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26 June, 2013
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Chapter V: Eliza.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The writer stated in her book that Eliza was
a portrait drawn from life. The incident which brought the original to her
notice may be simply narrated.
While the writer was travelling in Kentucky, many years ago, she attended
church in a small country town. While there, her attention was called to a
beautiful quadroon girl, who sat in one of the slips of the church, and appeared
to have charge of some young children. The description of Eliza may suffice
for a description of her. When the author returned from the church, she inquired
about the girl, and was told that she was as good and amiable as she was beautiful;
that she was a pious girl, and a member of the Church; and, finally, that
she was owned by Mr. So-and-so. The idea that this
girl was a slave struck a chill to her heart, and she said earnestly, "Oh,
I hope they treat her kindly."
"Oh, certainly," was the reply; "they think as much of
her as of their own children."
"I hope they will never sell her," said a person in the company.
"Certainly they will not; a Southern gentleman, not long ago, offered
her master a thousand dollars for her; but he told him that she was too good
to be his wife, and he certainly should not have her for a mistress."
That is all the writer knows of that girl.
With regard to the incident of Eliza's crossing the river on the ice--as
the possibility of the thing has been disputed--the writer gives the
following circumstance in confirmation.
Last spring, while the author was in New York, a Presbyterian clergyman
of Ohio came to her, and said, "I understand they dispute that fact
about the woman's crossing the river. Now, I know all about that, for I got
the story from the very man that helped her up the bank. I know it is true,
for she is now living in Canada."
It has been objected that the representation of the scene in which the
plan for kidnapping Eliza is concocted by Haley, Marks, and
Loker, at the tavern, is a gross caricature on the state of things in Ohio.
What knowledge the author has had of the facilities which some justices
of the peace, under the old fugitive law of Ohio, were in the habit of giving
to kidnapping, may be inferred by comparing the statement in her book with
some in her personal knowledge.
"Ye see," said Marks to Haley, stirring his punch as he did
so, "ye see, we has justices convenient at all p'ints along shore, that
does up any little jobs in our line quite reasonable. Tom, he does the knockin'
down, and that ar; and I come in all dressed up--shining boots--everything
first chop--when the swearin's to be done. You oughter see me, now!"
said Marks, in a glow of professional pride, "how I can tone it off.
One day I'm Mr. Twickem, from New Orleans; 'nother day, I'm just come from
my plantation on Pearl river, where I works seven hundred niggers; then, again,
I come out a distant relation to Henry Clay, or some old cock in Kentuck.
Talents is different, you know. Now, Tom's a roarer when there's any thumping
or fighting to be done; but at lying he an't good, Tom an't; ye see it don't
come natural to him; but, Lord! if thar's a feller in the country that can
swear to anything and everything, and put in all the circumstances and flourishes
with a longer face, and carry't through better'n I can, why, I'd like to see
him, that's all! I b'lieve, my heart, I could get along, and snake through,
even if justices were more particular than they is. Sometimes I rather wish
they was more particular; 'twould be a heap more relishin' if they was--more
fun, yer know."
In the year 1839, the writer received into her family, as a servant, a
girl from Kentucky. She had been the slave of one of the lowest and most brutal
families, with whom she had been brought up, in a log-cabin, in a state of
half-barbarism. In proceeding to give her religious instruction, the author
heard, for the first time in her life, an inquiry which she had not supposed
possible to be made in America--"Who is Jesus Christ, now, anyhow?"
When the author told her the history of the love and life and death of
Christ, the girl seemed wholly overcome; tears streamed down her cheeks, and
she exclaimed piteously, "Why didn't nobody never tell me this before?"
"But," said the writer to her, "haven't you ever seen
"Yes, I have seen Missus a-readin' on't sometimes; but, law sakes!
she's just a readin' on't 'cause she could; don't s'pose it did her no good,
She said she had been to one or two camp-meetings in her life, but "didn't
notice very particular."
At all events, the story certainly made great impression on her, and had
such an effect in improving her conduct, that the writer had great hopes of
On inquiring into her history, it was discovered that, by the laws of Ohio,
she was legally entitled to her freedom, from the fact of her having been
brought into the State, and left there, temporarily, by the consent of her
mistress. These facts being properly authenticated before the proper authorities,
papers attesting her freedom were drawn up, and it was now supposed that all
danger of pursuit was over. After she had remained in the family for some
months, word was sent, from various sources, to Professor Stowe, that the
girl's young master was over, looking for her, and that, if care were not
taken, she would be conveyed back into slavery.
Professor Stowe called on the magistrate who had authenticated her papers,
and inquired whether they were not sufficient to protect her. The reply was,
Certainly they are, in law, if she could have a fair hearing; but they will
come to your house in the night, with an officer and a warrant; they will
take her before Justice D--, and swear to her. He's the man that does
all this kind of business, and he'll deliver her up, and there'll be an end
Mr. Stowe then inquired what could be done; and was recommended to carry
her to some place of security till the inquiry for her was over. Accordingly,
that night, a brother of the author, with Professor Stowe, performed for the
fugitive that office which the senator is represented as performing for Eliza.
They drove about ten miles on a solitary road, crossed the creek at a very
dangerous fording, and presented themselves, at mid-night, at the house of
John Van Zandt, a noble-minded Kentuckian, who had performed the good deed
which the author, in her story, ascribes to Van Tromp.
After some rapping at the door, the worthy owner of the mansion appeared,
candle in hand, as has been narrated.
"Are you the man that would save a poor coloured girl from kidnappers?"
was the first question.
"Guess I am," was the prompt response; "where is she?"
"Why, she's here."
"But how did you come?"
"I crossed the creek."
"Why, the Lord helped you!" said he; "I shouldn't dare
cross it myself in the night. A man and his wife, and five children were drowned
there, a little while ago."
The reader may be interested to know that the poor girl was never re-taken:
that she married well in Cincinnati, is a very respectable woman, and the
mother of a large family of children.