Skip to content

A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story Is Founded

Only 4 left!
Save 13% Save 13%
Original price $14.95
Original price $14.95 - Original price $14.95
Original price $14.95
Current price $12.99
$12.99 - $12.99
Current price $12.99

"I highly recommend reading this supplement in conjunction with Ms. Stowe's novel to gain a better understanding of the history of our nation." — The Literary South
In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin, an instant classic that received overwhelming acclaim by Northerners and other abolitionist readers. Southerners, conversely, strongly denied the novel's accuracy. The following year Stowe answered pro-slavery critics with this unique bestseller, a meticulous and thoughtful defense of her work, which cites real-life equivalents to her characters.
Southern readers were further incensed by this follow-up volume, their wrath in no small part inflamed by a Yankee woman's presuming to tell men what to think. A critical aspect of Stowe's Key is her critique of the law's support of not only the institution of slavery but also the mistreatment of individual slaves. As in the original novel, her challenge extends beyond slavery to the law itself. American society's first widely read political novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin influenced the development of the nation's literature, particularly in terms of protest writing. This supplement to the novel offers valuable insights into a historical and literary landmark.

ISBN-13: 9780486794822

Media Type: Paperback(Reprint)

Publisher: Dover Publications

Publication Date: 09-16-2015

Pages: 272

Product Dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)

American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) wrote more than 20 books, including novels, travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. Her 1852 publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin created a sensation throughout the United States and Great Britain.

Read an Excerpt

A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin

Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story Is Founded

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-80722-5


At different times, doubt has been expressed whether the representations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" are a fair representation of slavery as it at present exists. This work, more, perhaps, than any other work of fiction that ever was written, has been a collection and arrangement of real incidents, — of actions really performed, of words and expressions really uttered, — grouped together with reference to a general result, in the same manner that the mosaic artist groups his fragments of various stones into one general picture. His is a mosaic of gems, — this is a mosaic of facts.

Artistically considered, it might not be best to point out in which quarry and from which region each fragment of the mosaic picture had its origin; and it is equally unartistic to disentangle the glittering web of fiction, and show out of what real warp and woof it is woven, and with what real coloring dyed. But the book had a purpose entirely transcending the artistic one, and accordingly encounters, at the hands of the public, demands not usually made on fictitious works. It is treated as a reality, — sifted, tried and tested, as a reality; and therefore as a reality it may be proper that it should be defended.

The writer acknowledges that the book is a very inadequate representation of slavery; and it is so, necessarily, for this reason, — that slavery, in some of its workings, is too dreadful for the purposes of art. A work which should represent it strictly as it is would be a work which could not be read. And all works which ever mean to give pleasure must draw a veil somewhere, or they cannot succeed.

The author will now proceed along the course of the story, from the first page onward, and develop, as far as possible, the incidents by which different parts were suggested.



In the very first chapter of the book we encounter the character of the negro-trader, Mr. Haley. His name stands at the head of this chapter as the representative of all the different characters introduced in the work which exhibit the trader, the kidnapper, the negro-catcher, the negro-whipper, and all the other inevitable auxiliaries and indispensable appendages of what is often called the "divinely-instituted relation" of slavery. The author's first personal observation of this class of beings was somewhat as follows:

Several years ago, while one morning employed in the duties of the nursery, a colored woman was announced. She was ushered into the nursery, and the author thought, on first survey, that a more surly, unpromising face she had never seen. The woman was thoroughly black, thick-set, firmly built, and with strongly-marked African features. Those who have been accustomed to read the expressions of the African face know what a peculiar effect is produced by a lowering, desponding expression upon its dark features. It is like the shadow of a thunder-cloud. Unlike her race generally, the woman did not smile when smiled upon, nor utter any pleasant remark in reply to such as were addressed to her. The youngest pet of the nursery, a boy about three years old, walked up, and laid his little hand on her knee, and seemed astonished not to meet the quick smile which the negro almost always has in reserve for the little child. The writer thought her very cross and disagreeable, and, after a few moments' silence, asked, with perhaps a little impatience, "Do you want anything of me to-day?"

"Here are some papers," said the woman, pushing them towards her; "perhaps you would read them."

The first paper opened was a letter from a negro-trader in Kentucky, stating concisely that he had waited about as long as he could for her child; that he wanted to start for the South, and must get it off his hands; that, if she would send him two hundred dollars before the end of the week, she should have it; if not, that he would set it up at auction, at the courthouse door, on Saturday. He added, also, that he might have got more than that for the child, but that he was willing to let her have it cheap.

"What sort of a man is this?" said the author to the woman, when she had done reading the letter.

"Dunno, ma'am; great Christian, I know, — member of the Methodist church, anyhow."

The expression of sullen irony with which this was said was a thing to be remembered.

"And how old is this child?" said the author to her.

The woman looked at the little boy who had been standing at her knee, with an expressive glance, and said, "She will be three years old this summer."

On further inquiry into the history of the woman, it appeared that she had been set free by the will of her owners; that the child was legally entitled to freedom, but had been seized on by the heirs of the estate. She was poor and friendless, without money to maintain a suit, and the heirs, of course, threw the child into the hands of the trader. The necessary sum, it may be added, was all raised in the small neighborhood which then surrounded the Lane Theological Seminary, and the child was redeemed.

If the public would like a specimen of the correspondence which passes between these worthies, who are the principal reliance of the community for supporting and extending the institution of slavery, the following may be interesting as a matter of literary curiosity. It was forwarded by Mr. M. J. Thomas, of Philadelphia, to the National Era, and stated by him to be "a copy taken verbatim from the original, found among the papers of the person to whom it was addressed, at the time of his arrest and conviction, for passing a variety of counterfeit bank-notes."

Poolsville, Montgomery Co., Md., March 24, 1831.

Dear Sir: I arrived home in safety with Louisa, John having been rescued from me, out of a two-story window, at twelve o'clock at night. I offered a reward of fifty dollars, and have him here safe in jail. The persons who took him brought him to Fredericktown jail. I wish you to write to no person in this state but myself. Kephart and myself are determined to go the whole hog for any negro you can find, and you must give me the earliest information, as soon as you do find any. Enclosed you will receive a handbill, and I can make a good bargain, if you can find them. I will in all cases, as soon as a negro runs off, send you a handbill immediately, so that you may be on the look-out. Please tell the constable to go on with the sale of John's property ; and, when the money is made, I will send on an order to you for it. Please attend to this for me ; likewise write to me, and inform me of any negro you think has run away, — no matter where you think he has come from, nor how far, — and I will try and find out his master. Let me know where you think he is from, with all particular marks, and if I don't find his master, Joe's dead!

Write to me about the crooked-fingered negro, and let me know which hand and which finger, color, &c.; likewise any mark the fellow has who says he got away from the negro-buyer, with his height and color, or any other you think has run off.

Give my respects to your partner, and be sure you write to no person but myself. If any person writes to you, you can inform me of it, and I will try to buy from them. I think we can make money, if we do business together ; for I have plenty of money, if you can find plenty of negroes. Let me know if Daniel is still where he was, and if you have heard anything of Francis since I left you. Accept for yourself my regard and esteem.

Reuben B. Carlley.

John C. Saunders.

This letter strikingly illustrates the character of these fellow-patriots with whom the great men of our land have been acting in conjunction, in carrying out the beneficent provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.

With regard to the Kephart named in this letter the community of Boston may have a special interest to know further particulars, as he was one of the dignitaries sent from the South to assist the good citizens of that place in the religious and patriotic enterprise of 1851, at the time that Shadrach was unfortunately rescued. It therefore may be well to introduce somewhat particularly John Kephart, as sketched by Richard H. Dana, Jr., one of the lawyers employed in the defence of the perpetrators of the rescue.

I shall never forget John Caphart. I have been eleven years at the oar, and in that time have seen many developments of vice and hardness, but I never met with anything so cold-blooded as the testimony of that man. John Caphart is a tall, sallow man, of about fifty, with jet-black hair, a restless, dark eye, and an anxious, care-worn look, which, had there been enough of moral element in the expression, might be called melancholy. His frame was strong, and in youth he had evidently been powerful, but he was not robust. Yet there was a calm, cruel look, a power of will and a quickness of muscular action, which still render him a terror in his vocation.

In the manner of giving in his testimony there was no bluster or outward show of insolence. His contempt for the humane feelings of the audience and community about him was too true to require any assumption of that kind. He neither paraded nor attempted to conceal the worst features of his calling. He treated it as a matter of business which he knew the community shuddered at, but the moral nature of which he was utterly indifferent to, beyond a certain secret pleasure in thus indirectly inflicting a little torture on his hearers.

I am not, however, altogether clear, to do John Caphart justice, that he is entirely conscience-proof. There was something in his anxious look which leaves one not without hope.

At the first trial we did not know of his pursuits, and he passed merely as a police-man of Norfolk, Virginia. But, at the second trial, some one in the room gave me a hint of the occupations many of these police-men take to, which led to my cross-examination.

From the Examination of John Caphart, in the "Rescue Trials," at Boston, in June and Nov., 1851, and October, 1852.

Question. Is it a part of your duty, as a policeman, to take up colored persons who are out after hours in the streets?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Q. What is done with them?

A. We put them in the lock-up, and in the morning they are brought into court and ordered to be punished, — those that are to be punished.

Q. What punishment do they get?

A. Not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.

Q. Who gives them these lashes?

A. Any of the officers. I do, sometimes.

Q. Are you paid extra for this? How much?

A. Fifty cents a head. It used to be sixty-two cents. Now it is fifty. Fifty cents for each one we arrest, and fifty more for each one we flog.

Q. Are these persons you flog men and boys only, or are they women and girls also?

A. Men, women, boys and girls, just as it happens.

[The government interfered, and tried to prevent any further examination; and said, among other things, that he only performed his duty as police-officer under the law. After a discussion, Judge Curtis allowed it to proceed.]

Q. Is your flogging confined to these cases? Do you not flog slaves at the request of their masters?

A. Sometimes I do. Certainly, when I am called upon.

Q. In these cases of private flogging, are the negroes sent to you? Have you a place for flogging?

A. No. I go round, as I am sent for.

Q. Is this part of your duty as an officer?

A. No, sir.

Q. In these cases of private flogging, do you inquire into the circumstances, to see what the fault has been, or if there is any?

A. That's none of my business. I do as I am requested. The master is responsible.

Q. In these cases, too, I suppose you flog women and girls, as well as men.

A. Women and men.

Q. Mr. Caphart, how long have you been engaged in this business?

A. Ever since 1836.

Q. How many negroes do you suppose you have flogged, in all, women and children included?

A. [Looking calmly round the room.] I don't know how many niggers you have got here in Maschusetts, but I should think I had flogged as many as you've got in the state.

[The same man testified that he was often employed to pursue fugitive slaves. His reply to the question was, "I never refuse a good job in that line."]

Q. Don't they sometimes turn out bad jobs?

A. Never, if I can help it.

Q. Are they not sometimes discharged after you get them?

A. Not often. I don't know that they ever are, except those Portuguese the counsel read about.

[I had found, in a Virginia report, a case of some two hundred Portuguese negroes, whom this John Caphart had seized from a vessel, and endeavored to get condemned as slaves, but whom the court discharged.]

Hon. John P. Hale, associated with Mr. Dana, as counsel for the defence, in the Rescue Trials, said of him, in his closing argument:

Why, gentlemen, he sells agony! Torture is his stock-in-trade! He is a walking scourge! He hawks, peddles, retails, groans and tears about the streets of Norfolk!

See also the following correspondence between two traders, one in North Carolina, the other in New Orleans ; with a word of comment, by Hon. William Jay, of New York:

Halifax, N. C., Nov. 16, 1839.

Dear Sir :I have shipped in the brig Addison, — prices are below:

No. 1. Caroline Ennis, ... $650.00
" 2. Silvy Holland, ... 625.00
" 3. Silvy Booth,.... 487.50
" 4. Maria Pollock, ... 475.00
" 5. Emeline Pollock, ... 475.00
" 6. Delia Averit,.... 475.00

The two girls that cost $650 and $625 were bought before I shipped my first. I have a great, many negroes offered to me, but I will not pay the prices they ask, for I know they will come down. I have no opposition in market. I will wait until; I hear from you before I buy, and then I can judge what I must pay. Goodwin will send you the bill of lading for my negroes, as he shipped them with his own. Write often, as the times are critical, and it depends on the prices you get to govern me in buying. Yours, &c.,

G. W. Barnes.

Mr. Theophilus Freeman, New Orleans.

The above was a small but choice invoice of wives and mothers. Nine days before, namely, 7th Nov., Mr. Barnes advised Mr. Freeman of having shipped a lot of forty-three men and women. Mi. Freeman, informing one of his correspondents of the state of the market, writes (Sunday, 21st Sept., 1839), "I bought a boy yesterday, sixteen years old, and likely, weighing one hundred and ten pounds, at $700. I sold a likely girl, twelve years old, at $500. I bought a man yesterday, twenty years old, six feet high, at $820; one to-day, twenty-four years old, at $850, black and sleek as a mole."

The writer has drawn in this work only one class of the negro-traders. There are all varieties of them, up to the great wholesale purchasers, who keep their large trading-houses; who are gentlemanly in manners and courteous in address; who, in many respects, often perform actions of real generosity; who consider slavery a very great evil, and hope the country will at some time be delivered from it, but who think that so long as clergyman and layman, saint and sinner, are all agreed in the propriety and necessity of slave-holding, it is better that the necessary trade in the article be conducted by men of humanity and decency, than by swearing, brutal men, of the Tom Loker school. These men are exceedingly sensitive with regard to what they consider the injustice of the world in excluding them from good society, simply because they undertake to supply a demand in the community which the bar, the press and the pulpit, all pronounce to be a proper one. In this respect, society certainly imitates the unreasonableness of the ancient Egyptians, who employed a certain class of men to prepare dead bodies for embalming, but flew at them with sticks and stones the moment the operation was over, on account of the sacrilegious liberty which they had taken. If there is an ill-used class of men in the world, it is certainly the slave-traders; for, if there is no harm in the institution of slavery, — if it is a divinely-appointed and honorable one, like civil government and the family state, and like other species of property relation, — then there is no earthly reason why a man may not as innocently be a slave-trader as any other kind of trader.


Excerpted from A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Copyright © 2015 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.