Death of Uncle Tom

Death of Uncle Tom

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe was published in 1852, quickly becoming the nation’s bestselling book. It features a spirited, religious-minded enslaved black man named Tom, who is sold by his financially-strapped owner in Kentucky to a plantation in Louisiana. There, his Christian beliefs spread hope to his fellow slaves and enable him to endure the harsh beatings of his cruel master. He is ultimately whipped to death after refusing to reveal the location of two runaway slaves. Published after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the novel targeted Northern audiences, arguing against the injustice of slavery and spurring the abolition movement into action. Although the bestselling novel of the 19th century, many American were exposed to Uncle Tom’s Cabin through play adaptations known as Tom shows. The immense popularity of both the novel and plays transformed Uncle Tom into a cultural phenomenon in America and Europe, and manufacturers quickly capitalized on the production of “Tomitudes,” everyday commodities that referenced scenes and characters from the novel. These included card games, jigsaw puzzles, chinaware, jars and vases, snuffboxes, ceramic figurines, and decorative prints. Although some of these Tomitudes employed racial stereotypes and the imagery of blackface minstrelsy, most chose to depict the enslaved characters of Beecher’s novel in a sympathetic light, often carrying an anti-slavery message.
After Tom had been sold from his Kentucky home to work in Louisiana, his wife, Chloe, convinced his former owners, the Shelby’s, to allow her to be hired out as a baker in Louisville. Her wages would then be saved and used to buy back Tom. Meanwhile, at Tom’s plantation in Louisiana, two slaves who have been sexually exploited by their owner, Simon Legree, decide to escape. When Tom does not reveal their location to his master, Legree has him whipped to the point of death. This colored print from around 1853 depicts the moment when George Shelby arrives to purchase Tom and finds the man about to die. Tom reclines against a pile of hay, although in the print, none of his injuries are visible and he appears frightened but healthy. George covers his face with one hand as he begins to cry and uses the other to clasp Tom’s outstretched hand. Behind George, stands a non-repentant looking Simon Legree, holding a whip, the instrument of Tom’s demise, in his right hand. Compared to the dominat and admirably-dressed figure of Shelby, Legree is depicted as a small, disheveled man.
Thomas W. Strong was a New York-based printer and wood engraver who began his career around 1840. His shop specialized in comic literature and he employed many talented cartoonists and draftsmen who would go on to work for Harper’s Weekly and Vanity Fair. This print was the fourth in a series by Strong of scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) rose to fame in 1851 with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which highlighted the evils of slavery, angered the slaveholding South, and inspired pro-slavery copy-cat works in defense of the institution of slavery. Stowe’s father was the famed Congregational minister Lyman Beecher and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was also a famous preacher and reformer. In 1824, she attended her sister Catherine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary, which exposed young women to many of the same courses available in men’s academies. Stowe became a teacher, working from 1829 to 1832 at the Seminary.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote numerous articles, some of which were published in the renowned women’s magazine of the times, Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also wrote 30 books, covering a wide range of topics from homemaking to religion, as well as several novels. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which legally compelled Northerners to return runaway slaves, infuriated Stowe, and many in the North. She subsequently authored her most famous work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Originally serialized in the National Era, Stowe saw her tale as a call to arms for Northerners to defy the Fugitive Slave Act. It was released as a book in 1852 and later performed on stage and translated into dozens of languages. Stowe used her fame to petition to end slavery. She toured nationally and internationally, speaking about her book, and donating some of what she earned to help the antislavery cause.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
ca 1853
originator of scene
Stowe, Harriet Beecher
Strong, Thomas W.
place made
United States: New York, New York City
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
image: 11 3/4 in x 8 3/4 in; 29.845 cm x 22.225 cm
overall: 8 in x 6 in; 20.32 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection
Reform Movements
African American
Civil War
Civil War
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Domestic Life
Domestic Furnishings
American Civil War Prints
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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