Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

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Overview

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 ...
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Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
This is a new and enlarged edition of one of the classic female slave narratives. It includes not only the account, as first written by Harriet A. Jacobs in 1861, but a newly discovered autobiographical sketch, entitled "A True Tale of Slavery," by her brother, John S. Jacobs. He, like his sister Harriet, escaped from slavery; John was active as an abolitionist. Harriet A. Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1813. She was a house servant, and constantly fearful of sexual predation from her master. She bore two children by another man whom her master despised. Her plight was made worse by her master's wife, whose jealousy seemed to know no bounds. Finally she ran off, and hid for seven years in a narrow part of an attic. When the opportunity arose, she was able to flee north on a steamboat, with the cooperation of its sympathetic captain. This narrative is considered one of the great works of African American women's literature. It is a book that one cannot put down, a book that is immensely informative and inspiring, a book, which, like other classic slave narratives (e.g., John Brown's Slave Life in Georgia), demonstrates the resistance of slaves to every aspect of their enslavement. White readers may cringe, for they will see the criminality behind what is called Southern "heritage," and will be stirred by a recognition of the dignity that slaves maintained by active resistance and by refusing to be brainwashed. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000 (orig. 1987), Harvard Univ. Press, 336p, notes, index, 24cm, 99-088151, $16.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: John Rosser; Professor, Boston College,Chestnut Hill, MA, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
Library Journal
Published in 1861, this was one of the first personal narratives by a slave and one of the few written by a woman. Jacobs (1813-97) was a slave in North Carolina and suffered terribly, along with her family, at the hands of a ruthless owner. She made several failed attempts to escape before successfully making her way North, though it took years of hiding and slow progress. Eventually, she was reunited with her children. For all biography and history collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781141514755
  • Publisher: Nabu Press
  • Publication date: 1/10/2010
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Fagan Yellin is Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of English, Pace University.

Jean Fagan Yellin is Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of English, Pace University, the author of Harriet Jacobs: A Life, and the editor of The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers.

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Read an Excerpt

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Written by Herself
By Harriet A. Jacobs

Kessinger Publishing

Copyright © 2004 Harriet A. Jacobs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1419126253

Excerpt

Chapter One

Childhood.

I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away. My father was a carpenter, and considered so intelligent and skilful in his trade, that, when buildings out of the common line were to be erected, he was sent for from long distances, to be head workman. On condition of paying his mistress two hundred dollars a year, and supporting himself, he was allowed to work at his trade, and manage his own affairs. His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he several times offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded. In complexion my parents were a light shade of brownish yellow, and were termed mulattoes. They lived together in a comfortable home; and, though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment. I had one brother, William, who was two years younger than myself - a bright, affectionate child. I had also a great treasure in my maternal grandmother, who was a remarkable woman in many respects. She was the daughter of a planter inSouth Carolina, who, at his death, left her mother and his three children free, with money to go to St. Augustine, where they had relatives. It was during the Revolutionary War; and they were captured on their passage, carried back, and sold to different purchasers. Such was the story my grandmother used to tell me; but I do not remember all the particulars. She was a little girl when she was captured and sold to the keeper of a large hotel. I have often heard her tell how hard she fared during childhood. But as she grew older she evinced so much intelligence, and was so faithful, that her master and mistress could not help seeing it was for their interest to take care of such a valuable piece of property. She became an indispensable personage in the household, officiating in all capacities, from cook and wet nurse to seamstress. She was much praised for her cooking; and her nice crackers became so famous in the neighborhood that many people were desirous of obtaining them. In consequence of numerous requests of this kind, she asked permission of her mistress to bake crackers at night, after all the household work was done; and she obtained leave to do it, provided she would clothe herself and her children from the profits. Upon these terms, after working hard all day for her mistress, she began her midnight bakings, assisted by her two oldest children. The business proved profitable; and each year she laid by a little, which was saved for a fund to purchase her children. Her master died, and the property was divided among his heirs. The widow had her dower in the hotel, which she continued to keep open. My grandmother remained in her service as a slave; but her children were divided among her master's children. As she had five, Benjamin, the youngest one, was sold, in order that each heir might have an equal portion of dollars and cents. There was so little difference in our ages that he seemed more like my brother than my uncle. He was a bright, handsome lad, nearly white; for he inherited the complexion my grandmother had derived from Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Though only ten years old, seven hundred and twenty dollars were paid for him. His sale was a terrible blow to my grandmother; but she was naturally hopeful, and she went to work with renewed energy, trusting in time to be able to purchase some of her children. She had laid up three hundred dollars, which her mistress one day begged as a loan, promising to pay her soon. The reader probably knows that no promise or writing given to a slave is legally binding; for, according to Southern laws, a slave, being property, can hold no property. When my grandmother lent her hard earnings to her mistress, she trusted solely to her honor. The honor of a slaveholder to a slave!

To this good grandmother I was indebted for many comforts. My brother Willie and I often received portions of the crackers, cakes, and preserves, she made to sell; and after we ceased to be children we were indebted to her for many more important services.

Such were the unusually fortunate circumstances of my early childhood. When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother's mistress was the daughter of my grandmother's mistress. She was the foster sister of my mother; they were both nourished at my grandmother's breast. In fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food. They played together as children; and, when they became women, my mother was a most faithful servant to her whiter foster sister. On her death-bed her mistress promised that her children should never suffer for any thing; and during her lifetime she kept her word. They all spoke kindly of my dead mother, who had been a slave merely in name, but in nature was noble and womanly. I grieved for her, and my young mind was troubled with the thought who would now take care of me and my little brother. I was told that my home was now to be with her mistress; and I found it a happy one. No toilsome or disagreeable duties were imposed upon me. My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would permit. I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as free from care as that of any free-born white child. When she thought I was tired, she would send me out to run and jump; and away I bounded, to gather berries or flowers to decorate her room. Those were happy days - too happy to last. The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came that blight, which too surely waits on every human being born to be a chattel.

When I was nearly twelve years old, my kind mistress sickened and died. As I saw the cheek grow paler, and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I prayed in my heart that she might live! I loved her; for she had been almost like a mother to me. My prayers were not answered. She died, and they buried her in the little churchyard, where, day after day, my tears fell upon her grave.

I was sent to spend a week with my grandmother. I was now old enough to begin to think of the future; and again and again I asked myself what they would do with me. I felt sure I should never find another mistress so kind as the one who was gone. She had promised my dying mother that her children should never suffer for any thing; and when I remembered that, and recalled her many proofs of attachment to me, I could not help having some hopes that she had left me free. My friends were almost certain it would be so. They thought she would be sure to do it, on account of my mother's love and faithful service. But, alas! we all know that the memory of a faithful slave does not avail much to save her children from the auction block.

After a brief period of suspense, the will of my mistress was read, and we learned that she had bequeathed me to her sister's daughter, a child of five years old. So vanished our hopes. My mistress had taught me the precepts of God's Word: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor. I would give much to blot out from my memory that one great wrong. As a child, I loved my mistress; and, looking back on the happy days I spent with her, I try to think with less bitterness of this act of injustice. While I was with her, she taught me to read and spell; and for this privilege, which so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless her memory.

She possessed but few slaves; and at her death those were all distributed among her relatives. Five of them were my grandmother's children, and had shared the same milk that nourished her mother's children. Notwithstanding my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not one of her children escaped the auction block. These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend.



Continues...


Excerpted from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs Copyright © 2004 by Harriet A. Jacobs. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Childhood 8
The New Master and Mistress 11
The Slaves' New Year's Day 16
The Slave who dared to feel like a Man 17
The Trials of Girlhood 26
The Jealous Mistress 28
The Lover 33
What Slaves are taught to think of the North 39
Sketches of neighboring Slaveholders 41
A Perilous Passage in the Slave Girl's Life 47
The new Tie to Life 51
Fear of Insurrection 55
The Church and Slavery 59
Another Link to Life 65
Continued Persecutions 68
Scenes at the Plantation 73
The Flight 80
Months of Peril 83
The Children Sold 88
New Perils 92
The Loophole of Retreat 95
Christmas Festivities 98
Still in Prison 100
The Candidate for Congress 103
Competition in Cunning 105
Important Era in my Brother's Life 109
New Destination for the Children 113
Aunt Nancy 118
Preparations for Escape 122
Northward Bound 129
Incidents in Philadelphia 132
The Meeting of Mother and Daughter 135
A Home Found 138
The Old Enemy again 140
Prejudice Against Color 143
The Hairbreadth Escape 145
A Visit to England 149
Renewed Invitations to go South 151
The Confession 153
The Fugitive Slave Law 154
Free at Last 159
Appendix 165
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 406 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(191)

4 Star

(99)

3 Star

(67)

2 Star

(26)

1 Star

(23)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 408 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 10, 2010

    Surprised

    I chose the book because it was a great deal, and I figured this is a topic I could definitely stand to know more about; but I was surprised to find that Harriet Jacobs was a woman I felt I could relate to, regardless of the centuries and culture gap between us. She writes with passion and intelligence, and her revelations of the cruelty of the slave trade are tempered with anecdotes of familial love and the kindness of others who are sympathetic to the plight of the slaves. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl reads as easily as Jane Eyre and if you are interested in narratives involving slavery, women in the 1800's, or simply a story about someone who clings to the hope of a better life and will suffer almost anything to achieve it, this book is worth your time.

    43 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is the story of a true hero.

    Linda's story is one of the most inspiring stories that I have ever read. When I was done with this book I felt proud to be a woman of African descent. Though I still do not understand how something as foul as the institution of slavery could have been allowed to exist for so long, this story speaks of the unbreakable spirit of my ancestors, their unyielding drive to rise above their oppressors, their unwillingness to succumb if only in their minds and hearts to the absurd notion that they were just a piece of property.

    Linda's decision to focus on her children, educate them, and free them; her decision to let go of the unattainable idea of marriage in the presence of a predatory slave master speaks to her resilience, superb intellect, and the power of the human mind.

    This is an easy read though I had to stop a couple of times to wrap my mind around some of the atrocities being described.

    17 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2008

    The most compelling slave narrative I have read to date!

    I loved this book! This is the third slave narrative I have read this year, and this is the most compelling and endearing by far! The novel intertwined the narrative voice of a slave woman with the sense of sentimentality that was predominant in novels of the period. I would definitely recommend this novel to other readers of ethnically-influenced literature.

    16 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2009

    Reminder of History

    Easy read and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in America's past.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2006

    An Amazing Autobiography

    This is a book you can't put down. I was amazed how well written the book was. This is the true story of a women with integrity and decency who is forced to live a life of abuse, humiliation and fear. I gained an insight into slavery that I never had before.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2006

    Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs writing as Linda Brent

    I really enjoyed the book. I think that is crazy how someone can go through so much hardship and still have the courage to write about it and share it with the world. I like the intensity of the book and the commitment she had for getting her children and herself free, and how she went about doing it, how she became involved with another white man to get him to escape her own master and get the freedom she dreamed of.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2009

    Very enlightening and well written book

    When I purchased "Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl" I did not know what to expect. From the first few pages I was impressed with how well organized and easy to read the Narrative was. I highly recommend this book not just for those interested in books focusing on African American Studies, but for anyone interested in reading an original story of a Slave girl living in the anteblellum South. If you like Frederick Douglass's Narrartive, you certainly find Harriet Jocabs just as fascinating.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2006

    great book

    i had to read this for class i would read it again for leisure. the only reason i dont give it more stars is because the way it is written is more autobiographical though she fictionalizes her name so as not to point at her identity directly. but this is a great book about the life of a slave girl, right up there with douglas. though douglas's is better.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2011

    the Reality of Slavery in America

    This book is written by a woman who although born a "slave" in America was determined to have freedom and equality for herself and her children. She suffered many hardships and acts of cruelty towards herself and her children but never saw herself as a "victim." Indeed, she saw herself as an equal to all other women and even to men! She was intelligent and blessed with wisdom and foresight and much of her life was spent trying to obtain freedom for herself and her children. This book is a "must read" for those who believe that slaves in America were treated as "children" and "family" by their masters. It is a strong reality check of what the truth was back then and gives insight into the strength and power of love for God, oneself and real family.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2006

    GOOD BOOK

    i had to read this book for school and i really liked it!!!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2010

    one of the most intriguing characters I have ever read about

    what a mother won't do for her children. how very sad a story of life during slavery and the treachery that was bestowed on a race of people.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

    Gives An Incite of slavery

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as it gave me a better understanding of what atrocities and sufferings slaves had to deal with. Even when they risked their lives to travel up North, and when they arrived there they were still treated with such indignities. It was even more compelling at how a black woman at this time was able to put into words her story and to have it published; that was, at that time, unheard of. Especially knowing it was against the law for a black person to learn to read or write.

    I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to get a better understanding of this horrific time in US history

    CL10801

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    Amazingly written account

    I truly treasure this piece. Harriet Jacobs is eloquent and altogether bewitching in her narrative. I could not put it down. This is for certain one of my favorite books of all time. For me, I found her tone, narrative, and description just right. It is an important book that I think should be required for middle school students to read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2010

    Absolutely amazing.

    This was a hard one to put down. As a mother, I could truly relate to just how powerful and motivating a mother's love for her children can be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2009

    Amazing historical value, as well as an easy and enchanting read

    Harriet Jacobs writes to us from a place in history most of us have never been exposed to. Without such notable classics with which to enlighten our limited experience, none of us would be able to continue conversing upon controversial subject matter as we pull forward into this century. My immediate response when I turned the last page was...'oh, wish I had not read so swiftly!!'...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    A Memorable and Horrifyingly Realistic Read

    Human bondage is a scar on our nation¿s history. It tore through the land of America as wildfire would thrash ravenously through sun-dried hills during summer. Yet, despite the complaints of slavery sprinkled throughout the history books of our contemporary era, nothing can be a more wretchedly vibrant window into the procedure of slavery than a first-hand account. `Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl¿ has the remarkably real abilities of a fictitious time machine, transporting the reader back through the centuries to the desolate routine of one whose spirit has been tied by the will of another, an equal human. Throughout the course of the book, the reader is acquainted with the characters, and forms a virtual friendship with such heroes of the fictitiously represented past. A must read for those eager to view the past through real, human eyes, `Incidents¿ will forever grace your bookshelf with vivid memories, and the inspiring story of good finally triumphing over a heartless, evil grasp.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2008

    Wonderful

    This is such an exquisite read. I finished it in less than a day because I couldn't put it down. Marvelous!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2013

    Very good read!

    Offers an insight on the slave's point of view. A bit hard to take in at times, though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2014

    Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!

    Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!

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  • Posted January 25, 2014

    A compelling read--you won't be disappointed.

    This was one of the most well written books regarding slavery that I have ever read. You are hearing the story through the life of one slave who wanted nothing more than freedom for herself and later on, for her children. I was saddened by the cruelty of mankind even though I have always known there was a great deal of cruelty dealt out to the slave(s) from their "owner".
    I admire this woman's bravery and perseverance so very much, I have to ask myself this question--Would I have had the courage to do the same and could I have loved enough to endure the horrendous conditions that she did? If you read this slave's story you will be asking yourself some of the same questions and admiring this woman more with every turn of the page.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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