This young man had been hired out by his master to work in a bagging factory, where his adroitness and ingenuity caused him to be considered the first hand in the place. He had invented a machine for the cleaning of the hemp, which, considering the education and circumstances of the inventor, displayed quite as much mechanical genius as Whitney’s cotton-gin.
He was possessed of a handsome person and pleasing manners, and was a general favorite in the factory. Nevertheless, as this young man was in the eye of the law not a man, but a thing, all these superior qualifications were subject to the control of a vulgar, narrow-minded, tyrannical master.
The narrator introduces George Harris, a parallel hero to Uncle Tom. George’s wife, Eliza, is, like Tom, a slave of the Shelby family. But George lives enslaved to a different master. Throughout the novel, the experiences of George counter those of Tom. While Tom prays and endures, George takes action. George Harris’s story also parallels that of George Shelby, the young slave owner who later links the lives of George Harris and Uncle Tom.
The whole party examined the new comer with the interest with which a set of loafers in a rainy day usually examine every newcomer. He was very tall, with a dark, Spanish complexion, fine, expressive black eyes, and close-curling hair, also of a glossy blackness. His well-formed aquiline nose, straight thin lips, and the admirable contour of his finely-formed limbs, impressed the whole company instantly with the idea of something uncommon. He walked easily in among the company, and with a nod indicated to his waiter where to place his trunk, bowed to the company, and, with his hat in his hand, walked up leisurely to the bar, and gave in his name as Henry Butter, Oaklands, Shelby County. Turning, with an indifferent air, he sauntered up to the advertisement, and read it over.
“Jim,” he said to his man, “seems to me we met a boy something like this, up at Beman’s, didn’t we?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Jim, “only I an’t sure about the hand.”
George Harris, masquerading as a white man, stops at a country inn. George can get away with this escape plan because of his light features and because he has a colored servant with him. George’s youth, audacity, good looks, and humor make him a dashing, romantic hero. Here George looks at and comments on a wanted poster for himself.
“Is it possible! astonishing! from such a kind family?”
“Kind families get in debt, and the laws of our country allow them to sell the child out of its mother’s bosom to pay its master’s debts,” said George, bitterly.
Mr. Wilson, an acquaintance of the Shelby family, talks to George Harris masquerading as a white man. Mr. Wilson has seen through George’s disguise. But after hearing George’s tale, Wilson decides not to give George away. George’s comments about debt repeat and support the day’s abolitionist arguments against slavery.
I am George Harris. A Mr. Harris, of Kentucky, did call me his property. But now I’m a free man, standing on God’s free soil; and my wife and my child I claim as mine. Jim and his mother are here. We have arms to defend ourselves, and we mean to do it. You can come up, if you like; but the first one of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next; and so on till the last.
George delivers a defiant speech to the slave catchers who pursue him. Guided by the Quaker Phineas Fletcher, George, his family, and other escaping slaves have the advantage of a high, defensible position. Now George, following the rules of civilized combat, warns the enemy before opening fire. George declares his independence along with his right to self-defense and stands up for himself as a man.
George and his wife stood arm in arm, as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang; the boat stopped. Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and gathered his little party. The little company were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!
The narrator details the moment George, Eliza, and little Harry arrive in Canada, where they are free at last. By this time, the faith of Eliza and of their Quaker benefactors has turned George from a despairing skeptic into a grateful believer. The novel delivers the Harris family to freedom right after condemning Uncle Tom to the worst forms of slavery. The Harris family’s happy ending makes Tom’s plight even more difficult for the reader to think about.