Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a slave narrative that was published in 1861 by Harriet Ann Jacobs, using the pen name "Linda Brent." The book is an in-depth chronological account of Jacobs's life as a slave, and the decisions and choices she made to gain freedom for herself and her children. It addresses the struggles and sexual abuse that young women slaves faced on the plantations, and how these struggles were harsher than what men suffered as slaves. The book is considered sentimental and written to provoke an emotional response and sympathy from the reader toward slavery in general and slave women in particular for their struggles with rape, the pressure to have sex at an early age, the selling of their children, and the treatment of female slaves by their mistresses. Jacobs began composing Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl while living and working at Idlewild, the Hudson River home of writer and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis, who was fictionalized in the book as Mr. Bruce. Portions of the book were published in serial form in the New-York Tribune, owned and edited by Horace Greeley. Jacobs's reports of sexual abuse were considered too shocking to the average newspaper reader of the day, and publication ceased before the completion of the narrative. Boston publishing house Phillips and Samson agreed to print the work in book form if Jacobs could convince Willis or Harriet Beecher Stowe to provide a preface. She refused to ask Willis for help and Stowe turned her down, though the Phillips and Samson company closed anyway. She eventually managed to sign an agreement with the Thayer & Eldridge publishing house and they requested a preface by Lydia Maria Child. Child also edited the book and the company introduced her to Jacobs. The two women remained in contact for much of their remaining lives. Thayer & Eldridge, however, declared bankruptcy before the narrative could be published.
lodged in gaol. This called the old man from home. He had got to prove property and pay expenses. Now that the old doctor was gone, I had a good time. Mr. L_______, the gaoler, was an old acquaintance of mine. Though he was a white man, and I a slave, we had spent many hours together in Mr. J——’s family. We had taken tea there. To make my story short, and go back to the doctor—Mr. J——had a very fine daughter, and we were very fond of each other. Mr. L———had been a visitor of Mr. J———’s for many
Jennifer. Mastering Slavery: Memory, Family, and Identity in Women’s Slave Narratives. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Foreman, P. Gabrielle. “The Spoken and the Silenced in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Our Nig,” Callaloo 13, no. 2 (Spring 1990). Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. “To Write My Self: The Autobiographies of Afro-American Women.” In Feminist Issues in Literary Scholarship. Edited by Shari Benstock. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Garfield, Deborah M.,
to eat, and at other times could get nothing at all. He said he refused to take her, because he knew her master would not thank him for bringing such a miserable wretch to his house. He ended by saying to me, “This is the punishment she brought on herself for running away from a kind master.” This whole story was false. I afterwards staid with that friend in New York, and found her in comfortable circumstances. She had never thought of such a thing as wishing to go back to slavery. Many of the
New Bedford, Massachusetts, a haven for fugitive slaves where young Frederick and Anna Douglass had recently settled and where doubtless all three became acquainted as fellow workers and budding abolitionists.30 The early 1840s also brought the emancipation of Harriet Jacobs and her children, one by one. Sawyer had brought little Louisa from Edenton to Washington, D.C., to tend her half-sister, his and his wife’s new baby. Once Sawyer’s term ended, he sent Louisa to work for his Tredwell cousins
cruelly sundered by the demon Slavery.2 XXXI Incidents in Philadelphia I HAD HEARD THAT the poor slave had many friends at the north. I trusted we should find some of them. Meantime, we would take it for granted that all were friends, till they proved to the contrary. I sought out the kind captain, thanked him for his attentions, and told him I should never cease to be grateful for the service he had rendered us. I gave him a message to the friends I had left at home, and he promised to