JACOBS, HARRIET ANN
Born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, around 1813, Harriet Ann Jacobs authored her 1861 autobiographical slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Although subtitled “Written by Herself, ” the autobiography was long assumed to be fictitious or ghostwritten, perhaps authored by the well-known white feminist abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, who is named as editor on the book's original title page. In the 1980s, the feminist scholar Jean Fagan Yellin authenticated Jacobs's narrative and authorship, providing detailed documentation of the actual names of individuals and places Jacobs wrote about in Incidents.
In early childhood, Jacobs lived a relatively sheltered life under the protection of her father, a carpenter who hired his own time from his owner, and her maternal grandmother, a freed slave who operated a bakery in her home. At age six, following her mother's death, Jacobs went to live with her mistress, who bequeathed her to a niece. Jacobs was subjected to unrelenting sexual harassment at the hands of her young mistress's father, Dr. James Norcom. Rather than become his concubine, Jacobs entered into a willing sexual liaison with a white neighbor, Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, who was later elected to the U.S. Congress. Sawyer fathered Jacobs's two children, Joseph and Louisa Matilda.
Determined to secure freedom for herself and her children, Jacobs ran away in the hopes that her absence would induce Norcom to sell her children to Sawyer, which he did. For almost seven years, Jacobs hid in a crawl space above the storage room in her grandmother's house. In 1842, Jacobs escaped north and was reunited with her daughter, whom Sawyer had sent to live in Brooklyn. In New York, she found domestic work in the home of Nathaniel Parker Willis. She sent her son to Boston to live with her brother John S. Jacobs, an escaped slave and