Calvin Ellis Stowe was born on April 6, 1802 in Natick, Massachusetts. His father died when he was 6; at 12, he apprenticed as a paper maker. But his passion was books.
Stowe graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, with highest honors; he then entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1825. He completed his theological studies with the Andover Class of 1829.
Stowe taught Greek at Dartmouth College and Biblical Literature at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. At Lane, Stowe met Harriet Elizabeth Beecher, daughter of the school’s renowned president, Lyman Beecher.
Beecher was born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut; her mother died when she was 5. She enrolled in the seminary run by her sister Catharine. At the age of 21, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to join her father at the Lane Theological Seminary.
At Lane, Stowe married Beecher.
Harriet’s brother was Henry Ward Beecher, one of the era’s most celebrated clergyman and preachers. Her sister was the writer and reformer Catharine Beecher, a prominent champion for improved education for women and girls.
Convinced of his wife’s own talents, Calvin told Harriet she “must be a literary woman.” He remained one of her greatest supporters.
Starting June 5, 1851, she published installments of a story in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era; she called it Uncle Tom’s Cabin; it originally had a subtitle “The Man That Was A Thing”, but it was soon changed to “Life Among the Lowly”.
Her writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was precipitated by two events: in 1849 her sixth child, Samuel Charles, died in a cholera epidemic in Cincinnati; then, the year following Charley’s death Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law.
The law required citizens to assist the sheriff in catching runaway slaves, stipulating fines and imprisonment for those who refused – it brought slavery home to the doorsteps of northerners.
Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin to encourage citizens to disobey what she took to be an unchristian law and to engage white parents, many of whom, she knew, had lost a child, in the deep question of what a slave parent feels. (Hedrick)
The weekly publications continued to April 1, 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form on March 20, 1852, by John P Jewett with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. (People liked it; it sold 300,000 copies in the US in the first year of publication.)
While the book is focused on the slavery issue on the continent, she includes some reminders of her past, as well as passages on the Islands.
As noted, her family, birth and betrothed, come religious education backgrounds; she went to a seminary. Recall that her husband graduated from Andover Theological Seminary.
Dedicated September 28, 1808, the purpose of the Founders for the Seminary, according to their constitution, was to increase “the number of learned and able defenders of the Gospel of Christ, as well as of orthodox, pious, and zealous ministers of the New Testament ; being moved, as we hope, by a principle of gratitude to God and benevolence to man.” (Rowe)
In addition to ministers, the seminary also produced hundreds of missionaries. Two notable graduates were part of the Pioneer Company of missionaries to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiʻi.)
Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston were classmates at Andover Theological Seminary (completed Seminary courses 1819 – a decade before Stowe’s husband;) they were ordained on September 29, 1819 at Goshen, Connecticut. (Joesting)
Calvin Stowe returned to Andover Theological Seminary in 1852 as professor of sacred literature.
Harriet’s book exposed the brutal reality of slavery in the American South; but it did not leave many of those in the North off the hook.
One character in her writing, Miss Ophelia, “stands as the representative of a numerous class of the very best of Northern people.” (Stowe notes in her ‘Key” to the book.)
“There are in this class of people activity, zeal, unflinching conscientiousness, clear intellectual discriminations between truth and error, and great logical and doctrinal correctness; but there is a want of that spirit of love, without which, in the eye of Christ, the most perfect character is as deficient as a wax flower – wanting in life and perfume.” (Stowe; Key)
“It is, however, but just to our Northern Christians to say that this sin (prejudice) has been committed ignorantly and in unbelief, and that within a few years signs of a much better spirit have begun to manifest themselves.”
Stowe, goes on to note in her Key a link to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and the Islands:
“… many a good Miss Ophelia has opened her eyes in astonishment to find that, while she has been devouring the ‘Missionary Herald,’ and going without butter on her bread and sugar in her tea to send the gospel to the Sandwich Islands, there is a very thriving colony of heathen in her own neighborhood at home …”
(The Missionary Herald, established in 1821 printed reports from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM.) For many Christians in America, the Missionary Herald became prime information for many Americans about foreign lands.)
“… and, true to her own good and honest heart, she has resolved, not to give up her prayers and efforts for the heathen abroad, but to add thereunto labors for the heathen at home.” (Stowe)
When Calvin retired after the war, another of Harriet’s brothers, Charles Beecher, opened a school in Florida to teach newly emancipated slaves. At his urging, Calvin and Harriet joined him each winter, extending their activist partnership well into their golden years. (Andover-Newton)