Selected video samples from our modern re-staging of George Aiken’s 1852 stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin:
Simon Legree Confronts Tom: Far along in Uncle Tom’s story, Little Eva has died, her father (and Tom’s second owner), the kindly St. Clare has been killed, and Tom has been sold at auction to the cruel plantation owner Simon Legree. In this scene Legree confronts Tom, demanding information about the runaway slaves Emmeline and Cassie. Tom, in the face of the threat of death by beating, stands up to Legree, in stark contrast to what we now, in modern times, think it means to be an “Uncle Tom.” Refusing to divulge any information he stays true to his moral principles, confident that while Legree may have sway over his mortal body, he can do no harm to his immortal soul.
On St. Clare’s Plantation: After being sold down the river (literally) to help settle his original owner’s debts, Uncle Tom is fortunate to be purchased by kindly plantation owner Augustine St. Clare, after saving St. Clare’s daughter, Little Eva, from drowning. In this scene, soon after Tom’s arrival, we see Tom looking after Little Eva. We also meet Aunt Ophelia, St. Clare’s Yankee cousin from up north, and the new slave girl, Topsy. As we see, Stowe was in some ways just as critical of her own Christian New England neighbors for what she felt was an unchristian lack of moral outrage and action against the immoral institution of slavery, as she was of slavery itself.
Tom Goes to Heaven: In this final scene from our production of the George Aiken play of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tom dies and goes to heaven. In heaven he is raised up by former owner St. Clare, no longer old and gray but reborn young and strong, and is welcomed by the angelic Little Eva whose last dying wish was that her father free his slaves.
George Harris Escape Plan: Slave George Harris, despairing in the face of forced separation from his wife, Eliza, and son, Harry, plots his escape to Canada, from where he plans to purchase his family’s freedom.
Selected clips from a stage version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as filmed by the Thomas A. Edison company in 1903:
In 1903, in order to demonstrate and promote his new motion pictures technology, Thomas A. Edison had filmed one of the most popular entertainments of the day: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In contrast to George Aiken’s 1852 stage adaptation of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the 1903 silent film version shows a number of the ill effects visited on the play and its characters in the intervening 50 years.
The Slave Auction: In this version of the slave auction, as we wait for the auction to begin we see some slaves gambling on one side of the screen, while others dance and clap along to music on the other. By 1903 it seems, being a slave at auction was no reason for worry or sorrow. Even as the auction commences, the comic foil Marks keeps the mood from getting too dark. Only in the closing seconds do we see just a bit of Emmeline and Uncle Tom’s despair at being purchased by the cruel plantation owner Simon Legree.
This rarely seen 1903 Edison film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is included in its entirety on the DVD.
The Cakewalk (Tom and Eva in the Garden): By 1903, the “simple, happy darkie” was becoming a well-established cultural and racial stereotype that was embedded in, and projected by, the many devolved stage versions of the play and the more vaudevillian traveling “Tom Shows.” Not only did they dance while waiting to be auctioned off as slaves, they also danced while waiting for the riverboat to come in and, in this scene, entitled “Tom and Eva in the Garden,” the producers insert an entirely gratuitous cakewalk-type dance sequence for over a minute before the story action of the play picks up again.