It would seem that, like Arthur in The Sword and the Stone, all of Harriet Beecher Stowe's life was a preparation for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, the bestselling and most politically influential novel worldwide in the nineteenth century.
Stowe was born into a prominent New England abolitionist family. Her father was a pastor and expected all his children to dedicate their lives to a higher purpose. From a young age, Stowe showed talent as a writer and felt this was the gift God was calling her to use for the greater social good.
Stowe married and moved with her husband to Cincinnati, where her father had been named president of Lane Theological Seminary. Most of her children were born in Cincinnati, but more importantly, the city was across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state. This gave Stowe the opportunity to visit slave owners in Kentucky and see slavery firsthand, as well as to witness the reality that many Black people escaped to Cincinnati to find freedom. She witnessed, too, abolitionist debates at Lane Seminary and understood how decisively the abolitionist side won. Her time in Cincinnati immersed her in the realities of slavery in a way living in remote New England could not have done.
A decisive event occurred when her eighteen-month-old son, Samuel, died of cholera in 1850, around the time the Fugitive Slave Act imposed stiff penalties on anyone, even in a free state, who helped escaped slaves. This outraged many abolitionists, including Stowe, who had felt before this that slavery was gradually dying out. Stowe, full of grief for the loss of her child, felt acutely what a slave mother might feel having her beloved child sold away from her. Stowe felt fully as well the cruelty of the Fugitive Slave Act. This galvanized her to write her novel, filled early on with the dramatic scenes of Eliza escaping slavery to save her four-year-old son from being sold away from her.
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a polemic novel that came directly from Stowe's life experience and expressed her grief and outrage over slavery. The depth of her feeling, as well as her eyewitness experiences, communicated itself to her audiences and brought a huge outcry from people saying slavery must end immediately.