Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

BOOK: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
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Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page



Preface by the Author



I - Childhood

II - The New Master and Mistress

III - The Slaves’ New Year’s Day

IV - The Slave Who Dared to Feel Like a Man

V - The Trials of Girlhood

VI - The Jealous Mistress

VII - The Lover

VIII - What Slaves Are Taught to Think of the North

IX - Sketches of Neighboring Slaveholders

X - A Perilous Passage in the Slave Girl’s Life

XI - The New Tie to Life

XII - Fear of Insurrection

XIII - The Church and Slavery

XIV - Another Link to Life

XV - Continued Persecutions

XVI - Scenes at the Plantation

XVII - The Flight

XVIII - Months of Peril

XIX - The Children Sold

XX - New Perils

XXI - The Loophole of Retreat

XXII - Christmas Festivities

XXIII - Still in Prison

XXIV - The Candidate for Congress

XXV - Competition in Cunning

XXVI - Important Era in My Brother’s Life

XXVII - New Destination for the Children

XXVIII - Aunt Nancy

XXIX - Preparations for Escape

XXX - Northward Bound

XXXI - Incidents in Philadelphia

XXXII - The Meeting of Mother and Daughter

XXXIII - A Home Found

XXXIV - The Old Enemy Again

XXXV - Prejudice Against Color

XXXVI - The Hairbreadth Escape

XXXVII - A Visit to England

XXXVIII - Renewed Invitations to Go South

XXXIX - The Confession

XL - The Fugitive Slave Law

XLI - Free at Last



CHAPTER I - Some Account of My Early Life

CHAPTER II - A Further Account of My Family, and of My New Master

CHAPTER III - My Uncle’s Troubles—My Further Experience of the Doctor, and Our Parting

CHAPTER IV - My New Master’s Plantation—My Medical Practice Among the Slaves—My ...

CHAPTER V - My Master Goes to Washington as Member of Congress—He Is Engaged to ...

CHAPTER VI - Sensations of Freedom—Self-Education—A Whaling voyage—I Meet My ...

CHAPTER VII - Cruel Treatment of Slaves—The Fugitive Slave Law—Slavery Opposed ...








Harriet Ann Brent Jacobs was born in about 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. Her brother, John S. Jacobs, was born two years later. Their parents, Delilah and Elijah Jacobs, were enslaved, but they lived together as a family with Delilah’s mother until Delilah’s death. Harriet, then six, went to live with her owner, Margaret Horniblow, who taught her to read and sew. When Margaret Horniblow died in 1825, Harriet became the slave to Horniblow’s three-year-old niece, the daughter of Dr. James Norcom, a prominent citizen, who tried to force the teenaged Harriet into a sexual relationship with him. In an effort to fend off his advances, she began a relationship with another white man, Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, and bore him two children, whom Norcom planned to send to a plantation with a reputation for treating its slaves especially brutally. To divert him, Harriet ran away, eventually hiding in a crawl space in her grandmother’s house where she remained for almost seven years before escaping to the North in 1842. She lived and worked in New York City and Boston until her freedom was purchased in 1852. In the meantime, Sawyer managed to purchase his and Harriet’s two children as well as her brother John, who went on to work for the abolitionist cause. Harriet Jacobs wrote
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
between 1853 and 1858, finally publishing it in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent. John S. Jacobs died in 1875. Harriet Jacobs died in 1897.


Nell Irvin Painter is Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University, where she currently heads the Program in African-American Studies. She is the author of several books, including
Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol,
and editor of the Penguin Classics edition of the
Narrative of Sojourner Truth.



Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
first published in the United States of America 1861

This edition with an introduction and notes by Nell Irvin Painter published in Penguin Books 2000



Introduction and notes copyright © Nell Irvin Painter, 2000 All rights reserved

“A True Tale of Slavery” was published serially in
The Leisure Hour,
London, 1861.



Incidents in the life of a slave girl / written by herself, Harriet Jacobs.

With A true tale of slavery / by John S. Jacobs ; edited with an introduction and notes by Nell Irvin Painter.

p. cm.—(Penguin classics)

Includes bibliographical references

eISBN : 978-1-101-12807-7

1. Jacobs, Harriet A. (Harriet Ann), 1813-1897. 2. Jacobs, John S.,

1815-1875. 3. Staves—United States—Biography. 4. Women slaves—

United States—Biography. I. Painter, Nell Irvin. II. Jacobs, John S., 1815-1875. True tale of slavery. III. Title: True tale of slavery.

IV. Title. V. Series.


E444.J17 A3 2000b 305.5’67’092—dc21 [B] 99-055803




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LINDA: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, seven years concealed in Slavery, Written by Herself
(1861), the best-known nineteenth-century African-American woman’s autobiography, makes a marked contribution to American history and letters by having been written, as Jacobs stressed, “by herself.”
Many other narratives by women who had been enslaved (for example, Sojourner Truth) had been dictated to amanuenses whose roles diluted the authenticity of the texts.
Jacobs not only wrote her own book, but as an abolitionist and ardent reader, she knew the literary genres of her time. Describing an African-American family whose members cleave to one another against great odds, she skillfully plays on her story’s adherence to and departure from the sentimental conventions of domestic fiction. In so doing, she used its difference to a woman’s advantage. Her self-consciously gendered and thoroughly feminist narrative criticizes slavery for corrupting the morals and the families of all it touched, whether rich or poor, white or black. She lays the groundwork for the analysis of black womanhood.

BOOK: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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