Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had been published in book form slightly less than a year earlier. Considering the recipient of Stowe's letter was a stranger to her, she was quite open, describing that Uncle Tom's Cabin was inspired in part by her own poor state and "awful scenes and bitter sorrows" of her own life, including the "peculiar bitterness" and "almost cruel suffering" of the death of one of her children. She was equally forthcoming about her poverty, even noting she did not own enough teacups for a family visit to her home. "But then I was abundantly enriched with wealth of another sort," she wrote. Her first payments from publishing stories, she said, was used to purchase a feather-bed, "the most profitable investment" she could think of at the time — she compared it to the philosopher's stone.
Now, Stowe noted, she was working on a follow-up to her novel: "It will contain all the facts and documents on which that story was founded, and an immense body of facts, reports of trials, legal documents, and testimony of people now living South, which will more than confirm every statement in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'..." The book, which would be published later that year as A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, was causing her difficulty because of the subject matter. "This horror, this nightmare abomination!" she wrote of slavery, "can it be in my country? It lies like lead on my heart, it shadows my life with sorrow."
Stowe's letter was addressed to Eliza Lee Follen, herself a published author, which may explain why Stowe was so forthcoming about personal details. She admitted to having felt already acquainted since her girlhood, having made "daily use of your poems for children." In fact, years ago, Stowe had considered writing to Follen to introduce herself and thank her for her work. In her first book, published 1839, Follen included an anti-slavery poem, "Remember the Slave," which Stowe almost certainly admired:
Mother, whene'er around your child
You clasp your arms in love;
And when, with grateful joy, you raise
Your eyes to God above, —
Think of the negro mother, when
Her child is torn away,
Sold for a little slave — O, then,
For that poor mother pray...
Ye Christians! ministers of Him
Who came to make men free,When, at the Almighty Maker’s throne
You bend the suppliant knee,—From the deep fountains of your soul
Then let your prayers ascendFor the poor slave, who hardly knows
That God is still his friend.Let all who know that God is just,Unite in the most holy cause
That Jesus came to save,
Of the forsaken slave.