Arts and Leisure

Harriet Beecher Stowe: ‘To-night the last sad duty is before us’

Harriet Beecher Stowe lost her eldest son Henry Ellis on July 9, 1857, when he drowned in the Connecticut River. He was 19 years old, a student at Dartmouth College, and she was devastated by his death. Harriet_Beecher_StoweShe was a 46-year-old author and lecturer, celebrated and reviled for her campaign against slavery. Her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had been in print for five years. No book save the Bible sold more copies in the 19th century. She had just returned from Europe to her home in Andover, Mass., where Calvin Stowe taught at Andover Theological Seminary. On Aug. 24, 1857, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a letter to her five children as she prepared to bury her son:

Dear Children, — Since anniversary papa and I have been living at home; Grandpa and Grandma Beecher are here also, and we have had much comfort in their society … To-night the last sad duty is before us. The body is to be removed from the receiving tomb in the Old South Churchyard, and laid in the graveyard near by. Pearson has been at work for a week on a lot that is to be thenceforth ours. “Our just inheritance consecrated by his grave.”

Henry Stowe

Henry Stowe

How little he thought, wandering there as he often has with us, that his mortal form would so soon be resting there. Yet that was written for him. It was as certain then as now, and the hour and place of our death is equally certain, though we know it not. It seems selfish that I should yearn to lie down by his side, but I never knew how much I loved him till now. The one lost piece of silver seems more than all the rest, — the one lost sheep dearer than all the fold, and I so long for one word, one look, one last embrace…

There are two Harriet Beecher Stowe houses in New England: One in Hartford, next door to Mark Twain’s house in Nook Farm, and one in Brunswick, Maine, on the campus of Bowdoin College. Both are U.S. National Historic Landmarks. With thanks to Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe: Comp. from Her Letters and Journals.

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