The tale of Uncle Tom’s Cabin begins in the parlor of the Shelby household, as Mr. Shelby discusses how many slaves he will need to sell to Mr. Haley, a slave trader, to relieve him of his debts after falling upon hard times. Shelby ultimately decides to sell Tom, a “good, steady, sensible, pious fellow” (Stowe 2). Eliza, Mrs. Shelby’s favorite slave, overhears the negotiations for the sale of her son, Harry, as well and promptly decides that they must run away to Canada that same night.
She hopes to ultimately reunite with her husband, George, who has previously decided that he will run away from his master to Canada. Eliza also warns Tom and his wife that they too should flee. ? ? Although Eliza is fearful of leaving her home, she prays for strength. The Harrises travel all night toward the Ohio River, and Eliza rents a room to wait for a boat captain who will take them across the Ohio since it is jammed with ice. As Eliza and Harry flee the Shelby household, they are followed by Mr. Haley, who is told of their escape by Mr. Shelby.
Initially, Haley thinks that Shelby may have aided Eliza and her son in their escape, but Shelby fervently denies it, claiming that, “if any man calls my honor in question, I have but one answer for him” (Stowe 47). Nevertheless, he picks two of his slaves, Sam and Andy, to aid Haley in his search for the fugitives. Sam can tell that Mr. Shelby has no major sense of urgency in finding Eliza and Harry, and he manages to delay the search by purposefully taking his time and goes so far as to put a briar under Haley’s horse’s saddle so it runs away. Sam also convinces Haley to take a road that hits a dead end after they have taken off.
Regardless, Haley ends up reaching the town that Eliza and four year-old Harry are staying in and Eliza sees them though her window, shortly after she had put Harry to bed. Sam tries to delay Haley further by getting his hat blown off of his head, and Eliza narrowly escapes with her son in her arms by jumping on blocks of ice across the Ohio River. As Haley and his assistants observe in shock, Eliza is helped onshore by a Kentucky farmer who recognizes her as a fugitive slave, but doesn’t want to turn her in and directs her to a home where she can receive help.
Recognizing that Eliza will not be caught by Haley, Sam and Andy head back home where Mr. and Mrs. Shelby and happy to hear of Eliza’s escape. Haley sends slave catchers after Eliza, and returns to collect Tom, who does not flee because he knows that Shelby is relying on his sale and generally puts a great deal of trust in him. Stowe demonstrates the sorrowful moments leading up to the retrieval of Tom: The February morning looked gray and drizzling through the window of Uncle Tom’s cabin. It looked on downcast faces, the images of mournful hearts.
The little table stood out before the fire, covered with an ironing-cloth; a coarse but clean shirt or two, fresh from the iron, hung on the back of a chair by the fire, and Aunt Chloe had another spread out before her on the table. Carefully she rubbed and ironed every fold and every hem, with the most scrupulous exactness, every now and then raising her hand to her face to wipe off the tears that were coursing down her cheeks. (Stowe 106) ? As Haley and Tom depart south via steamboat down the Mississippi River, Tom sits among the cotton bales and reads the Bible.
Evangeline St. Clare, commonly known as Eva, wanders around the boat and talks with all of the slaves. When Eva asks Tom of his destination, he replies, “I am going to be sold to somebody. I don’t know who. ” Eva tells him that “My papa can buy you, and if he buys you, you will have good times. I mean to ask him to, this very day” (Stowe 167). When the wheel of the boat makes a sharp and sudden movement, Eva loses her balance and falls over the side of the boat, into the Mississippi waters. Before her father, Augustine, has the chance to plunge in and rescue her, Tom dives in and scoops her out of the water and back onto deck.
Upon reaching their destination, St. Clare negotiates the sale of Tom and ultimately becomes his new master, with the goal that he would be Eva’s personal servant. Tom accompanies Augustine, Eva, and cousin Ophelia to their home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Although Augustine treats his servants well, Marie St. Clare, his wife, who is bigoted and spoiled and runs her slaves to death as they attempt to meet her incessant demands. Meanwhile, Tom and Eva’s relationship blossoms as he teaches her more about his faith by reading from the Bible.
During all of this, the Harrises and two other fugitive slaves are driven to the next stop on their journey when pursuers overtake them. George injures one pursuer, Loker, with his pistol and Eliza convinces the party to bring him with them to be treated. ?In New Orleans, St. Clare purchases a slave for Ophelia by the name of Topsy after having a discussion with Ophelia that reveals her deep prejudice against enslaved Africans. Miss Ophelia asks Augustine why he has so many slaves if he despises the idea of slavery so much, and St. Clare responds that he is “repenting of it all the time” (Stowe 251).
Topsy, a victim of abuse from her former master, is arranged to be taught by Ophelia. After two years of living in New Orleans, Eva becomes terminally ill (to the initial denial of her father). When it is clear that death by consumption (tuberculosis) is imminent, Eva gathers the slaves to tell them about God’s and her love for them and gives them each one of her blonde curls to remember her by.
Everybody in the household mourns Eva’s death. Meanwhile, Eliza and George reunite in Quaker territory and escape to Canada after additional run-ins with slave catchers. Tom’s faithful influence on Eva almost makes St. Clare believe in Christianity, which prompts him to do a series of nice things—he promises Tom his freedom, signs Topsy over to Ophelia legally, and begins to make arrangements that will protect all of his slaves from being sold if anything ever happens to him. But then St. Clare is killed suddenly, and his wife sells most of his servants, including Tom. Suddenly, after Augustine leaves to go for walk, he is carried home after being stabbed while trying to stop a fight between two men in a cafe.
A doctor comes and his family gathers around him, only for him to awaken, speak his mother’s name, and perish thereafter. Without any of St. Clare’s prior arrangements being followed through, Marie sells her New Orleans home, as well as most of the household’s servants, including Tom. He and three other slaves; Emmeline, Susan, and Adolph, await their sale in a warehouse. The next day, Adolph is sold to a young man in need of a valet, while Tom and fifteen year-old Emmeline are sold to Simon Legree, the revolting owner of a cotton plantation.
Tom is sent to pick cotton, while Emmeline is selected to be a sex slave for Legree’s black overseer, Sambo. Tom meets Cassy, Legree’s black courtesan, and learns of her horrific past. After attempting to help Cassy and Emmeline escape, Tom is brutally beaten. A couple days later, Tom dies and only on his deathbed does Mr. Shelby’s son arrive to emancipate him. Instead, Tom is buried and George Shelby returns to Kentucky. Coincidentally, Cassy and Emmeline have escaped and meet George on the boat home.
A black woman also on the boat reveals that she’s George Harris’s sister. Also, Cassy recognizes that George’s wife Eliza is actually own daughter, who had been separated from her years before. The women, with Emmeline, travel to Canada and find the Harrises. They all eventually journey to France, return, and plan to travel to Liberia. George Shelby returns to his farm and tells Tom’s wife, Chloe, of her husband’s death, and frees all of his slaves. Shelby reminds all of them that they owe their freedom to the dearly departed Uncle Tom.