this letter to educator and congressman Horace Mann (17961859),
written 150 years ago this month, author Harriet Beecher Stowe
(18111896) announces that she has completed what would
become arguably the most influential novel in American historyUncle
work grew out of Stowe’s exposure to abolitionism, which had
over time fostered her determined stance against slavery.
She began composing the novel in 1850, as the national debate
over slavery became ever more intense and angry. The storyline
followed its protagonist, Uncle Tom, as one master sold him
to another, until the abuses of his final owner, the villianous
Simon Legree, brought about Tom’s death.
Tom’s Cabin first appeared in the magazine National
Era in a series of installments between June 1851 and
April 1852, where it enjoyed a relatively modest readership.
When publisher J. P. Jewett issued the first printing of the
book in March 1852, however, the sales soared. Ten thousand
copies sold within the first week; in the first year, more
than 300,000 copies sold in the United States alone.
subject matter had, of course, touched a raw nerve among American
readers, and not all of her buyers were happy. The book enraged
pro-slavery advocates, many of whom challenged her portrayal
of the treatment of slaves on Southern plantations. Horace
Mann, then serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, helped
Stowe formulate her response to these charges. They gathered
evidence of the atrocities of slavery, which resulted in a
second book, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published
Massachusetts Historical Society holds several of Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s letters, including letters she wrote to William
Prescott, Richard Henry Dana, and John A. Andrew. The MHS
also holds a large collection of Horace Mann’s personal and