu situates the American gothic tradition “within specific sites of historical haunting, most notably slavery,” noting that, “American gothic literature criticizes America’s national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation’s claim to purity and equality” (2). Stowe’s use of this gothic machinery will reach its culmination in chapter 42, “An Authentic Ghost Story,” in which Cassy and Emmeline, dressed as ghosts, haunt the Legree plantation en route to their escape to the north, contributing in no small measure to Legree’s untimely demise in the process.


1Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790 – 1860 (New York: Oxford, 1986), 138.
2. Teresa Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation, (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), 10.  For an overivew of gothic elements in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, see Karen Halttunen, “Gothic Imagination and Social Reform: The Haunted Houses of Lyman Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe,” in New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Eric Sundquist (New York: Cambridge UP, 1986), 107 – 134.

[Continue reading the full text of  Les Harrison’s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

January 22, 1852

Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Chapter 30

Chapter XXX.

“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity. Wherefore lookest thou on them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devourest the man that is more righteous than he.”—Heb. i, 13.

On the lower part of a small, mean boat on the Red River, Tom sat—chains on his wrists, chains on his feet, and a weight heavier than chains lay on his heart. All had faded from his sky—moon and star; all had passed by him, as the trees and banks were now passing, to return no more—Kentucky home, with wife and children, and indulgent owners—St. Clare home, with all its refinements and splendors—the golden head of Eva, with its saint-like eyes—the proud, gay, handsome, seemingly careless, yet ever-kind St. Clare—hours of ease and indulgent leisure—all gone; and in place thereof, what remains?

It is one of the bitterest apportionments of a lot of slavery, that the negro, sympathetic and assimilative, after acquiring in a refined family the tastes and feelings which form the atmosphere of such a place, is not the less liable to become the bond slave of the coarsest and most brutal—just as a chair or table, which once decorated the superb saloon, comes at last battered and defaced to the bar room of some filthy tavern or some low haunt of vulgar debauchery. The great difference is, that the table and chair cannot feel, and the man can—for even a legal enactment that he shall be “taken, reputed, adjudged in law to be a chattel personal,” cannot blot out his soul, with its own private little world of memories, hopes, loves, fears, and desires.

Mr. Simon Legree, Tom’s master, had purchased slaves at one place and another in New Orleans, to the number of eight, and driven them handcuffed, in couples of two and two, down to the good steamer Pirate, which lay at the levee, ready for a trip up the Red River.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 30, here.]

Commentary by Sarah Meer

Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Cambridge

Stowe’s epigraph to this chapter directs us to the complicit witness who is denounced near the end: ‘wherefore lookest thou upon them who deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue…?’. The gentleman whose conscience is apparent in his, ‘listening to the conversation with repressed uneasiness’, is such an onlooker, and so he is denounced by another character:

it is you considerate, humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour.

For Stowe, this applied not just to decent Southern planters, but to American society itself: national complicity, crystallised by the Fugitive Slave Law, had been her original spur to write the novel.

Stowe also seems to have considered this chapter important for its introduction to the profit-centred philosophy of the very worst slaveowners. When, after the novel’s success, she published a factual book, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to elucidate her claims in fiction, she produced evidence for the mindset that  she gives to Legree in this chapter. In this instalment, Legree makes the horrifying boast that he intentionally works his slaves beyond human endurance; he has calculated that working people to death is more cost effective than sparing them to work another day: ‘Use up, and buy more, ‘s my way’ because ‘it comes cheaper in the end’. The Key gave real-life examples of Legrees, reprinting an account of slaves on a sugar plantation working eighteen to twenty-hour days, seven days a week, for two to three months at a time.[1] The Key also confirms that it is no accident that the boat that takes Tom up the Red River in this instalment is called ‘Pirate’. Later in the novel, Stowe will observe that the international slave trade is ‘considered as piracy’ in American law, but that a domestic trade that is just as terrible ‘is an inevitable attendant  and result of American slavery’. Accordingly, in The Key, Stowe calls her character ‘Pirate Legree’, and in this chapter he is taking slaves away from their families on a boat, just as international slave traders removed people from their homes in other lands.[2] In later book editions of the novel, this chapter was subtitled ‘The Middle Passage’, making explicit the comparison with the Atlantic journeys of slave ships.

But for one contemporary reader the most compelling aspect of the chapter was not its staging of the question of complicity, nor the horror of the economic argument for using human beings like machines.

[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (London: Clarke, Beeton, 1853), 74

[2] Stowe, Key, 69. The comparison with the international slave trade is made in the “Concluding Remarks” published at the end of the novel.

[Continue reading the full text of  Sarah Meer ‘s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

January 15, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 29

Chapter XXIX.

A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible Tartarusinformis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.” But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market, and is therefore well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek and strong and shining. A slave warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.

Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade or the fancy of the purchaser.

It was a day or two after the conversation between Marie and Miss Ophelia that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on —— street, to await the auction next day.

Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered for the night into a long room where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.

“Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys—go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry. Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonry which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.

As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings, and therefore setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it and leaned his face against the wall.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 29, here.]

Commentary by Jo-Ann Morgan

 Associate Professor of African Studies and Art at Western Illinois University

Were the January 15, 1952 installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for The National Era less steeped in irony, Harriet Beecher Stowe addressing the reader as “innocent friend” might have assuaged northern subscribers of complicity with the goings on down South. “A slave warehouse!” she announces, where “husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children” in bondage wait to be sold. The scenario transpires in New Orleans, but one “gentleman” who will profit by selling his inherited lot of human property resides in New York.

“[T]hese days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society,” Stowe chastises. But it is not just blind Yankee mercantilism she indicts. The artful sin to which she alludes is indeed unspeakable; something proper women were not supposed to notice, much less mention. Destined for the auction block is a mother named Susan, a “mulatto woman…with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy.” Also for sale is her daughter Emmeline, “a young girl of fifteen…. a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion.” The reader well knew the subtext implicit in pale skin. In an earlier chapter Stowe remarks on another fair young woman. “Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had reached maturity without those temptations which make beauty so fatal an inheritance to a slave.” Here in chapter twenty-nine the consequences of that aforementioned fatal inheritance are made squeamishly clear.

As the girl huddles with her mother, leering men pass by, touching her hair, admiring her soft hands. Her mother admonishes she must brush her pretty curls all back straight so that “respectable families” might wish to purchase her. But pious ladies, such as she whose attendant they had once been, were not habitués of slave markets. Here were vulgar men in checked clothing and palmetto straw hats– “great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men.” They chew cigars and drool tobacco juice. In contrast, Stowe assures the reader, “the gentleman” who sells this mother and daughter “is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.” Is he then any less morally bankrupt that his crude southern brethren?

Fig. 1 Hammatt Billings, engraving Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852

A different slave market would be one of six illustrations by Hammatt Billings for John P. Jewett’s publication of the serial as a book later that year. Captioned “The Auction Sale,” that image accompanies the tragic story of an old slave named Aunt Hagar. (Fig. 1) The image resembles a vignette Billings recently used on his masthead design for the antislavery newspaper The Liberator.[1] (Fig. 2) More apropos to Stowe’s sentiment about the evil of slavery and the vulnerability of young slave girls is his rendition of the sale of Emmeline for Jewett’s gift book version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Fig. 2 Hammatt Billings, masthead engraving, The Liberator, c. 1850

[1] James F. O’Gorman, Accomplished in All Departments of Art– Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818-1874 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1998), 48. William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, stalwart among anti-slavery papers, January 1, 1830 and never missed an issue for 1,800 weeks. Over a thirty-five year run, The Liberator had three mastheads. The second, designed by David Claypoole Johnston, debuted March 23, 1838 and included an auction scene. For the third and last masthead design of the 1850s, Hammatt Billings elaborated on Johnston’s auction design and added a central roundel wherein a slave kneels before Christ. See: Donald M. Jacobs, editor, Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1993) 10.

[Continue reading the full text of  Jo-Ann Morgan ‘s commentary and view more images here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

January 8, 1852

National Era

Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Part 2 of Chapter 28

Chapter XXVIII—Continued.

She found Marie sitting up in her easy-chair, with Mammy standing by her, combing her hair. Jane sat on the ground before her, busy in chafing her feet.

“How do you find yourself to day?” said Miss Ophelia.

A deep sigh and a closing of the eyes was the only reply, for a moment, and then Marie answered, “Oh, I don’t know, cousin; I suppose I’m as well as I ever shall be;” and Marie wiped her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.

“I came,” said Miss Ophelia, “with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult subject.”

“I came to speak with you about poor Rosa.”

Marie’s eyes were open wide enough now, and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks as she answered, sharply,

“Well, what about her?”

“She is very sorry for her fault.”

“She is, is she? She’ll be sorrier before I’ve done with her. I’ve endured that child’s impudence long enough, and now I’ll bring her down—I’ll make her lie in the dust.”

“But could not you punish her some other way—some way that would be less shameful?”

“I mean to shame her; that’s just what I want. She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is—and I’ll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy.”

“But, cousin, consider that if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast.”

[Continue reading the remaining text of chapter 28, here.]

Commentary by Audrey Fisch

 Professor of English at New Jersey City University

In its September 3, 1852 review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Times of London scolds Harriet Beecher Stowe for her radical “portraiture” of “African nature,” mocking what it sees as her “ludicrous” attempt to “establish the superiority of the African nature over that of the Anglo-Saxon and of every other known race.”  The racism in the assertion is implicit: no race, and certainly, not the African, could be superior to the Anglo-Saxon.

Yet by the time of The Times’s review, Stowe and a number of others were part of a growing number of people who were concerned that slavery was making whites, if not inferior to Africans, then into brutes.   An important thread that runs through Stowe’s novel and throughout the Anglo-American abolitionist tradition is the argument that slavery should be abolished because it is damaging to white people who are being rendered inferior by their participation in and contact with the institution.  Nowhere is this argument made more strongly than in the section under consideration this week, in which Marie St. Clair decides to have Rosa sent to the whipping house and to sell Tom and most of the slaves.

Before we look at these episodes, I want to turn to Robert Southey’s “The Sailor, Who Had Served in the Slave Trade” (1790), an illustration of the argument that slavery damages whites with strong resonances both with this section and with Stowe’s novel generally.  Southey advances his anti-slavery argument in the poem through his examination of the effect that slavery, and the slave trade in particular, has on a good English sailor, the eponymous protagonist.  “The Sailor” centers around his state of misery; he has been rendered “miserable” and “wretched,” suffering in ”such heart-anguish as could spring/ From deepest guilt alone.”

The sailor’s guilt stems from an event on his journey on board a “Guinea-man” to the “slave-coast” where his ship takes on a cargo of three-hundred slaves.  Of the “sulky” who refused to eat, one woman is “sulkier than the rest,” and, under the direction of the ship’s captain, the sailor is forced to tie her up and flog her until she is nearly dead.  Finally, the woman is untied and taken down, and the sailor records his relief:

She could not be more glad than I

When she was taken down,

A blessed minute—’twas the last

That I have ever known!

[Continue reading the full text of Audrey Fisch ‘s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Read the top new stories of this week in 1852 here!

January 1, 1852

National Era

Transcription of Chapter 27, Part 2 and Chapter 28, Part 1

Chapter XXVII—Continued.

“Well, are you going to do differently now?” said Miss Ophelia.

“God only knows the future,” said St. Clare. “I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks.”

“And what are you going to do?”

“My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out,” said St. Clare, “beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and perhaps at some future day it may appear that I can do something for a whole class—something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations.”

“Do you suppose it possible that a nation ever will voluntarily emancipate?” said Miss Ophelia.

“I don’t know,” said St. Clare. “This is a day of great deeds. Heroism and disinterestedness are rising up here and there in the earth. The Hungarian nobles set free millions of serfs, at an immense pecuniary loss; and perhaps among us may be found generous spirits who do not estimate honor and justice by dollars and cents.”

“I hardly think so,” said Miss Ophelia.

[Continue reading the full text of 1 January installment, here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

Assistant Professor of English at Kent State University

A New Year, A New Augustine St. Clare, a New Marie?

On 1 January of 1852, the new year brought a new installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the discomfited Augustine St. Clare resumes his effort to postpone, if not forestall, the actions to which an awakened Christian conscience seems to call him, freeing his slaves. But he finds himself hounded by the relentless interrogations of his Vermont cousin, for whom “now,” what Stowe’s narrator in the previous installment calls “the present tense of action,” is the only moment in which a thing can be done. In the previous installment, St. Clare turned to his newspaper to fend off Miss Ophelia’s efforts to purchase Topsy, but he found her unyielding: “But I want it done now.…Because now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in.” One of Stowe’s frequent techniques is to repeat a word for thematic emphasis, so when the split chapter resumed on 1 January Stowe reminded her reader of the topic by Miss Ophelia’s pointed query to Augustine: “Well, are you going to do differently now?”

St. Clare initially appears to recognize that “now” might be a propitious moment for emancipation in the world, the nation, and his own household. Stowe’s Era readers would have been broadly familiar with the gathering signs of the times, as the Era followed such developments faithfully. When Stowe’s 18 December installment was missed, editor Gamaliel Bailey requested the readers’ forbearance with “long articles,” one of which was an international sensation, “the long speech of [Louis] Kossuth at the great Banquet at New York.” This is the international event to which St. Clare refers in this installment with regard to the emancipation of Hungarian serfs. A national matter that may have offered another sign for the times was the Christiana incident. A free black community harboring fugitive slaves in Pennsylvania successfully resisted an attempt by the Maryland slaveholder Edward Gorsuch to re-enslave men he claimed as his property. Gorsuch was killed in the violent exchange. A Quaker, Castner Hanway was charged with treason for aiding the fugitive slaves’ escape, but he was acquitted of the treason charges on 11 December. The reverberations of this incendiary incident, another test of the Fugitive Slave Act, promised to echo long but would fade into a historical footnote. Stowe’s readers may well have recognized the Harris family’s escape with the aid of a Quaker as an uncanny parallel to Christiana. But if the international and national signs were propitious for the march toward greater freedom, domestic signs were decidedly negative, and Augustine St. Clare’s tentative resolution to emancipate his slaves—including Tom—appears to falter on this matter.

[Continue reading the full text of Wesley Raabe’s commentary here.]

December 25, 1851

Click on the image for a larger/readable version of the National Era

Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII.

Week after week glided away in the St. Clare mansion, and the waves of life settled back to their usual flow where that little bark had gone down. For how imperiously, how coolly, in disregard of all one’s feeling, does the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on! Still must we eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again—still bargain, buy, sell, ask and answer questions—pursue, in short, a thousand shadows, though all interest in them be over; the cold mechanical habit of living remaining after all vital interest in it has fled.

All the interests and hopes of St. Clare’s life had unconsciously wound themselves around this child. It was for Eva that he had managed his property; it was for Eva that he had planned the disposal of his time; and to do this and that for Eva—to buy, improve, alter, and arrange, or dispose something for her, had been so long his habit, that now she was gone, there seemed nothing to be thought of, and nothing to be done.

True, there was another life—a life which, once believed in, stands as a solemn, significant figure before the otherwise unmeaning cypress of time, changing them to orders of mysterious, untold value. St. Clare knew this well, and often in many a weary hour he heard that slender childish voice calling him to the skies, and saw that little hand pointing to him the way of life; but a heavy lethargy of sorrow lay on him—he could not arise. He had one of those natures which could better and more clearly conceive of religious things from its own perceptions and instincts, than many a matter of fact and practical Christian. The gift to appreciate and the sense to feel the finer shades and relations of moral things, often seems an attribute of those whose whole life shows a careless disregard of them. Hence Moore, Byron, Goethe, often speak words more wisely descriptive of the true religious sentiment than another man whose whole life is governed by it. In such minds, disregard of religion is a more fearful treason—a more deadly sin.

St. Clare had never pretended to govern himself by any religious obligation, and a certain fineness of nature gave him such an instinctive view of the extent of the requirements of Christianity, that he shrank by anticipation from what he felt would be the exactions of his own conscience, if he once did resolve to assume them. For so inconsistent is human nature, especially in the ideal, that not to undertake a thing at all, seems better than to undertake and come short.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 27, here.]

Commentary by Jeannine DeLomard

Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto

Taking Possession

This fascinating chapter opens by marveling that, even in the wake of a loss so intense as that of the angelic Little Eva, “the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on,” requiring the bereaved not only to “eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again,” but to “bargain, buy, [and] sell” as well. For, as is so often the case in what would become Stowe’s bestselling sentimental novel, inner feelings are not as separable from the outside world of commerce as they might appear.

Indeed, as we move closer to St. Clare’s perspective in the subsequent paragraph, we begin to perceive the inextricability of his intertwined financial and emotional investments: “All the interests and hopes of St. Clare’s life had unconsciously wound themselves around this child. It was for Eva that he had managed his property; …to buy, improve, alter, and arrange, or dispose something for her, had been so long his habit, that now she was gone, there seemed nothing to be thought of, and nothing to be done.” That the father experiences the daughter’s death in such terms speaks less to the sensitive Southern gentleman’s corruption by the masculine world of business than to the fact that, in the course of daily realities, property makes us who we are.

St. Clare, “well versed in the forms of law,” would have understood property not physically, as a set of objects, but metaphysically, as a cluster of rights. Seen in this light, property is as much about relations among persons as between persons and things. When we are told that St. Clare, Marie, and Ophelia “took possession of the parlor” after tea, we read the phrase in its figurative sense, as an indication that the couple and their cousin have physically occupied the domestic space in question. But a key aspect of St. Clare’s legal ownership of the mansion would be his right to exclude others – including, perhaps, his female relatives – from access to the parlor or any other part of the house. It is precisely the owner’s right to exclude that leads an “enraged” Topsy to kick and fight “valiantly for what she considered her rights” when her fellow slave Rosa seeks to extract from her dress the object concealed in its bosom. And it is Topsy’s inability to maintain such rights in the face of Miss Ophelia’s peremptory “order” that threatens to open not just the “little parcel,” but the enslaved girl’s body, to inspection under her master’s gaze. Even Tom, who partakes of neither St. Clare’s legal literacy nor Topsy’s defiant feistiness, understands that property is primarily about social relations rather than material goods – this is why he would “rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have ‘em mine, than have the best, and have ‘em any man’s else.”

[Continue reading the full text of Jeannine DeLombard ‘s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1851, here!


The influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin on fiction writers.

Commentary by Patricia O’Brien

Author of Harriet and Isabella


Harriet, you did it.  You scraped open the hidden (and not so hidden) raw sores of racism in this country with one passionate book, and you did it by climbing into a shameful world armed only with your imagination.  That’s what novelists do. And I can talk directly to you, because you are real in my imagination – thank goodness for that, because I want you to know you were and remain an inspiration to any novelist trying to pull back the curtains on history.

You didn’t do it with a non-fiction attack on the evils of slavery. Uncle Tom lived only in your head.  But he was true, and when you gave him to a shocked society, it was a gift that opened locked consciences around the world.

All the facts had been there – families torn apart, slaves whipped and broken, cruel manhunts to corral escaped “property”- but facts can rattle about like dried corn husks; easily discarded or ignored.  The moral arguments against slavery were still scattered, still devoid of both wide support and clarity.  You illuminated truth by offering a powerful human story.

And everything changed.

Oh, what a ride that must have been.  I think of you surely reeling at the uproar following publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, at the anger and praise that must have hammered at your door.  And the fear?  There must have been some.  Maybe when you opened that anonymous package and found some cruel master had sent you the dried, shriveled ear of a slave?   And how, through all of this, did you keep writing while bearing seven children and keeping a home?

[Continue reading the full text of Patricia O’Brien’s commentary here.]

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