“Uncle Tom” (affectionately called that by his master’s son and other children) had become a Christian at a camp-meeting four years prior to the beginning of his story. He leads his family (“Aunt Chloe,” his wife, two young sons and a baby daughter) in and hosts other Christian slaves for prayer meetings in his little cabin on an exceptionally decent Kentucky plantation. He is being taught to read and write by “Young Master George” and reads his Bible well enough to study and highlight it.
As the story opens, “Uncle Tom’s master, “Mr. Shelby,” is forced by debt to sell him and a little boy belonging to a house servant named “Eliza.” Offered the chance to escape with “Eliza” and her child before the buyer comes to claim his property, “Uncle Tom” refuses on principle and to protect others including his family from being sold in his place.
After a very tearful goodbye to his family (a scene the author stresses was far too frequent and inhumane), “Uncle Tom” is taken by the slave trader who intends to sell him again down river in New Orleans. Along the way, he is re-introduced to the harsher side of the American South’s brand of slavery. He soon befriends a little white girl he saves from drowning during the steamboat journey. At her insistence, the grateful father buys “Uncle Tom.” Things go well--for a time.
“Uncle Tom’s” new owner, “Augustine St. Clare,” was of Southern aristocracy. However, instead of the haughtiness usually associated with those--such as his wife--of that social class, “St. Clare” is down to earth and fair minded. He didn’t whip or brutalize his slaves and was embroiled in a continuing inner philosophical debate about the whole issue of slavery. He assigned “Uncle Tom” the tasks of driving his coach and being his young daughter “Evangeline’s” (“Eva”) companion.
“Uncle Tom” spent the better part of his days on the “St. Clare” plantation discussing the Lord and the lofty themes of life with “Eva.” She read the Bible to him and their long talks filled him with much joy. “Eva” was one of those rare young children who had made a genuine and passionate connection to her Creator. The result was a inner goodness, zest for life and insight into the beyond that far exceeded the grasp of all of the adults around her except “Uncle Tom.” While her parents were what we call today “nominal Christians”--“St. Clare” would not even go to church, “Uncle Tom” loved and could richly relate to “Eva” because in the power of his conversion, he was just like her: a little child before Christ!
“Eva” loved everyone and felt deeply for the suffering of brutalized slaves that crossed her path either through family travels or by their visit to her father’s plantation. She empathized greatly with “Uncle Tom’s” single note of unhappiness in the missing of his family back in Kentucky. Both hoped that his former master would buy him back. To this end, “Eva” even sought to help him compose the one letter he sent home to remind “Mr. Shelby” of that fact. “Young Master George’s” response (which included the news “Aunt Chloe” was working to buy him back) encouraged them.
“Uncle Tom’s” world was rocked shortly thereafter when his young charge courageously died of an unknown affliction. “Eva’s” life and death inspired in her father the noble desire to set “Uncle Tom” free. “Uncle Tom” rejoiced mightily at the prospects of freedom and being reunited with his family. But before “St. Clare” could finalize the process, he was stabbed in a cafe trying to stop two men from fighting and died. His wife, “Marie,” refused to honor his intent (expressed to his cousin) to free “Uncle Tom.” She put all of her slaves up for sale. “Uncle Tom” was crushed but continued to steadfastly trust his fate to his Lord.
Within days “Uncle Tom” found himself at a slave warehouse where he and the rest of “St. Clare’s” slaves joined others to be sold. While most gave themselves over fully to the slave system’s phony, enforced “happy slave” spectacle, “Uncle Tom” would not. Like the other slaves, however, he did hope to be purchased by a owner as good as “St. Clare” was.
“Uncle Tom’s” hope for a good owner was dashed when “Simon Legree”--a man he had earlier seen and who had brought revulsion and horror to him--bought him. “Simon Legree” was the South’s poster boy for wretched slave owners. He prided himself on being able to break any “uppity” slave. And although “Uncle Tom” had done nothing except display the humility of Christ, he early on set his sights on breaking and making him into the kind of slave he desired--wicked and brutish.
“Uncle Tom” found no appreciation for having now come to the lowest possible level of slave existence under the god-like reign of “Simon Legree.” All was lost: his home in Kentucky, his wife and children, good owners etc. His new master took his clothes, personal items, Methodist hymnal and would have taken even Christ from him if that had been possible.
The plantation of “Simon Legree” was a dark and forbidding place; run down and grimy. It was far out from civilization and was run as such. Its owner was a cussing, hard drinking, superstitious former pirate and hardened anti-Christian. His field slaves were only physical bodies designed for intense labor (or pleasure in the case of select females) and then replacement or destruction when broken down. He cared nothing for their souls.
“Uncle Tom’s” face was just as dejected as the other slaves who arrived with him at the “Legree” plantation. They were all introduced to “Legree’s” vicious dogs and black overseers, “Quimbo” and “Sambo.” These were the men “Legree” desired to groom “Uncle Tom” to become like. They showed him and the others to their shabby quarters. Then they gave each a sack of corn to grind up and make cakes for food over an open fire. “Uncle Tom” helped two women who were too weak to fight for a cooking spot and was the last to eat.
“Uncle Tom” could not help such displays of Christian virtue. From his days as a newly converted Christian on the “Shelby” plantation in Kentucky, He had fervently testified about and encouraged everyone--especially fellow slaves--to live by the teachings of his Savior and Lord. Too many of his fellow slaves had only a superficial faith or had given into utter despair. Nearly all of the slaves on “Legree’s” plantation fell into this latter category. “Uncle Tom’s” “look up to Jesus” encouragement and kind deeds did much to raise the spirits of an otherwise demoralized and defeated people.
“Uncle Tom’s” steady faith and good deeds also attracted the hostile attention of “Legree.” He persecuted “Uncle Tom” through blasphemous ranting and physical violence. While “Legree” never could break his faith, his actions did at one point cause “Uncle Tom” to experience the lowest depths of despair he had ever known. But just when it seemed God had totally abandoned him, he had a magnificent vision of the Lord dying for him on the cross. This revived his soul and willingness to suffer death in order to remain true to his Lord.
In fact, “Uncle Tom” would die a martyr’s death. After refusing to betray the confidence of two women who had run away, “Legree” threatened to kill him unless he did. He again refused and offered to give every drop of his blood if it would save his master. “Legree” responded by knocking “Uncle Tom” to the ground and then having “Quimbo” and “Sambo” beat him to within a breath of his life. They whipped him all night long but he bore it leaning on the everlasting arms.
When his tormentors thought he was just about gone, “Uncle Tom” looked upon his master and said, “Ye poor miserable crittur, there ain’t no more ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul!”9 Later, “Quimbo” and “Sambo” were remorseful after hearing “Uncle Tom’s” words of faith and prayers in the midst of their cruelty. He forgave them as he had done his master. While secretly ministering to his wounds, they wanted to know who the invisible Person was that had stood by him all through the night. After telling them about Jesus, he prayed for their salvation and the two weeping men became Christians.
“Uncle Tom” lingered two full days and was found by “Young Master George” who had come looking for him to buy him back. He approached his old friend and tearfully called to him. Delirious in the throes of death, “Uncle Tom” tearfully acknowledged the boy who had become a man in his absence. He told him he was too late, the Lord had bought him and he was on his way home to heaven. He directed him to bid his family to follow him and give his love to all. “...It’s nothing but love,” he said, “O, Master George what a thing ‘tis to be a Christian!”10 In another moment he joyfully departed for glory with Romans 8:35 on his lips.
The historic slander of the persona of and contemporary furor over the book that depicts “Uncle Tom,” has been purposefully done by Satan--the unseen enemy of black and all men--to blind men to the faith, strength, character and victory of the strong man of God in the image of Jesus Christ! If only the majority of black men who were slaves in the American South could have borne it like “Uncle Tom.” Where would our people be today?
1 The book is available at all major internet booksellers, by order at your favorite brick and mortar bookstore or in the
Strong Man Store.
2 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (New York: The Modern Library, 1996), p.625.
3 Ibid, p.625.
4 Random House, Biographical Note: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (New York: The Modern Library, 1996), p.v.
6 Ibid, p.v, vi.
7 Ibid, p.vi.
8 Stowe, p.31.
9 Ibid, p.588.
10 Ibid, p.594.
Photo of Uncle Tom's Cabin original book cover owned by and courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com. Used with permission.