Tom and Haley ride to the riverboat. Haley thinks of how he might market Tom on the trading block, and how good he has been to Tom—loosening his manacles—despite being tricked by slaves before. Tom, meanwhile, remembers a Bible verse in which God “hath prepared for us a city” (heaven). Haley spots a newspaper ad for a slave sale in Washington, Kentucky, books a room for himself, and accommodates Tom in jail overnight. The next morning they head to the sale.
Slave auctions are, according to Beecher Stowe, the primary means for separating families. They are a source of great cruelty and injustice in an already terribly cruel system. Tom’s Bible verse echoes the idea that, though matters may look incredibly dire, there is a place of freedom and rest prepared in heaven for all humanity.
At the sale, a woman named Aunt Hagar worries that her fourteen-year-old son, Albert, will be sold without her. Haley offers to buy Albert for plantation work but not Hagar, since she is too old and worn for hard labor. Haley successfully bids for Albert at the auction and Hagar is sold for a pittance to another man.
The novel contains many instances of doubling or foiling—creating characters who mirror other characters in order to create a resonance or contrast. Here Aunt Hagar and Albert represent a “what-if” scenario: had Eliza and Harry both been sold, their parting would have resembled Hagar and Albert’s.
On La Belle Riviere, a riverboat, Haley tells the assembled slaves, including Tom, to behave on the journey south. Above-deck, white families discuss the institution of slavery, with one woman arguing it is tolerable because conditions for blacks are better in servitude than they would be if all were made free. Another claims that the separation of slave families is the real cruelty. A clergyman enters the discussion and says that God intends to keep blacks in a state inferior to whites—the “Curse of Canaan.” The drover from the Kentucky hotel, also on the vessel, subtly critiques this absolute view of black inferiority to Haley, who protests he does not read much and can’t weigh in on the moral question. Another young man, also a clergyman, counters the statement of the first, saying that God commands us to treat others as we would want to be treated. The younger clergyman goes on to ask Haley how he can trade so cruelly in slaves.
The first woman’s argument is common: slaves are better off as slaves than they would be free. The first clergyman’s argument, sadly, is also common. Many believed that black people were Biblically cursed, and that their black skin was a mark indicating that they were fit only for servitude. Haley, as usual, doesn’t go in for abstract reckoning—slaves continue to be just a business matter for him. But the presence of the other clergyman, arguing for the primacy of the Golden Rule, shows that Christian precepts may be used both to justify and reject slavery.
A slave woman, Lucy, who had been told by her master that she and her daughter would be sent to Louisville to work with her husband, is informed that they have instead been tricked by their master and sold to Haley. Haley meets a man who offers to buy the child for 45 dollars; Haley agrees, takes the child from the woman as she sleeps. When Lucy wakes, Haley tells her what he has done and she takes the news silently and wishes to be alone.
Tom offers comfort to Lucy but she shrugs it off, moans to herself. That night, she falls overboard and drowns. The trader questions Tom, who acknowledges he only felt Lucy brush by and heard her fall overboard. Others on the boat remark on Haley’s cruelty, and Beecher Stowe argues that they, and anyone, who even allows the institution of slavery to exist aids and abets this cruelty. Although many discuss the horrors of the foreign slave-trade, she continues, tragedies like those on La Belle Riviere are overlooked by many American whites.
A story like this had been mentioned by the slave-owners earlier in the book. It is hard for some white people to understand that black mothers care for their children just as much as white mothers do. Beecher Stowe includes this awful example to demonstrate the universality of motherly love, and to show to the white mothers reading her novel just how horrible slavery could be.