Uncle Tom’s Cabin, described by Stowe herself as a "series of sketches" depicting the human cruelty of slavery, opens with a description of Arthur Shelby’s Kentucky plantation during the antebellum period. Although Shelby is not characterized as a cruel master, he has nevertheless incurred serious debts- prompting him sell some slaves to avoid financial ruin. Mr. Haley, the slave trader, purchases Uncle Tom, Shelby’s loyal servant since childhood, and five-year-old Harry, a beautiful and talented child who sings, dances and mimes. Shelby regrets taking the child away from his mother, Eliza, as much as he regrets betraying Uncle Tom’s faithfulness. Eliza overhears Mrs. Shelby, a very religious woman, protesting her husband’s decision, and decides to flee the plantation with her son. George, her husband from a neighboring plantation, has already left for Canada via the "underground railroad," a secret network of people who usher runaway slaves to freedom in the North. Eliza plans to do the same, and tries to convince Uncle Tom to save himself and come with her. Uncle Tom, however, must remain loyal to his master, despite his betrayal and the risk of death at the cruel hands of a new master, and does not accompany Eliza on her journey to the Ohio River.
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