Harriet Beecher Stowe
(1811 – 1896)
April 6th Tuesday We have had one of the driving
snow storms of the season the snow is very
much banked. We have been reading Uncle
Toms Cabin Susan has read to us most of the
time have been sewing & mending. Orinthia hemmed
a black cravat for O Angier and sewed some
on Susans pink apron. Have made a little needle
book for mother
Yesterday, Evelina and Orinthia had been in Evelina’s garden planting flowers. Today the two women sat indoors “sewing & mending” because the unstable spring weather had brought on “one of the driving snow storms of the season.” According to Old Oliver, the snow “was all in heaps and the wind blowing verry hard from northeast” *
Yet the women weren’t disconsolate. While they sewed, Evelina’s daughter Susan read aloud to them from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a popular new novel. Originally published in serial form in the National Era, an abolitionist periodical out of Washington, D. C., the full book had just been published in Boston by John P. Jewett and was on its way to becoming the best selling work of fiction of the 19th century.
Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or a Tale of Life Among the Lowly tells the story of two Kentucky slaves, Tom and Eliza, who are forced to leave their home plantation and make their way in a hostile society, one sold south, the other escaping north. It was a tale that gripped readers north and south, within the country and abroad, and provoked various imitations, interpretations and theatrical iterations. It has never been out of print.
Mrs. Stowe was not only an author, mother of seven children and wife of a Biblical scholar and educator; she and her husband were also active abolitionists. For a number of years they had lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, an active depot for escaping slaves, where they were participants in the Underground Railroad and personally helped hide slaves on the run. When the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted in 1850, Mrs. Stowe was distraught. She wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in protest.
How might Evelina have liked Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Very much, one suspects. Though hardly an active abolitionist, Evelina was sympathetic to the slaves. After the Civil War, she even tried to hire some freed black women to come work for her but, according to her grandson Winthrop Ames, the plan never worked out.
*Oliver Ames Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection