Posted on March 20, 2021 at 4:00 PM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared in print on this day in 1852 and made an immediate splash, selling out in less than a week and also inspiring heavy criticism for being unrealistic.

But, Smithsonian magazine points out, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was far from exaggerated ... or from fictional.

It borrowed heavily from the life of Josiah Henson, a man born into slavery who escaped by walking from a plantation near Washington, D.C., all the way to Canada.

After gaining his own freedom, Henson took an active role in helping further the abolitionist cause, including by having an abolitionist friend write his true life story.

That book, published in 1849 as The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, includes a passage in which Henson describes meeting Stowe, leaving little doubt as to her inspiration for her own novel.

Read more about Henson’s life and the reaction to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Smithsonian magazine.

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Categories: Today in Books

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