|February 11, 1813
Edenton, North Carolina
|March 7, 1897 (aged 84)
When she was still a girl, her master wanted to start a sexual relationship with her. She refused and entered into a relationship with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer. Sawyer was a lawyer and had some power to protect her. He became the father of her two children, Joseph and Louisa Matilda. Still, the law gave a master absolute power over a slave. Jacobs's master wanted to sell her children away from her. In 1835, she decided to hide in a small room in her grandmother's house. That room was so small that she could not stand up. She had to stay there for seven years. Because she could neither stand nor walk, she was suffering from leg problems for many years afterwards. In 1842, she was finally able to escape to Philadelphia by boat. From Philadelphia, she went to New York where she found work as a nanny for the children of Nathaniel Parker Willis. Also her brother John S. Jacobs and her children were able to escape from slavery.
While she was still working as nanny for the Willis children during the day, at night she wrote down her experiences. In January 1861, her experiences were finally published as a book called Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, written by herself. After the American Civil War had started in April 1861, she went to Alexandria, Virginia. There she helped black people who had just escaped from slavery. She spent her last years in Washington, D.C. where she lived together with her daughter.
After the Civil War, the slaves were set free. The people of the United States lost interest in slavery and forgot Jacobs and her book. But in the second half of the 20th century, people began to show new interest in the history of slavery. Professor Jean Fagan Yellin did a lot of research work and wrote the book Harriet Jacobs. A Life. The Remarkable Adventures of the Woman who Wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Today, people call Jacobs's book an "American classic", meaning that it is one of the most important books written in the United States of America.
References[change | change source]
- Jean Fagan Yellin: Harriet Jacobs: A Life. New York 2004, p. 126.