Harriet Jacobs
Guy Lochhead, 19/07/10
Born into inherited slavery in 1813, Jacobs was constantly abused by her master for almost a decade. She was not allowed to marry, though she had two children with a free white lawyer called Samuel Sawyer. Her harasser threatened her children if she refused his advances. By 1835, the situation was unbearable. She escaped and hid in the home of a nearby slaveowner, then a swamp, then the tiny attic space of her grandmother’s house, where she lived for seven years. Samuel Sawyer bought her children from her master and gave them freedom. He arranged for the family to travel North and work there. They were received by abolitionist friends in New York. Jacobs worked as a nursemaid and gave speeches to educate and raise money for abolitionist causes, along with her brother John S. Jacobs, but the danger of her old master still loomed. When she heard that the man was coming North to look for her, she was hidden by friends, who also bought her freedom. Now a free woman, she decided to writer about her experiences, after being approached by Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of ‘The Key To Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, one of the first anti-slave novels) The resultant book, ‘Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl’, written under the pseudonym Linda Brent, was partly serialised in The New York Tribune (before its contents were deemed too shocking for their honest description of sexual abuse), and was only wholly published in 1861, after years of controversy and bad luck. The book was not received warmly, and was often met with disbelief, but it eventually grew in popularity among abolitionists, particularly in England. Jacobs continued to work with anti-slavery organisations until her death in 1897. Include the 1999 edition of ‘Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl’ that also includes her brother’s ‘A True Tale Of Slavery’.

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