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by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1852)
This book had such a profound effect on attitudes toward slavery in the United States that it is often credited with having contributed to Civil War. Indeed, when when Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe, daughter of a Connecticut preacher, met President Lincoln he said, "Is this the little woman who brought on so great a war?" 'Uncle Tom' was one one of the most successful books ever, selling some 300,000 copies in its first year.
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February two gentlemen were sitting over their wine, in a well-furnished parlour in the town of P - - in Kentucky in the midst of an earnest conversation.
"That is the way I should arrange the matter," said Mr. Shelby, the owner of the place. "The fact is, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere; steady, honest, capable, manages my farm like a clock."
"You mean honest, as niggers go," said Haley.
"You ought to let him cover the whole of the debt. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago, and I've trusted him ever since."
"Some folks don't believe there is pious niggers Shelby," said Haley
"Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep," said Haley, "and I'm willing to do anything to 'blige friends; but this yer, ye see, is too hard on a feller, it really is. Haven't you a boy or gal you could thrown in with Tom?"
"Hum! - none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it's only hard necessity makes me sell at all." Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, remarkably beautiful and engaging, entered with a comic air of assurance which showed he was used to being petted and noticed by his master. "Hulloa, Jim Crow," said Mr. Shelby, snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, "pick that up, now!" The child scampered, with all his little strength after the prize, while his master laughed. "Tell you what," said Haley, "fling in that chap, and I'll settle the business, I will."
At this moment a young woman, obviously the child's mother, came in search of him, and Haley, as soon as she had carried him away, turned to Mr. Shelby in admiration.
"By Jupiter!" said the trader, "there's an article now! You might make your fortune on that one gal in Orleans, any way. What shall I say for her? What'll you take?"
"Mr. Haley, she is not to be sold. I say no, and I mean no," said Mr. Shelby, decidedly.
"Well, you'll let me have the boy, though."
"I would rather not sell him," said Mr. Shelby; "the fact is, I'm a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir."
"Oh, you do? La, yes, I understand perfectly. It is mighty unpleasant getting on with women sometimes. I al'ays hates these yer screechin' times. As I manages business, I generally avoids 'em, sir. Now, what if you get the gal off for a day or so? then the thing's done quietly. It's always best to do the humane thing, sir; that's been my experience." "I'd like to have been able to kick the fellow down the steps," said Mr. Shelby to himself, when the trader had bowed himself out. "And Eliza's child, too! I know I shall have some fuss with the wife about that, and for that matter, about Tom, too! So much for being in debt, heigho!"
The prayer-meeting at Uncle Tom's Cabin had been protracted to a very late hour, and Tom and his worthy helpmeet were not yet asleep, when between twelve and one there was a light tap on the window pane.
"Good Lord! what's that?" said Aunt Chloe, starting up. "My sakes alive, if it aint Lizzy! Get on your clothes, old man, quick. I'm gwine to open the door." And suiting the action to the word, the door flew open, and the light of the candle which Tom had hastily lighted, fell on the face of Eliza. "I'm running away, Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe - carrying off my child. Master sold him."
"Sold him?" echoed both, holding up their hands in dismay.
"Yes, sold him!" said Eliza firmly. "I crept into the closet by mistress's door to-night, and I heard master tell missus that he had sold my Harry and you, Uncle Tom, both to a trader, and that the man was to take possession to-day."
Slowly, as the meaning of this speech came over Tom, he collapsed on his old chair, and sunk his head on his knees.
"The good Lord have pity on us!" said Aunt Chloe. "What has he done that mas'r should sell him?"
"He hasn't done anything - it isn't for that. I heard Master say there was no choice between selling these two, and selling all, the man was driving him so hard. Master said he was sorry; but, oh! missis! you should have heard her talk! If she ain't a Christian and an angel, there never was one. I'm a wicked girl to leave her so - but then I can't help it, the Lord forgive me, for I can't help doing it."
"Well, old man," said Aunt Chloe, "why don't you go too? Will you wait to be toted down river, where they kill niggers with hard work and starving? There's time for ye; be off with Lizzy, you've got a pass to come and go any time."
Tom slowly raised his head, and sorrowfully said, "No, no: I aint going. Let Eliza go - it's her right. 'Tan't in natur for her to stay, but you heard what she said. If I must be sold, or all the people on the place and everything to go to rack, why let me be sold. Mas'r aint to blame, Chloe; and he'll take care of you and the poor-." Here he turned to the rough trundle-bed full of little woolly heads and fairly broke down.
"And now," said Eliza, "do try, if you can, to get a word to my husband. He told me this afternoon he was going to run away. Tell him why I went, and tell him, I'm going to try and find Canada. Give my love to him, and tell him, if I never see him again - tell him to be as good as he can, and try and meet me in the kingdom of heaven."
A few last words and tears, a few simple adieus and blessings, and she glided noiselessly away.
It is impossible to conceive of a human being more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza as she left the only home she had ever known. Her husband's sufferings and danger, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, she trembled at every sound, and every quaking leaf quickened her steps. She felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, he was old enough to have walked by her side, but now she strained him to her bosom as she went rapidly forward; and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural strength that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth, in frequent ejaculations, "Lord help me."
Still she went, leaving one familiar object after another, till reddening daylight found her many a long mile, upon the open highway, on the way to the village of T - - upon the Ohio river, when she constrained herself to walk regularly and composedly, quickening the speed of her child, by rolling an apple before him, when the boy would run with all his might after it; this ruse often repeated carried them over many a half-mile.
An hour before sunset she came in sight of the river, which lay between her and liberty. Great cakes of floating ice were swinging heavily to and fro in the turbid waters. Eliza turned into a small public house to ask if there was no ferry boat.
"No, indeed," said the hostess, stopping her cooking as Eliza's sweet, plaintive voice fell on her ear; "the boats has stopped running." Eliza's look of dismay struck her and she said, "Maybe you're wanting to get over? anybody sick? Ye seem mighty anxious."
"I've got a child that's very dangerous," said Eliza, "I never heard of it till last night, and I've walked quite a piece to-day, in hopes to get to the ferry."
"Well, now, that's unlucky" said the woman, her motherly sympathies aroused; "I'm rilly concerned for ye. Solomon!" she called from the window. "I say Sol, is that ar man going to tote them bar'ls over to-night?"
"He said he should try, if 'twas any ways prudent," replied a man's voice.
"There's a man going over to-night, if he durs' to; he'll be in to supper, so you'd better sit down and wait. That's a sweet little fellow" added the woman, offering him a cake.
But the child, wholly exhausted, cried with weariness.
"Take him into this room," said the woman opening into a small bedroom, and Eliza laid the weary boy on the comfortable bed, and held his hands till he was fast asleep. For her there was no rest, the thought of her pursuers urged her on, and she gazed with longing eyes on the swaying waters between her and liberty.
She was standing by the window as Haley and two of Mr. Shelby's servants came riding by. Sam, the foremost, catching sight of her, contrived to have his hat blown off, and uttered a loud and characteristic ejaculation. She drew back and the whole train swept by to the front door. A thousand lives were concentrated in that moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child and sprang down the steps. The trader caught a glimpse of her as she disappeared down the bank, and calling loudly to Sam and Andy, was after her like a hound after a deer. Her feet scarce seemed to touch the ground, a moment brought her to the water's edge. Right on behind they came, and nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap - impossible to anything but madmen and despair. The huge green fragment of ice pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling, leaping, slipping, springing upwards again. Her shoes were gone - her stockings cut from her feet - while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.
"Yer a brave girl, now, whoever ye are!" said he. Eliza recognised a farmer from near her old home. "Oh, Mr. Symmes! save me! do save me! do hide me!" said Eliza.
"Why, what's this?" said the man, "why, if 'taint Shelby's gal!"
"My child! - this boy - he'd sold him! There is his mas'r," said she, pointing to the Kentucky shore. "Oh, Mr. Symmes, you've got a little boy."
"So I have," said the man, as he roughly but kindly helped her up the bank. "Besides, you're a right brave gal. I'd be glad to do something for you. The best thing I can do is to tell you to go there," pointing to a large white house, standing by itself, "they're kind folks. There's no kind o' danger but they'll help you - they're up to all that sort of thing."
"The Lord bless you!" said Eliza earnestly, and folding her child to her bosom, walked firmly away.
Late that night the fugitives were driven to the house of a man who had once been a considerable shareholder in Kentucky; but, being possessed of a great, honest, just heart, he had witnessed for years with uneasiness the workings of a system equally bad for oppressors and oppressed, and one day bought some land in Ohio, made out free passes for all his people, and settled down to enjoy his conscience. He conveyed Eliza to a Quaker settlement, where by the help of these good friends she was joined by her husband and soon landed in Canada. Free!
An unceremonious kick pushed open the door of Uncle Tom's cabin, and Mr. Haley stood there in very ill humour after his hard riding and ill success.
"Come, ye nigger, ye'r ready. Servant, ma'am!" said he, taking off his hat as he saw Mrs. Shelby, who detained him a few moments. Speaking in an earnest manner, she made him promise to let her know to whom he sold Tom; while Tom rose up meekly, and his wife took the baby in her arms, her tears seeming suddenly turned to sparks of fire, to go with him to the wagon: "Get in," said Haley, and Tom got in, when Haley made fast a heavy pair of shackles round each ankle; a groan of indignation ran round the crowd of servants gathered to bid Tom farewell. Mr. Shelby had gone away on business, hoping all would be over before he returned.
"Give my love to Mas'r George," said Tom earnestly, as he was whirled away, fixing a steady, mournful look to the last on the old place. Tom insensibly won his way far into the confidence of such a man as Mr. Haley, and on the steamboat was permitted to come and go freely where he pleased. Among the passengers was a young gentleman of New Orleans whose little daughter often and often walked mournfully round the place where Haley's gang of men and women were chained. To Tom she appeared almost divine; he half believed he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament, and they soon got on confidential terms. As the steamer drew near New Orleans Mr. St. Clare, carelessly putting the tip of his finger under Tom's chin, said good-humouredly, "Look up, Tom, and see how you like your new master."
It was not in nature to look into that gay, handsome young face without pleasure, and Tom said heartily, "God bless you, Mas'r."
Eva's fancy for him had led her to petition her father that Tom might be her special attendant in her walks and rides. He was called coachman, but his stable duties were a sinecure; struck with his good business capacity, his master confided in him more and more, till gradually all the providing for the family was entrusted to him. Tom regarded his airy young master with an odd mixture of fealty, reverence and fatherly solicitude, and his friendship with Eva grew with the child's growth; but his home yearnings grew so strong that he tried to write a letter - so unsuccessfully that St. Clare offered to write for him, and. Tom had the joy of receiving an answer from Master George, stating that Aunt Chloe had been hired out, at her own request, to a confectioner, and was gaining vast sums of money, all of which was to be laid by for Tom's redemption.
About two years after his coming, Eva began to fail rapidly, and even her father could no longer deceive himself. Eva was about to leave him. It was Tom's greatest joy to carry the frail little form in his arms, up and down, into the veranda, and to him she talked, what she would not distress her father with, of these mysterious intimations which the soul feels ere it leaves its clay for ever. He lay, at last, all night in the veranda ready to rouse at the least call, and at midnight came the message. Earth was passed and earthly pain; so solemn was the triumphant brightness of that face it checked even the sobs of sorrow. A glorious smile, and she said, brokenly, "Oh-love-joy-peace" and passed from death unto life.
Week after week glided by in the St. Clare mansion and the waves of life settled back to their usual flow where that little bark had gone down. St. Clare was in many respects another man; he read his little Eva's Bible seriously and honestly; he thought soberly of his relations to his servants, and he commenced the legal steps necessary to Tom's emancipation as he had promised Eva he would do. But, one evening while Tom was sitting thinking of his home, feeling the muscles of his brawny arms with joy as he thought how he would work to buy his wife and boys; his master was brought home dying. He had interfered in an affray in a cafe and been stabbed.
He reached out and took Tom's hand; he closed his eyes, but still retained his hold; for in the gates of eternity the black hand and the white hold each other with an equal grasp, and softly murmured some words he had been singing that evening - words of entreaty to Infinite Pity.
Mrs. St. Clare decided at once to sell the place and all the servants, except her own personal property, and although she was told of her husband's intention of freeing Tom, he was sold by auction with the rest. His new master, Mr. Simon Legree, came round to review his purchases as they sat in chains on the lower deck of a small mean boat, on their way to his cotton plantation, on the Red River. "I say, all on ye," he said, "look at me - look me right in the eye - straight, now!" stamping his foot. "Now," said he, doubling his great heavy fist, "d'ye see this fist? Heft it," he said, bringing it down on Tom's hand. "Look at these yer bones! Well, I tell ye this yer fist has got as hard as iron knocking down niggers. I don't keep none of yer cussed overseers; I does my own overseeing and I tell ye things is seen to. You won't find no soft spot in me, nowhere. So, now, mind yourselves; for I don't show no mercy!" The women drew in their breath; and the whole gang sat with downcast, dejected faces.
Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon, and over a ruder road, Tom and his associates came to their new home. The whole place looked desolate, everything told of coarse neglect and discomfort. Three or four ferocious looking dogs rushed out and were with difficulty restrained from laying hold of Tom and his companions.
"Ye see what ye'd get!" said Legree. "Ye see what ye'd get if you tried to run off. They'd just as soon chaw one on ye up as eat their supper. So mind yourself. How now, Sambo!" to a ragged fellow, who was officious in his attentions, "How have things been goin' on?"
"Fust rate, mas'r."
"Quimbo," said Legree to another, "ye minded what I tell'd ye?"
"Guess I did, didn't I?"
Legree had trained these two men in savagery as systematically as he had his bulldogs, and they were in admirable keeping with the vile character of the whole place.
Tom's heart sank as he followed Sambo to the quarters. They had a forlorn, brutal air. He had been comforting himself with the thought of a cottage, rude indeed but one which he might keep neat and quiet and read his Bible in out of his labouring hours. They were mere rude sheds with no furniture but a heap of straw, foul with dirt. "Spec there's room for another thar'," said Sambo, "thar's a pretty smart heap o' niggers to each on 'em, now. Sure, I dunno what I's to do with more."
Tom looked in vain, as the weary occupants of the shanties came flocking home, for a companionable face; he saw only sullen, embruted men and feeble, discouraged women; or, those who, treated in every way like brutes, had sunk to their level.
"Thar you!" said Quimbo throwing down a coarse bag containing a peck of corn, "thar, nigger, grab, you won't get no more dis yer week."
Tom was faint for want of food, but moved by the utter weariness of two women, whom he saw trying to grind their corn, he ground for them; and then set about getting his own supper. An expression of kindness came over their hard faces - they mixed his cake for him, and tended the baking, and Tom drew out his Bible by the light of the fire - for he had need of comfort.
Tom saw enough of abuse and misery in his new life to make him sick and weary; but he toiled on with religious patience, committing himself to Him that judgeth righteously. Legree took silent note, and rating him as a first-class hand, made up his mind that Tom must be hardened; he had bought him with a view to making him a sort of overseer, so one night he told him to flog one of the women. Tom begged him not to set him at that. He could not do it, "no way possible." Legree struck him repeatedly with a cowhide. "There," said he stopping to rest, "now will ye tell me ye can't do it?"
"Yes, mas'r," said Tom, wiping the blood from his face. "I'm willin' to work, night and day; but this yer thing I can't feel it right to do; and mas'r, I never shall do it, never!"
Legree looked stupefied - Tom was so respectful - but at last burst forth:
"What, ye blasted black beast! tell me ye don't think it right to do what I tell ye. So ye pretend it's wrong to flog the girl?"
"I think so, mas'r," said Tom. "'Twould be downright cruel, the poor critter's sick and feeble. Mas'r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but as to my raising my hand against anyone here, I never will - I'll die first." Legree shook with anger. "Here, Sambo! - Quimbo!" he shouted, "give this dog such a breakin' in as he won't get over this month."
The two seized Tom with fiendish exultation, and dragged him unresistingly from the place.
For weeks and months Tom wrestled, in darkness and sorrow - crushing back to his soul the bitter thought that God had forgotten him. One night he sat like one stunned when everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose of One crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding; and a voice said, "He that overcometh shall sit down with Me on My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father upon His throne."
From this time an inviolable peace filled the lowly heart of the oppressed one; life's uttermost woes fell from him unharming.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear.
Tom lay dying at last; not suffering, for every nerve was blunted and destroyed; when George Shelby found him, and his voice reached his dying ear.
"Oh, Mas'r George, he ain't done me any real harm: only opened the gate of Heaven for me. Who - who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" and with a smile he fell asleep.
As George knelt by the grave of his poor friend, "Witness, eternal God," said he, "Oh, witness that, from this hour, I will do what one man can to drive out the curse of slavery from my land!"
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