Tuesday, February 26

Harriet Ann Jacobs: A Prisoner of Freedom

Harriet Ann Jacobs was born into slavery at Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. Her mother, Delilah, was the daughter of a slave. Her father, Daniel, was a carpenter, owned by doctor Andre Knox. His father was white. Harriet's mother died when she was six. She was then taken in by her mistress, who taught her to read. When the mistress died, Harriet thought she would be given her freedom. However, the mistress' Will left her to her five-year-old niece. Because the niece was a minor, Harriet became the property of her father, Dr. James Norcom, who sexually harassed her. When Harriet learned that the doctor was building a cottage in the country where he planned to take her as his concubine, she was desperate.

In order to stall the doctor's advances, Harriet encouraged a relationship with a lawyer, Samuel Sawyer. Samuel had been attracted to Harriet for some time. The couple began an affair. Their son, Joseph, was born in 1829. A daughter, Louisa, was born in 1833. Dr. Norcom was furious when he learned of the relationship. He banished Harriet to a plantation where he ordered her to work as a field hand. This was excruciating work, but Harriet would not be intimidated. She continued to refuse the doctor's advances. In retaliation, Dr. Norcom refused to allow her to have her children. Harriet was again desperate. She made a plan to escape. With the help of the women in the community, both black and white, Harriet managed to hide from Dr. Norcom.

Then, Harriet found a great hiding place. Harriet's maternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow had been freed during the American Revolution. Unfortunately, on her way to Florida, she had been captured by slave traders and resold into slavery. She regained her freedom in 1828. Molly's house had a small crawlspace over a shed that had been added onto the residence. It was seven feet wide and nine feet long. The compartment had a bed on the floor for Harriet to lie on. The slope roof, which was only three feet high at one point, wouldn't allow her to roll over. The area had no window. Harriet lay in the dark hiding place while mice and rats crawled over her.

Samuel Sawyer had managed to buy the couple's children from Dr. Norcom without his knowledge. Joseph and Louisa came to live in their great-grandmother's home. Harriet could lie in the dark crawlspace and watch her children play through a hole she had drilled in the wall. Harriet couldn't take the chance of being found by Dr. Norcom. She lived in the crawlspace for six years and eleven months, coming out only at night for exercise.

Harriet escaped from her tortured existence in 1842. She boarded a ship to Philadelphia, then took the train to New York City. Here, she met Louisa, who had been sent to her mother by Samuel. Harriet lived in New York for a time and then moved to Rochester to reunite with her brother, who was also an escaped slave. Here, she became involved in the abolitionist movement and met Frederick Douglas. She began writing for his newspaper, the "North Star."

Harriet's troubles were far from over. She fled to Massachusetts and then back to New York to avoid being recaptured by Dr. Norcom. Finally, a friend of Harriet's was able to persuade the doctor to sell her. Harriet was free at last. Harriet's friends coaxed her to write a book telling of her life as a slave. Harriet wrote, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." She was the first to write of the abuse inflicted on women slaves. She used the pen name Linda Brent to publish her book, in order to protect her grandmother and her children.

Harriet was actively involved in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War. While the war raged, she used her position as celebrity to raise money for black refugees. After the war, she worked to better the life of freed slaves. Harriet died in 1897 at the age of eighty-four.

Lydia Marie Child was the Editor of "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." She was also a writer and activist. She and Harriet became very close. Lydia pledged her life to the political, intellectual and civil rights of the oppressed. By publishing Harriet's book, she left us an accounting of a life of slavery that we might otherwise never have known about. Be sure to follow the link above to read Harriet's book online.

If you are interested in the decisions a slave had to make while traveling the Underground Railroad, be sure to visit the National Geographic's site and take THE JOURNEY. I found this site a few years ago and it is a fabulous way to learn more about the life of a slave and the Underground Railroad. I hope you've enjoyed learning about Harriet Jacobs and her life. Please visit both the sites I have linked to in order to learn more about Black History.

Not much other news from here today. I talked to Michelle on the phone and she is getting around well. She went up and down stairs today and she and Melissa are having fun together. The boys are having a ball with Griffyn. I know when Griffyn leaves to go home on Friday that he will miss the boys and they will really miss him. They are having lots of fun together and it's good for the boys to learn about babies.

If at all possible, be kind to someone today. Even a smile can make a big difference in a person's life. ~Blessings, Mary~


  1. Another great history lesson, thanks.

  2. Thank you, Mary, for all your Black History posts here. I've enjoyed reading them all. So much history I had forgotten. Old age, you know! :o) Nice to be reminded.


  3. Glad Michelle's doing well, Mary. :-)

    There's actually a plantation about 8 miles from here. Some of the slave quarters are still standing as well as the "big house". The whole plantation, including the land, was left as a trust for education and agricultural improvement. The slave cemetery is well kept and the black and white families with connections there have a reunion every year.

    Many people don't realize there were a great many WHITE slaves as well as black slaves.

    Have a great Wednesday, Mary.

    Love and hugs,


  4. Good Morning Mary,
    I so enjoyed reading about Harriet Jacobs. It is such a shame that she had to be abused especially by her own Father. I'm so glad she was able to escape and I know it had to be hard on her living in that crawlhole for 6 years. But, I guess the people had to do what they had to to survive back in those times. I have added some more Black History information on my blog today as well. I hope you will stop by when you have time. I also have somethings for you on there as well. I'm glad that Michelle is doing better and up and moving around some. I know her and Melissa and all the boys are having a great time being together. Take care my friend and have a great day. May God Bless You and Yours.

    Love & Hugs,
    Karen H.

  5. Hi Mary!!
    I will have to go out on Ebay or Abes Books and see if I can find a copy of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Wow, what a story. Those people like Harriet should be commended in ALL history for their lives and all they've dealt with. What a tragedy and yet, what encouraging strength they've taught us.

    I'm happy to hear that Michelle is doing well...but, what about her 'infected' areas...are they too somewhat better than before?

    Take care. Luvya bunches.

  6. Mary, I'm convinced you'd enjoy visiting Charleston, SC. It's so beautiful there and rich in history. I haven't forgotten your request for my mailing address in case you thought I was ignoring you. I'm losing my time on the computer as my daughter gets older. IKES!

  7. Good Morning Mary.... seems like forever since I had time to sit and read a while here.. When we are reminded of the brutality of the past we can avoid it in the future... You would think we would learn........ Glad to hear about Michelle and pray that her little sore spot heals up well....... Hard last few days here.. Much to do in the shop and Mother is back and forth to Dr's with her gout and now torn ham string in the other foot..... MRI tomorrow and then 24 hour urine test in the next few days......... anyway.. I always enjoy reading your stories... You are a dear friend and I pray that you have a peaceful day......

  8. Loved your post today. Thank you so much..

  9. Wonderful Story, I will follow the link and read more of Harriets book, I am intrigued. Thanks for sharing these great stories of slavery and the underground railroad. When I was a young girl we lived very near a house used for the RR. It was in Holmes County, Ohio. I was very interested because this house was in all our history books. The fortitude of those enduring the abuse amazes me. Thanks for sharing :)

  10. Thanks for the lovely history lesson. I'm so glad Michelle is doing better and that she and Melissa are enjoying their time together with Griffyn.
    Hugs and blessings,

  11. Another great read and History lesson. Thank You for doing this. I've enjoyed them.
    How is Michelle doing?
    Have a blessed day.

  12. Thank you for the history lesson Mary, it was fascinating.

  13. Hello dear Mary:-)

    So glad to hear that Michelle is doing so much better...praying that it continues to go so well for her.

    I so enjoyed reading the story you posted today...one can't even imagine what those slaves lived through. It truly makes me heart sick that they were treated worse than animals. But, thanks to some like Harriet, they survived to tell the story and started the abolishment of slavery!!

    I've just come in from running some errands and omigosh it's frigid out there today...-32c with the wind chill factor. Hope you're staying warm:-) xoxo

  14. Thanks so much for another great post. I just love coming here I learn so much.

    Glad Michelle is doing well.

  15. I love reading thes posts and learning so much!!We never know how much our smile can mean to someone!...Smiles

  16. Hi Mary. You are really a great history teacher! I am on Karen's computer out at her house!! Love it!! Love you Carolyn

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  18. Mary,

    Thank you for another fascinating story about Black History. These stories are so tragic, yet inspirational. If anyone doubts the courage and desire of the human spririt to persevere and to be free, they only have to look at all these stories about black Americans born into slavery who secured their freedom against the odds and then went on to help others.