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Stowe helps an enslaved minister purchase his freedom

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Autograph Letter Signed to Mrs. James Nourse

New York, ca. late May 1852

One page plus the integral address leaf.

The author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin assists an enslaved minister seeking to purchase freedom for himself and his family. Stowe presents an introduction for Thomas Strother to Mrs. Nourse:

“The bearer is a minister — a delegate to the African Methodist convention now in session in this City & bears satisfactory credentials of his character & standing. He is a slave and unless he can raise money this summer for his ransom must be sold to settle an insolvent estate. The rest of his history will be unfolded by himself. I trust it will be in your heart to do all that you can for him.”

The Rev. Thomas Strother (d. 1873) was enslaved by Luke Whitcomb of St. Louis, who died insolvent in June 1850. Strother, a licensed and ordained Methodist minister since about 1845, worked to raise $1600 to purchase freedom for himself, his wife and child. The impending September 1852 liquidation of Whitcomb’s estate threatened the family.

In an attempt to raise needed funds, Strother attended the A.M.E. conference in New York in the spring of 1852. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe offered to assist by writing letters of introduction to their friends. In early June Strother arrived in Boston, carrying “commendatory letters from Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe.” He likely continued as far north as Bath, Maine to present his credentials in the present letter to Mrs. Nourse.

By early August, after 18 months of campaigning, he had raised $1350, enough to purchase the freedom of his wife and child and required only $250 more to secure his own. It is not known whether Strother was successful in that effort, but it appears that he may have served as a soldier in the Union Army during Civil War. He settled in Cairo, Illinois after the war continuing as a preacher and a prominent advocate for Black suffrage until his death in 1873.

This poignant letter vividly illustrates the horrors of slavery and the personal role Stowe played in ameliorating them. At this date Uncle Tom’s Cabin had just become a runaway best seller, and she was at the height of her fame.

on hold: $22,500