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Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

4.1 450
by Harriet Jacobs

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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.

Product Details

Simon & Brown
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)

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


Chapter One


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.


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.

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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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Illustrated + FREE audiobook link + Active TOC) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 450 reviews.
sybil_rising More than 1 year ago
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.
Mummbles45 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Lexus More than 1 year ago
Easy read and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in America's past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Lady-of-the-Word More than 1 year ago
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.
Tomika Roberson More than 1 year ago
This is a must read!!! I loved reading this book! It was very interesting to read how this courageous woman was willing to risk her life by standing up for herself and her children. She took great risks and came near death a few times to obtain her freedom; to live in a space where you are barely ble to move for as long as she did is an unthinkable act. She kept her faith in God and because of that she was able to obtain her freedom gor herself and children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i had to read this book for school and i really liked it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
penned More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very well written! It was a very sad story, and gave the reader insight into what it was like to grow up as an African slave in the South during one of the darkest times in American history. I would suggest to those who are interested in purchasing this book that they are at a more advanced level of reading. Great book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
marissajz More than 1 year ago
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.
LaToya Hall More than 1 year ago
I realy appreciated this woman's heart wrenching story. I had a hard time puting my nok down. THE ONLY COMPLAINT i have is that the copy was a bit bad. There were many mispelled word...I mean it was so bad that you really werent able to guess what the word was. Other than that I wouls recommend. I LOVE CLASSICS and am only sorry that I didnt read this sooner.
Sofia_NW More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed and it was one of the 1st books I got for my nook. I needed it to write a paper for school and usually books you have to read are boring. This one was really enjoyable. Just still need to work out how to cite this source from the nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Evana More than 1 year ago
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!!'...
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such an exquisite read. I finished it in less than a day because I couldn't put it down. Marvelous!
Lorianna1129 More than 1 year ago
Offers an insight on the slave's point of view. A bit hard to take in at times, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a book that you well for sure pass the author on to your friends
Chioma Aso More than 1 year ago
I love this book. Couldn't drop it. A must read!
Anonymous 7 months ago
The reality of the suffering slavery brought about is a disgrace to the human race. My heart ached so much for the mothers and their babies. To have no say so what so ever to live life as a person just because of color. I can not understand why this was so.