Published in the lexington herald, Sep/Oct 195? 23- the'uncle tom' kennedys

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Published in THE LEXINGTON HERALD, Sep/Oct 195?

by George N. Reynolds

"Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well furnished dining parlor, in the town of P_______, in Kentucky.

You may recognize those words. They introduced, in 1851, the most revolutionary novel of all times-"Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Not only was the sale of the book spectacular but its effect on America was immense, and it is credited by most historians with being at least one of the most important causes of the bloody Civil War.

The book was peopled largely with characters from Garrard County's Kennedy plantation and Young Tom Kennedy's death was one of the chief reasons it was written. But coincidence played a part.

Harriet Beecher Stowe deplored sincerely the institution of slavery. A New Englander, she had come to Cincinatti with her sister and they had founded a girl's school there.

While working in the Queen City, Miss Beecher and another teacher at the school visited the Spillman home at Paint Lick and the Kennedy plantation nearby, observing the operation and atmosphere of the Kentucky homes.

It has been said that the only reason Miss Beecher ventured as far from New England as Cinncinatti and Kentucky was because her father was opposed to Prof. Stowe as a prospective husband for her. Despite that, Harriet married Stowe and presented him with a half a dozen children.

And it was while her brood was growing up, when family finances were so low that a gamble on publication of the book was out of the question, that Mrs. Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a magazine serial.

Soon after Harriet Beecher's visit, Young Tom Kennedy died, after having spent an average of $500 a day since his father's death. The condition of his estate was such that it was rumored some slaves would have to be sold.

The rumor led to a quick decision by a semi-free octoroon called Lewis Clarke, the son of a Scotchman and a mulatto slave. Clarke had been allowed to "work out" giving his owner a percentage of whatever he made.

A fair complexioned man, he was highly intelligent and may have been the inventor of an improved hemp treating machine.

When he heard the rumor that he might be sold, Clarke mounted a pony on a September night in 1841 and fled to Ohio and then to Canada. Finally, he went to New England where he lived for seven years with Mr. And Mrs. A.H. Stafford in Cambridge, Mass.

Stafford was Harriet Beecher Stowe's brother-in-law.

During visits to the Stafford home, Mrs. Stowe spent hours listening to the stories Clarke told and making notes on them.

Thenshe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin," gave it a setting in Paint Lick, Ky and began reaping thousands of dollars in royalties as the series was published in book form and began setting sales records.

Young Tom Kennedy and his wife became the indulgent and beloved Mr. And Mrs. Shelby of the book. Nancy, Young Tom's sister, a beautiful and thoughtful girl, was the tragic Little Eva.

Clarke, who later became a famous Baptist preacher and returned to Paint Lick on a visit 40 years after his escape, was the novel's George Harris. His sister, Delia, was Emmiline, and Eliza, Chloe and others were Kennedy slaves.

There is a local legend that Judith and America Randolph, whose graves are beneath the only two markers in a serrvant's burial plot in the Lexington cemetery, were Eliza and the baby she carried "across the ice" in Mrs Stowe's book.

"Uncle Tom" and some of the other characters of the novel were inspired by persons in various parts of the country or created from composites. But the book's chief background was Kentucky and millions got from the novel what is generally considered a somewhat distorted view of the Blue Grass state.

And one of the greatest of Kentuckians, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first and only time, greeted her with words of meaning.

"So you're the little lady who has caused all this trouble," said Abraham Lincoln.

Copied at the Frankfort Library,

June 1998
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