Title: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Author: Harriet Jacobs
Challenge: The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (Biographies)
This was the most remarkable story I have ever read regarding slavery in America. With the exception of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I have only read accounts of slavery from a man's perspective; but Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is about a young woman's experience - a mother's experience - so it was personal.
Harriet Jacobs, although biracial (which was extremely common in slavery), was born into slavery because her mother was a slave, and the law considered the children to be in the same condition as the mother. She had such a pleasant upbringing living with her parents and brother that she had no idea she was enslaved. When her mother died, she lived with her mother's mistress, who taught her to read, write, and sew. And when her mistress died, she became the property of her mistress' five-year old niece. But it was her young mistress' father, Dr. James Norcom, who emotionally tormented and sexually harassed Jacobs. This was the reason Jacobs came to desire freedom for the first time, and this became the pressing issue to make her story public - to bring light to the sins and crimes of slavery that burden young female slaves.
Thinking she could fend off Norcom's exploits, Jacob became sexually involved with a white lawyer, Samuel Sawyer, who was kind to her. Jacobs took responsibility for her poor choices, but felt pressured into immorality because of her circumstances; it was a very painful decision for her to make. She had two children with Sawyer, and because of the law, those children became the property of Dr. Norcom, who consistently threatened Jacobs with the sale of her children if she did not succumb to his requests.
|Harriet Jacobs (1813 - 1897)|
I had my secret hopes; but I must fight my battle alone. I had a woman's pride, and a mother's love for my children; and I resolved that out of the darkness of this hour a brighter dawn should rise for them. My master had power and the law on his side; I had a determined will. There is might in each.Now that Jacobs was a mother, her life and purpose changed completely. This determined and sagacious young women rose to the occasion and challenged injustice and inhumanity for the sake of her children and her right to liberty. Surrounded by family and friends who absolutely loved her, and complete strangers who risked their own lives to help her, Jacobs made the decision to escape slavery and save her children. (By the way, I love how God provided all of these people to help Jacobs. Even in the North, where a different form of racism existed, there were still people desirous to assist her.) Her long journey was so exhausting, you will be shocked to learn what she suffered to gain freedom for herself and her children. As she wholeheartedly believed: "...liberty is more valuable than life."
Harriet Jacobs is my new hero. She conducted herself with godly character and used prudence and good judgment to make difficult decisions, even when she knew the law was wrong. She was a fierce protector of her children, and was motivated by pure love to save them. And as she was a lover of righteousness and liberty, her pride enabled her to be courageous and bold.
On slavery, Jacobs said,
I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.I would encourage anyone interested in the personal narrations of American slavery not to pass up this story. Yes, the subject matter is shocking, heart wrenching, unsettling, and difficult, but it is also unreservedly encouraging and triumphant. It inspires perseverance, prudence, justice, righteousness, loyalty, hope, and love; and it has a perfectly joyful ending. This is one story I will cherish forever.