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Sat, 03.13.1813

Harriet Jacobs, Author, and Abolitionist born


*This date celebrates the birth of Harriet Jacobs in 1813. She was an 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 and her grandmother raised her from that time on.

In 1825, she was sold to Dr. James Norcom, who made numerous sexual advances towards her. When rebuffed, Norcom refused her permission to marry.  Samuel Sawyer, a lawyer, seduced Jacobs and she had two children by him. Dr. Norcom continued to sexually harass Harriet 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, which was published in Boston in 1860. Incidents 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.

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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