Eliza's Flight: A Scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Eliza's Flight: A Scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin
Unknown Artist
E.L. Loder and M.A. Collier. Eliza's Flight: A Scene From Uncle Tom's Cabin. Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1852.
Sheet Music VM 1621 .L82e
Newberry Library

How does this suspenseful drawing relate to music? It is the cover for sheet music, printed for piano players and singers and popular from the 1840s to the 1980s. Publishers hired illustrators to make interesting covers to encourage buyers to purchase the songs.

The drawing you see illustrates E. J. Loder and M. A. Collier's song Eliza's Flight: A Scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin. It depicts slave Eliza Harris fleeing from Kentucky across the frozen Ohio River into the free state of Ohio, clasping her baby in her arms. She jumps from one piece of floating ice to another as slave catchers, one holding a whip, shout from the bank. Under the picture is a quote from the novel. Eliza says: “God helping me, I crossed the river on the ice; they were behind me--right behind–and there was no other way.”

 An extremely influential anti-slavery story, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired Northern artists to create artworks, plays, and songs about the novel's themes and characters. Many chose to deal with Eliza’s escape because it was one of the most dramatic and famous parts of the whole book. This song allowed families to enact Eliza’s flight in their homes across the North. When singing verses like, “The mother gains the further shore/Her babe is on her breast/The race is past, the peril o'er/One moment is she blest!,” Northerners created emotional links to the plight of slaves in the South.

1. What elements in the picture tell you that the music inside will sound dramatic or suspenseful?

2. Think of any cds or movies you have bought at the store.  Did the image on the cover influence your decision to buy the item?

Further reading: 
Stephen A. “Uncle Tomitudes: The Popular Reaction to ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.” Studies in the American Renaissance (January 1, 1978): 303-330.

Newberry Library. "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North. http://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/homefront/contrabands/contrabandscabin.

Riis, Thomas L. “The Music and Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” American Music (Autumn 1986) Vol. 4 No. 3 pages 268 -286

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago