On this day in 1811, Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born to prominent minister Lyman Beecher and his wife Roxana Foote Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the seventh of an eventual thirteen children.
Harriet Beecher was fortunate in that she received a thorough classical education at a time when most women did not. She would meet widower Calvin Ellis Stowe in the mid-1830’s after she moved to Cincinnati. They would marry in 1836.
By 1850 the Stowes were living in Brunswick, Maine, where Calvin taught at nearby Bowdoin College. Harriet was inspired to write something after the new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in early 1850. She wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, publisher of the antislavery newspaper The National Era, and told him she wanted to write something in serial form to be published in his paper. Stowe was paid $400 (a not-inconsiderable sum for its time) for the story, which was published from June 1851 until April 1852. The story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly, was published in book form soon afterward. The book became a bestseller, selling over 300,000 copies in the U.S. and over 1,000,000 copies in Great Britain in less than a year, thus becoming the second most-popular book in English in the 19th century (its sales were exceeded only by the Bible).
By current standards the book portrays a lot of offensive racial stereotypes of African-Americans. But it is hard to overstate the influence of the book on attitudes of the 19th century public towards slavery. In the South, negative reaction to the novel was widespread, and the book was banned and burned in many places. People caught with copies of the book in the South were at best ostracized by their peers, and at worst they became victims of mob violence and vigilante justice, like a bookseller in Mobile, Alabama who was driven from the city. But many Southerners instinctively recognized the power of Stowe’s story, and so the novel inspired an entire genre of Southern literature that became known as anti-Tom literature or plantation literature. But even the bestsellers of this genre never came remotely close to the popularity of the original Stowe novel.
In the North and in other countries, the book was hailed as an agent for social change. Within five years the book had been published in twenty languages. In addition to its political themes, the book was a popular culture phenomenon. One of its characters inspired many parents across the Northern United States to name their daughters Eva. The book inspired numerous plays and dramatic readings. It would eventually inspire a number of film adaptations as well.
I am a bit late to make this a “This Day in History” post, since the actual date in question was May 22nd, 1856. Still, I wanted to talk about this subject since I have been reading about it and have also recently listened to a rather good podcast about it. I have only recently begun listening to this Civil War podcast, but I find it quite good so far. And blogging about history always cheers me up. Besides, today (May 30th) IS the anniversary of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
Anyway, I have always found the story of the attack on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina to be one of the most shocking incidents leading up to the Civil War. Only in recent years did I learn the role Massachusetts Congressman Anson Burlingame played in the events that followed. In my mind, Burlingame is sort of the hero of the story, much more so than Sumner, anyway.
Continue reading “The Caning of Charles Sumner and the response by Anson Burlingame”
Today is the 158th anniversary of the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. His death is also notable because he was a national celebrity and a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln.
Ellsworth had become famous before the Civil War when he toured the country in the summer of 1860 with his drill team, the National Guard Cadets of Chicago, more famously known as the United States Zouave Cadets. The unit was famous for its spectacular drill sequences and helped inspire many Zouave units that would appear during the Civil War.
Continue reading “Today in Civil War history – “Remember Ellsworth!””
Geoff and I haven’t been able to get to Brimfield for the last 3 years. We’ve both missed it a lot. But we were able to come this year. Some things have changed (new vendors, more food options, less parking, more 45 supporters) others have stayed the same (bargains if you know where to look, unpredictable weather, good and bad crazy, nice people).
Per usual I documented some of the odder things we encountered. Enjoy.
Continue reading “Brimfield, May 2019 – The Odd, Disturbing, and Weird in Photos”
This week is the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, one of the bloodiest and most terrible battles of the Civil War. This particular phase of Grant’s Overland Campaign began on May 7th and lasted until May 19th. The battle is most famous for the Union assaults on a stretch of Confederate fortifications called the Mule Shoe because of its shape, and particularly for the violence that took place in an area known as the Bloody Angle.
Continue reading “My Ancestor at the Battle of Spotsylvania”
Today Geoff and I took a trip to South Weymouth, MA to visit Mount Hope Cemetery where his Civil War ancestor, Moses Beaulieu, is buried. Geoff has done a lot of research into Moses Beaulieu and recently discovered a photo of his headstone and rough location in the particular cemetery in South Weymouth.
Continue reading “A Walk Among the Stones”
Today is the anniversary of the death of John Wilkes Booth, the man who murdered President Abraham Lincoln. And it is also the anniversary of the surrender of the last large Confederate army in the field at Bennett Place, North Carolina. I assume that for the latter reason (although I have known at least a few people who argued it was for the former), today is also Confederate Memorial Day in Alabama, the state where I was born.
Continue reading “Some thoughts on Confederate Memorial Day”