Harriet Jacobs

"Women are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owner's stock. - Harriet Ann Jacobs, famous slave

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: A Brief Synopsis

Harriet Jacobs was a former slave, famous for writing and self publishing her autiobiography, 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl' under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Though Harriet changed the names of all involved, she is credited with being one of the first women to openly reveal the hazards of being a female slave; for example, sexual harrassment from her master and abuse from a jealous mistress. During the Civil War, Harriet Jacobs and her daughter Louisa opened a school teaching children to read, making a night class available for the adults. 

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: Date of Birth and Parents

Harriet Jacobs was born in 1813 to Elijah Knox and Delilah Horniblow, both slaves to separate masters. On Delilah's death in 1819, Harriet was cared for by her mistress, Margaret Horniblow, and taught to read, write and sew.

escaped slave Harriet Jacobs in later life
Harriet Jacobs, the famous slave (public domain)

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: The Advances of Dr Norcom

Though she was treated kindly by Margaret, Harriet Jacobs was not emancipated on her mistress' death six years later and was instead gifted to Margaret's five year old niece, Mary, as a personal slave. As Mary was a minor, her father, Dr James Norcom, became Harriet Jacob's de facto master until Mary came of age; unfortunately Harriet's happy childhood was at an end. Though forty years her senior, Harriet Jacobs became the object of Dr Norcom unwanted advances when she turned fifteen year old; ranging from lewd whisperings, lascivious notes, and even death threats. Believing the only way to escape Dr Norcom's attention was to be protected by another white man, Harriet Jacobs took lawyer Samuel Sawyer, as a lover and fell pregnant with a son at just sixteen.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE FAMOUS SLAVE HARRIET JACOBS

Name: Harriet Ann Jacobs
AKA:
Harriet Jacobs
Born:
11 February 1813, North Carolina
Died: 7 March 1897, Washington
Famed for: Portraying the treatment of female slaves in a self published autobiography 
Slave status: Emancipated
Master: Margaret Horniblow, Mary Norcom
Children: Louisa and Joseph
Children's father: Samuel Sawyer
Parents: Elijah Knox and Delilah Horniblow
Siblings: John Jacobs
Grandmother: Molly Horniblow

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: Children

Weighing only four pounds, Joseph was premature and Harriet Jacobs was not expected to survive. Both Harriet and her son took a full year to recover at her grandmother's house. As Dr Norcom would not sell Harriet Jacobs and his wife refused to allow her back, she remained with her grandmother despite threats to remove Joseph from her care. Harriet Jacobs shortly afterward went on to have a daughter, which only sought to increase her master's rage. He cut off her hair, promised to give her freedom if she no longer saw Samuel, and tried to convince her to live in a cottage he had built if she would still work for his family. As she refused, she was sent to a plantation belonging to Dr Norcom's son.

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: Escape

Knowing that Dr Norcom would not sell the children to their father whilst they remained a useful bargaining tool, Harriet Jacobs rationalised that if she ran away, the children would be considered a burden and of no further use. They could then be purchased by Samuel and she could reunite with her family when it was safe. Unfortunately Harriet Jacobs had miscalculated the extent to which Dr Norcom was prepared to go in order to maintain control; instead of the children being sold as expected, they were put in jail with Harriet's brother for two months whilst she hid at a friend's house. Upon their release, the three were purchased by a slave trader who had been secretly instructed by Samuel.

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: Freedom

Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in the crawl space of her grandmother's shed; though she would occasionally hear her children, they were painfully unaware of her proximity due to the careful scrutiny of Dr Norcom. He actively continued searching for Harriet Jacobs and would frequently follow leads in New York. With much difficulty, at the age of twenty eight, she eventually escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, where she ran an anti-slavery bookshop with her brother. It was here that she met abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass and abolitionist Amy Post, the latter convincing Harriet Jacobs in 1853 to write an account of her experience as a slave. Through the effort of friends, Harriet Jacobs was eventually purchased from her young mistress' new husband in 1852 and emancipated.

The Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs: Later Life

Harriet Jacobs struggled getting her book published and went to England in 1858 in an attempt to sell it before deciding to self publish it in 1861. The following year Harriet Jacobs accompanied the Female Anti-Slavery Society to promote her book in Philadelphia. The 'Jacobs School' was founded in Alexandria, Viriginia in 1863-1865 by herself and her daughter where teachers of both races worked alongside each other. They then moved to Georgia to assist with relief work for the freed slaves upon the end of the Civil War.

Sources:

  1. Harriet Jacobs - Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

  2.  The University of North Carolina

  3. The North Carolina History Project

  4. Project Gutenberg

  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Biography of Famous Slave Harriet Jacobs

  • The Biography of Harriet Jacobs, for Education and Learning
  • Harriet Jacobs Struggle for Freedom

 

  • Quick Facts About Slave Harriet Jacobs
  • The Life of Harriet Jacobs
  • Harriet Jacobs' Experience as a Female Slave

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