Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs was the first woman to write a slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in 1861.  She was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in around 1813. Her mother and father died when she was very young, so she was taught to read and sew by her grandmother and white mistress. When she was eleven years old, she became the property of Dr. James Norcom (Dr. Flint in Incidents), who visited her with relentless sexual abuse during her early teenage years. She entered a relationship with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer (Mr. Sands in Incidents) out of desperation and had given birth to two of his children by the time she was 20. In her early 20’s she hid in a crawlspace in her grandmother’s house with the hope that Norcom would sell her children to their father. She stayed there for seven years, watching her children, sewing, reading the bible and occasionally composing and sending letters to confuse her master. In 1942, she escaped to New York. The efforts of Norcom to locate her led her to seek help from abolitionist forces in Rochester. During that time she met Abolitionist Amy Post, who encouraged her to make her story public. She sought assistance from Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was not interested in telling Harriet Jacobs’ story. When she was freed, she wrote and published her story. During the Civil War, she was a relief worker in Washington D.C., assisting former slaves who were war refugees. After the war, she continued to assist the freed slaves in Savannah, Georgia. She returned to Washington D.C. in the 1880s and helped organize the National Association of Colored women and died there in 1897.

Info from the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.

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