Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a slave narrative that was published in 1861 by Harriet Ann Jacobs, using the pen name "Linda Brent." The book is an in-depth chronological account of Jacobs's life as a slave, and the decisions and choices she made to gain freedom for herself and her children. It addresses the struggles and sexual abuse that young women slaves faced on the plantations, and how these struggles were harsher than what men suffered as slaves. The book is considered sentimental and written to provoke an emotional response and sympathy from the reader toward slavery in general and slave women in particular for their struggles with rape, the pressure to have sex at an early age, the selling of their children, and the treatment of female slaves by their mistresses. Jacobs began composing Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl while living and working at Idlewild, the Hudson River home of writer and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis, who was fictionalized in the book as Mr. Bruce. Portions of the book were published in serial form in the New-York Tribune, owned and edited by Horace Greeley. Jacobs's reports of sexual abuse were considered too shocking to the average newspaper reader of the day, and publication ceased before the completion of the narrative. Boston publishing house Phillips and Samson agreed to print the work in book form if Jacobs could convince Willis or Harriet Beecher Stowe to provide a preface. She refused to ask Willis for help and Stowe turned her down, though the Phillips and Samson company closed anyway. She eventually managed to sign an agreement with the Thayer & Eldridge publishing house and they requested a preface by Lydia Maria Child. Child also edited the book and the company introduced her to Jacobs. The two women remained in contact for much of their remaining lives. Thayer & Eldridge, however, declared bankruptcy before the narrative could be published.
him nine hundred dollars for my brother William, and eight hundred for the two children. These were high prices, as slaves were then selling; but the offer was rejected. If it had been merely a question of money, the doctor would have sold any boy of Benny’s age for two hundred dollars; but he could not bear to give up the power of revenge. But he was hard pressed for money, and he revolved the matter in his mind. He knew that if he could keep Ellen till she was fifteen, he could sell her for a
be glad to see him! Why don’t you and uncle Phillip, and all of us, go and live where mother is? I should like it; wouldn’t you, Ellen?” “Yes, I should like it,” replied Ellen; “but how could we find her? Do you know the place, grandmother? I don’t remember how mother looked—do you, Benny?” Benny was just beginning to describe me when they were interrupted by an old slave woman, a near neighbor, named Aggie. This poor creature had witnessed the sale of her children, and seen them carried off to
arrangements were made for her to go on board the vessel the next night. They both supposed that I had long been at the north, therefore my name was not mentioned in the transaction. Fanny was carried on board at the appointed time, and stowed away in a very small cabin. This accommodation had been purchased at a price that would pay for a voyage to England. But when one proposes to go to fine old England, they stop to calculate whether they can afford the cost of the pleasure; while in making a
SPRING, SAD news came to me. Mrs. Bruce was dead. Never again, in this world, should I see her gentle face, or hear her sympathizing voice. I had lost an excellent friend, and little Mary had lost a tender mother. Mr. Bruce wished the child to visit some of her mother’s relatives in England, and he was desirous that I should take charge of her. The little motherless one was accustomed to me, and attached to me, and I thought she would be happier in my care than in that of a stranger. I could also
235. 12 Robanna Sumrell Knott, “Harriet Jacobs,” 56, 78. All the enslaved would have been considered to be Negroes, but their number would also include people of European and American Indian descent. 13 John S. Jacobs, “A True Tale of Slavery,” 256. 14 Robanna Sumrell Knott, “Harriet Jacobs,” 128. 15 According to Jean Fagan Yellin (Incidents, 268), Samuel Tredwell Sawyer died in 1865; in this instance, I have followed Robanna Sumrell Knott (“Harriet Jacobs,” 114), who adds that Sawyer is