Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was an American abolitionist and novelist who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the most influential books in American history. Her father was Lyman Beecher, pastor of the Congregational Church in Litchfield, and her brother was the famous Congregational preacher Henry Ward Beecher. After the death of one of her children made her contemplate the pain slaves must endure when family members are sold away, she decided to write a book about slavery. With the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, she became a national celebrity, and went on to write several more books on the topic, many of them in response to southern critiques of the original.
The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin brought the issue of slavery home to millions of Americans. The story, which helped galvanize the abolitionist movement, is a dramatic—if somewhat patronizing—portrayal of the pain and heartbreak suffered by slaves throughout the South. It sold 500,000 copies in its first four years in print, a record in book sales. Contemporaries believed that much of the sectional strife following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was due to Stowe's influence. While Uncle Tom's Cabin did not start the war, it did bring into focus the severe brutality of slavery, and contributed to the divide growing between the North from the South during the crucial decade of the 1850s.