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*This date celebrates the birth of Harriet Jacobs in 1813. She was a Black abolitionist and author.
Born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, Harriet Ann Jacobs was orphaned while still a young child. She was taught to read by her owner’s wife and, by her own account, experienced a relatively pleasant childhood. Her happiness ended, however, when her owner began to abuse her sexually. Jacob’s mother, Delilah, was the slave of John Horniblow, a tavern keeper, and her father, Daniel Jacobs, a white slave owned by Dr. Andrew Knox. Delilah died when Jacobs was six years old; her grandmother raised her from that time on.
In 1825, she was sold to Dr. James Norcom, who made numerous sexual advances toward her. When rebuffed, Norcom refused her permission to marry. Samuel Sawyer, a lawyer, seduced Jacobs, and she had two children with him. Dr. Norcom continued to harass Harriet sexually and threatened to sell her children to a slave dealer. In 1835, desperate after being sent to work on one of her owner’s plantations upon refusing to consent to sex, Jacobs ran away and spent several years living in a small crawlspace above a storeroom in her grandmother’s home. Seven years later, Jacobs finally escaped to the North.
She became active in the antislavery movement and, at the urging of several female abolitionists, wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in Boston in 1860. The incident is a powerful depiction of certain aspects of slavery, such as the sexual abuse of female slaves, avoided by most nineteenth-century critics of the institution. When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, Jacobs wrote, "I have lived to hear the Proclamation of Freedom for my suffering people. All my wrongs are forgiven. I am more than repaid for all I have endured." Harriet Jacobs died in 1897.