George L. Aiken adapted Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin for Broadway, and in doing so helped to create the standalone play; a single story without additional opening or closing acts, told with songs and by virtuoso performers. Although Stowe refused to license her novel for adaptation, Aiken followed the story and themes of the book closely, only diverging for dramatic and cultural effect.
In the book, the sale of Tom to a slave trader spurs Eliza to flee to Ohio with her son Harry. She is followed by her husband, George Harris (played in the initial production by Aiken himself). Tom is purchased by St. Clare and becomes friends with Little Eva, who dies after a long illness. Tom is sold again after St. Clare's death, and is beaten to death by his new owner; two other slaves escape and one finds the Harris family in Canada. They escape America and settle in Africa.
Aiken's play discarded some of the subtlety of the book, instead focusing on the melodrama of the slaves and their owners, evil and good. The subplot of escape is mostly relegated to the first two acts, and the Harris's later escape is eliminated entirely. The last acts of the novel focus on Tom and his selfless nature, and the eventual uniting of Eva, Tom, and St. Clare in heaven. However, Stowe saw the play on Broadway, and approved of it; she still did not officially license it, though.