Sandra Scott Travels: ‘The Little Woman Who Wrote The Book That Started The Great War’

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Last week I asked: What book “helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War?”

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“The pen is mightier than the sword” is attributed to playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who in 1839 wrote a historical play about Cardinal Richelieu.

And, according Friedrich Nietzsche: “All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.”

An example would be Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Life among the Lowly.”

Release of the book on March 20, 1852, infuriated slave owners and strengthened the resolve of abolitionists.

The story of Uncle Tom’s long-suffering life as a slave touched millions.

It was the bestselling book of the 19th century, surpassed only by the Bible.

Simon Legree, Tom’s hard taskmaster, has become part of American lexicon when referring to a cruel employer who makes excessive demands.

Simon Legree
Simon Legree

And, who could forget poor Eliza, hopping from ice flow to ice flow across the Ohio River to freedom.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 he is purported to exclaim, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started the Great War!”

When John and I were in Cincinnati the Harriet Beecher Stowe House was on our must-visit list.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Except for a young lady doing research we were the only visitors so there was plenty of time to chat with the docents.

Stowe’s father was a Congregationalist minster and was raised in a family of religious leaders, educators, writers, abolitionists and advocates of human rights.

Before moving to Cincinnati, Stowe lived in Brunswick, Maine, where she hid a fugitive slave in her house for one night.

She and her children, she had seven, listened to the slave’s songs and stories.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe

He mentioned that he dearly missed his wife and daughter in South Carolina.

Stowe even inspected his back which was covered with scars from the numerous whippings.

She may not have known his name but he remembered hers.

After a few years of safely in St. John, Canada, the runaway, John Andrew Jackson, went overseas on the abolitionist lecture circuit during which time he wrote a memoir of his time in bondage, “The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina.”

In the book, he mentions Stowe by name and recounts the night he spent in her house.

At this time female abolitionists shocked the decorum of the early 1800s by speaking in public gatherings.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” helped to change that and encouraged more females to enter in public political discussions.

Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Museum.
Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Museum.

Stowe wrote many books but it was a time when women and their writings were not taken seriously.

A lesser known Stowe book, “Lady Byron Vindicated,” caused an international uproar because she charged Lord Byron with incest.

During the time the Stowes lived in Cincinnati the area was rife with abolitionists.

The Ohio River was one of the dividing lines between slave states and free states with many runaways sneaking across the river to freedom, first in Cincinnati, and then after the Fugitive Slave Law required northerners to return runaways, onward to Canada.

Eliza, hopping from ice flow to ice flow
Eliza, hopping from ice flow to ice flow.

We didn’t have time to visit the John Rankin House in nearby Ripley but there is a display about John Rankin in Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad Freedom Museum.

Rankin was one of Ohio’s most active conductors on the Underground Railroad.

There is also a Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Brunswick, Maine, and in Hartford, Connecticut.

Connecticut is where she spent the last years of her life and, interestingly, she was a neighbor of Mark Twain.

Travel Trivia Tease™: Where is Rip Van Winkle sleeping?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!


  1. THANK you for this wonderful story! Few of us realize how abysmally we’ve treated our fellow man over the centuries (and continue to do so).

    Slavery still exists in the world, now it has existed as white slavery of former Soviet block young women who are brought to the West and held in bondage, or undocumented workers who are held captive to jobs here in the States and Europe because they fear deportation to their war torn nations, where they often suffer a fate even worse than slavery (can we even imagine!).

    The Underground Railroad makes for a nice story because we believe in its happy ending (of course, Jim Crowe happened, so did it really?), but at least we celebrate the smaller victories, of which Harriet Beecher Stowe was a part through the efforts of her family of Yale educated abolitionists…

    The pen can be mighty…thank you for this article.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I agree. We often forget the modern problems… We travel worldwide on a regular basis and often see many of these issues. There are any things we need to take care of… including land mines, slavery, discrimination, etc. one step at a time.

  3. Keep UP this wonderful column for those of us who need to do ‘arm chair’ traveling! :0), due to business obligations! In another few years…

    Can I get into your suitcases just the once maybe this summer?
    Big smile!

  4. John and I have been fortunate and we know it. But, we have by passed other things so we can travel, and travel independently so as to get the biggest bang for our buck. Believe it or not, it is less expensive for us to spend the winter in SE Asia than to stay home…and, oh, so much more interesting.

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