CHARACTERS IN "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN"
Many Came from Cincinnati, Where Fugitive Slaves Were Numerous.
From the Ohio State Journal.
Before the war Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a resident of Walnut Hills, a suburb of Cincinnati, and her husband, Prof. Calvin Stowe, was connected with Lane Theological Seminary. Cincinnati, in slavery days, was an important station on the "underground railroad." The Ohio River was easily crossed at this point, and numerous runaways made their way over from Kentucky and were met in Cincinnati by friends who assisted them in various ways to make their escape. Among those more or less active in this movement were the Beechers, Mrs. Stowe being a daughter of Lyman Beecher, president of the seminary. There she first imbibed her hatred for slavery, and began work on a newspaper story depicting life among the lowly, that was afterward enlarged to "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
The "Eliza" house that gave refuge to the escaped slave girl who afterward figured in the story as Eliza, stands upon a hill near the village of Glendale, the Van Tromp of the narrative being John Van Zandt, a member of the Society of Friends, who settled upon the farm and made it an underground station. The Eliza was Eliza Harris, a Kentucky slave, owned by a man near Ripley, Ohio, but on the slavery side of the river. She ran away from her master with her child, as told in the story, crossing the river on the ice, and was afterward sheltered in the house of the Rev. John Rankin, whose family still lives in Ripley.
Another young girl, who gave much to the construction of the character of Eliza, was a seamstress in the employ of Mrs. Stowe. She came from Kentucky with the consent of her mistress, her brother being held as hostage for her return. The occurrence was not infrequent, as the Kentuckians were very lenient with their slaves, and often indulged them in trips across the Ohio to free soil. The girl was legally free by her presence in Ohio by consent of her mistress. Shortly after her arrival her brother escaped, and she resolved not to return. In this she was encouraged by her friends, and also by Mrs. Stowe, in whose family she had found employment. "Free papers" were obtained for her to make her condition doubly legal.
There were many people in Cincinnati, however, who were ready to serve the slaveholders by kidnapping fugitives, and when Prof. Stowe learned that the former master of Eliza was in the city, and a friend told him that there was a plan to take the girl at night, it was determined to put her in a place of safety. Accordingly, Prof. Stowe performed the part of Senator Bird. Procuring a horse and wagon, accompanied by Henry Ward Beecher, he drove the girl ten miles along a lonely road, and over a dangerously flooded ford, to the house of John Van Zandt. The fireplace is still shown where Eliza is said to have been confined during one of the visits of the slave hunters to the place in their pursuit.
Another character in the story is Richard Billingham, a young Quaker from Morrow, Ohio, who came to Cincinnati to teach the negroes, and whose enthusiasm led him to Nashville in behalf of a slave, where he was arrested and imprisoned and died before his release. So far as known, only one of the originals of the characters of this story is now living. This is George Lewis Clark, whose adventures are recorded in this story as the experiences of George Harris. He is now living, a very old man, and for years resided at Oberlin, Ohio. He crossed the Ohio at Ripley, and had refuge for several days with the Rankins. He was afterward conducted north into Clinton county, where he found safety and a home for years among the Quakers of that part of the state. A son of the Rev. John Rankin, William Rankin, was Harris' guide. He is living at Ripley, and tells with relish the incidents of the escapes of Harris and Eliza.
Such are some of the scenes and incidents and people upon which was founded the story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."