Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Book rating: 05 Paperback Dover Thrift Editions

By (author) Harriet Jacobs

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  • Publisher: Dover Publications Inc.
  • Format: Paperback | 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 130mm x 206mm x 13mm | 136g
  • Publication date: 28 December 2001
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0486419312
  • ISBN 13: 9780486419312
  • Edition: New edition
  • Edition statement: New edition
  • Sales rank: 17,329

Product description

Reprint of the 1861 text which is cited in Books for College Libraries, 3d ed. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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By Wayne S. Walker 02 Jul 2013 5

This autobiographical account by a former slave is one of the first personal narratives by a slave and one of the few extant narratives written by a woman. Written and published in 1861, it delivers a powerful portrayal of the brutality of slave life. Harriet Jacobs (1813-97), who was a slave in North Carolina and suffered terribly, along with her family, at the hands of a ruthless owner, speaks frankly of her master's abuse and her eventual escape, in a tale of dauntless spirit and faith. She made several failed attempts to escape before successfully making her way North, although it took years of hiding and slow progress. Eventually, she was reunited with her children.

Without telling the whole story here, Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in Edenton, NC, in 1813 In 1825, Margaret Horniblow died and willed the twelve-year-old Harriet to Horniblow's five-year-old niece. The girl's father, Dr. James Norcom, called "Dr. Flint" in the book, became Harriet's de facto master. Norcom sexually harassed Harriet. Hoping to escape his attentions, Jacobs took Samuel Sawyer, a free single white lawyer, as a consensual lover, with whom she had two children, Joseph and Louisa. By 1835 her domestic situation had become unbearable, and Harriet deftly managed to escape, hiding in the home of a sympathetic slaveowner in Edenton to keep an eye on her children. After a short stay, she took refuge in a swamp called Cabarrus Pocosin. She then hid in a crawl space above a shack in her grandmother Molly's home for seven years before escaping by boat to Philadelphia, PA, in 1842. From there she went to New York in September 1845, and then to Boston to visit with her daughter, son and brother for ten months. In 1861, under the penname Linda Brent, she penned this book to encourage Northern women to speak out against the evils of slavery and support the war effort to end it.

The book was published in 1861 through the efforts of Maria Child, an abolitionist who edited the manuscript and wrote an introduction to it. It had its origin in a series of letters that Jacobs wrote between 1853 and 1861 to her friends in the abolitionist movement, notably a woman named Amy Post. Historically, there was some doubt about the authorship of the book and about the authenticity of the incidents it records, but these doubts have largely been put to rest by the discovery of the letters. The story has been "romanticized" by the use of pseudonyms to protect the privacy of individuals, but those involved claim that the incidents recounted in the narrative are "no fiction." It is not for small children. The "d" word is used several times in quotations, along with a few instances of taking the Lord's name in vain. Jacobs does not shy away from exposing the brutality of slavery and the immorality of many slave holders, though the material is presented delicately. She also reveals her own culpability in the affair with Sawyer but express great sorrow and shame for her wrong. However, it is a great source of firsthand historical material for teens and adults regarding the effects of slavery.

Editorial reviews

Reprint of the 1861 text which is cited in Books for College Libraries, 3d ed. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Back cover copy

The true story of an individual's struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North. Written and published in 1861 after Jacobs' harrowing escape from a vile and predatory master, the memoir delivers a powerful and unflinching portrayal of the abuses and hypocrisy of the master-slave relationship. Jacobs writes frankly of the horrors she suffered as a slave, her eventual escape after several unsuccessful attempts, and her seven years in self-imposed exile, hiding in a coffin-like "garret" attached to her grandmother's porch. A rare firsthand account of a courageous woman's determination and endurance, this inspirational story also represents a valuable historical record of the continuing battle for freedom and the preservation of family.