Harriet Jacobs:  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

(1861)

Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861) is a personal narrative published as the author was approaching fifty years of age on the cusp of the Civil War. Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina, but she managed to escape and gain her freedom as well as the freedom of her two children. While the book is autobiographical, it changes the names of the participants, with Jacobs writing under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Her narrative details her life as a young slave girl, focusing on the unrelenting sexual advances she endured from her master. She surveys the time that she spent as a fugitive, including seven years hiding in her grandmother’s attic. In detailing her time spent in the North while she was still a fugitive, she emphasizes her efforts to keep her children, who were born into slavery, out of the hands of slave catchers. Chapter XL of Jacobs’s book, “The Fugitive Slave Law,” details the effect that the 1850 law had on...

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African Americans escaping from slavery (Library of Congress)

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