Harriet Beecher, the daughter of the Congregationalist minister, Lyman Beecher, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on 14th June, 1811. Her brother was the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. After an education at the Connecticut Female Seminary she taught at schools in Hartford and Cincinnati.
In 1834 Harriet began to write short stories for the Western Monthly. Two years later she married the Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe, a clergyman and biblical scholar. Over the next few years Harriet had seven children but continued to write stories and articles for numerous magazines.
Harriet was converted to anti-slavery campaign after hearing Theodore Weld speak at a public meeting. She was determined to do something to help the cause. One day, while in church, she decided to write a novel about slavery. The main character in the book was based on Josiah Henson, an escaped slave whose narrative Harriet had read. Weld's book, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, also provided her with plenty of background material.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was written as a serial and began appearing in the anti-slavery journal, the National Era, in 1851. It was published in book form the following year. In the preface Stowe wrote: "The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away with the good effects of all that can be attempted for them by their best friends."
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)
The publisher decided to print 5,000 copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was an immediate best-seller. The first edition sold out in seven days. Despite being banned in the South, over 300,000 copies were sold in its first year. As Frederick Douglass was later to point out: "Its effect was amazing, instantaneous and universal".
Translated into many languages, Uncle Tom's Cabin was also a great success in Europe. In England alone over a million copies were sold. Supporters of slavery were furious and Stowe received hundreds of hostile letters. Thirty pro-slavery novels were published in an attempt to reverse public sympathies in what had now become a propaganda battle. Stowe responded by publishing The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), a book of source material on slavery.
Stowe visited England where she met Queen Victoria. She also made three tours of Europe and this inspired her book Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854). A second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp appeared in 1856. The story of a slave rebellion was followed by The Minister's Wooing (1859).
Harriet Beecher Stowe died on 1st July, 1896.