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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

évaluations:
4.5/5 (32 évaluations)
Longueur:
282 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
Jan 15, 2019
ISBN:
9781974939237
Format:
Livre

Description

Harriet Ann Jacob’s autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” documents her life as a slave and how she attained freedom for herself and her children. Harrowing in its descriptions of sexual abuse, Jacob’s slave narrative is notable for its appeal to abolitionist women to open their eyes to the realities of slavery. Deemed too shocking for reading audiences at the time, the book was shelved for a time before it was published in 1861 near the start of the Civil War.
Sortie:
Jan 15, 2019
ISBN:
9781974939237
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813–1897) was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker and reformer. Her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was one of the first slave narratives to explore female slaves’ struggles with sexual harassment and abuse and described their efforts to protect themselves and their children.


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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Ann Jacobs

Child

I. 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 in South 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 anything; 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 on 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 anything; 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.

II. The New Master and Mistress

Dr. Flint, a physician in the neighborhood, had married the sister of my mistress, and I was now the property of their little daughter. It was not without murmuring that I prepared for my new home; and what added to my unhappiness, was the fact that my brother William was purchased by the same family. My father, by his nature, as well as by the habit of transacting business as a skillful mechanic, had more of the feelings of a freeman than is common among slaves. My brother was a spirited boy; and being brought up under such influences, he daily detested the name of master and mistress. One day, when his father and his mistress both happened to call him at the same time, he hesitated between the two; being perplexed to know which had the strongest claim upon his obedience. He finally concluded to go to his mistress. When my father reproved him for it, he said, You both called me, and I didn't know which I ought to go to first.

"You are my child, replied our father, and when I call you, you should come immediately, if you have to pass through fire and water."

Poor Willie! He was now to learn his first lesson of obedience to a master. Grandmother tried to cheer us with hopeful words, and they found an echo in the credulous hearts of youth.

When we entered our new home we encountered cold looks, cold words, and cold treatment. We were glad when the night came. On my narrow bed I moaned and wept, I felt so desolate and alone.

I had been there nearly a year, when a dear little friend of mine was buried. I heard her mother sob, as the clods fell on the coffin of her only child, and I turned away from the grave, feeling thankful that I still had something left to love. I met my grandmother, who said, Come with me, Linda; and from her tone I knew that something sad had happened. She led me apart from the people, and then said, My child, your father is dead. Dead! How could I believe it? He had died so suddenly I had not even heard that he was sick. I went home with my grandmother. My heart rebelled against God, who had taken from me mother, father, mistress, and friend. The good grandmother tried to comfort me. Who knows the ways of God? said she. Perhaps they have been kindly taken from the evil days to come. Years afterwards I often thought of this. She promised to be a mother to her grandchildren, so far as she might be permitted to do so; and strengthened by her love, I returned to my master's. I thought I should be allowed to go to my father's house the next morning; but I was ordered to go for flowers, that my mistress's house might be decorated for an evening party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me. What cared my owners for that? he was merely a piece of property. Moreover, they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they were human beings. This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to teach; presumptuous in him, and dangerous to the masters.

The next day I followed his remains to a humble grave beside that of my dear mother. There were those who knew my father's worth, and respected his memory.

My home now seemed more dreary than ever. The laugh of the little slave-children sounded harsh and cruel. It was selfish to feel so about the joy of others. My brother moved about with a very grave face. I tried to comfort him, by saying, Take courage, Willie; brighter days will come by and by.

You don't know anything about it, Linda, he replied. We shall have to stay here all our days; we shall never be free.

I argued that we were growing older and stronger, and that perhaps we might, before long, be allowed to hire our own time, and then we could earn money to buy our freedom. William declared this was much easier to say than to do; moreover, he did not intend to buy his freedom. We held daily controversies upon this subject.

Little attention was paid to the slaves' meals in Dr. Flint's house. If they could catch a bit of food while it was going, well and good. I gave myself no trouble on that score, for on my various errands I passed my grandmother's house, where there was always something to spare for me. I was frequently threatened with punishment if I stopped there; and my grandmother, to avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with something for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to her for all my comforts, spiritual or temporal. It was her labor that supplied my scanty wardrobe. I have a vivid recollection of the linsey-woolsey dress given me every winter by Mrs. Flint. How I hated it! It was one of the badges of slavery.

While my grandmother was thus helping to support me from her hard earnings, the three hundred dollars she had lent her mistress were never repaid. When her mistress died, her son-in-law, Dr. Flint, was appointed executor. When grandmother applied to him for payment, he said the estate was insolvent, and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him from retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that money. I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation to generation.

My grandmother's mistress had always promised her that, at her death, she should be free; and it was said that in her will she made good the promise. But when the estate was settled, Dr. Flint told the faithful old servant that, under existing circumstances, it was necessary she should be sold.

On the appointed day, the customary advertisement was posted up, proclaiming that there would be a public sale of negroes, horses, &c. Dr. Flint called to tell my grandmother that he was unwilling to wound her feelings by putting her up at auction, and that he would prefer to dispose of her at private sale. My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy; she understood very well that he was ashamed of the job. She was a very spirited woman, and if he was base enough to sell her, when her mistress intended she should be free, she was determined the public should know it. She had for a long time supplied many families with crackers and preserves; consequently, Aunt Marthy, as she was called, was generally known, and everybody who knew her respected her intelligence and good character. Her long and faithful service in the family was also well known, and the intention of her mistress to leave her free. When the day of sale came, she took her place among the chattels, and at the first call she sprang upon the auction-block. Many voices called out, "Shame! Shame! Who is going to sell you, aunt Marthy? Don't stand there! That is no place for you. Without saying a word, she quietly awaited her fate. No one bid for her. At last, a feeble voice said, Fifty dollars." It came from a maiden lady, seventy years old, the sister of my grandmother's deceased mistress. She had lived forty years under the same roof with my grandmother; she knew how faithfully she had served her owners, and how cruelly she had been defrauded of her rights; and she resolved to protect her. The auctioneer waited for a higher bid; but her wishes were respected; no one bid above her. She could neither read nor write; and when the bill of sale was made out, she signed it with a cross. But what consequence was that, when she had a big heart overflowing with human kindness? She gave the old servant her freedom.

At that time, my grandmother was just fifty years old. Laborious years had passed since then; and now my brother and I were slaves to the man who had defrauded her of her money, and tried to defraud her of her freedom. One of my mother's sisters, called Aunt Nancy, was also a slave in his family. She was a kind, good aunt to me; and supplied the place of both housekeeper and waiting maid to her mistress. She was, in fact, at the beginning and end of everything.

Mrs. Flint, like many southern women, was totally deficient in energy. She had not strength to superintend her household affairs; but her nerves were so strong, that she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash. She was a member of the church; but partaking of the Lord's supper did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind. If dinner was not served at the exact time on that particular Sunday, she would station herself in the kitchen, and wait till it was dished, and then spit in all the kettles and pans that had been used for cooking. She did this to prevent the cook and her children from eking out their meagre fare with the remains of the gravy and other scrapings. The slaves could get nothing to eat except what she chose to give them. Provisions were weighed out by the pound and ounce, three times a day. I can assure you she gave them no chance to eat wheat bread from her flour barrel. She knew how many biscuits a quart of flour would make, and exactly what size they ought to be.

Dr. Flint was an epicure. The cook never sent a dinner to his table without fear and trembling; for if there happened to be a dish not to his liking, he would either order her to be whipped, or compel her to eat every mouthful of it in his presence. The poor, hungry creature might not have objected to eating it; but she did object to having her master cram it down her throat till she choked.

They had a pet dog, that was a nuisance in the house. The cook was ordered to make some Indian mush for him. He refused to eat, and when his head was held over it, the froth flowed from his mouth into the basin. He died a few minutes after. When Dr. Flint came in, he said the mush had not been well cooked, and that was the reason the animal would not eat it. He sent for the cook, and compelled her to eat it. He thought that the woman's stomach was stronger than the dog's; but her sufferings afterwards proved that he was mistaken. This poor woman endured many cruelties from her master and mistress; sometimes she was locked up, away from her nursing baby, for a whole day and night.

When I had been in the family a few weeks, one of the plantation slaves was brought to town, by order of his master. It was near night when he arrived, and Dr. Flint ordered him to be taken to the work house, and tied up to the joist, so that his feet would just escape the ground. In that situation he was to wait till the doctor had taken his tea. I shall never forget that night. Never before, in my life, had I heard hundreds of blows fall; in succession, on a human being. His piteous groans, and his O, pray don't, massa, rang in my ear for months afterwards. There were many conjectures as to the cause of this terrible punishment. Some said master accused him of stealing corn; others said the slave had quarrelled with his wife, in presence of the overseer, and had accused his master of being the father of her child. They were both black, and the child was very fair.

I went into the work house next morning, and saw the cowhide still wet with blood, and the boards all covered with gore. The poor man lived, and continued to quarrel with his wife. A few months afterwards Dr. Flint handed them both over to a slave-trader. The guilty man put their value into his pocket, and had the satisfaction of knowing that they were out of sight and hearing. When the mother was delivered into the trader's hands, she said. "You promised to treat me well. To which he replied, You have let your tongue run too far; damn you!" She had forgotten that it was a crime for a slave to tell who was the father of her child.

From others than the master persecution also comes in such cases. I once saw a young slave girl dying soon after the birth of a child nearly white. In her agony she cried out, O Lord, come and take me! Her mistress stood by, and mocked at her like an incarnate fiend. You suffer, do you? she exclaimed. I am glad of it. You deserve it all, and more too.

The girl's mother said, The baby is dead, thank God; and I hope my poor child will soon be in heaven, too.

Heaven! retorted the mistress. There is no such place for the like of her and her bastard.

The poor mother turned away, sobbing. Her dying daughter called her, feebly, and as she bent over her, I heard her say, Don't grieve so, mother; God knows all about it; and HE will have mercy upon me.

Her sufferings, afterwards, became so intense, that her mistress felt unable to stay; but when she left the room, the scornful smile was still on her lips. Seven children called her mother. The poor black woman had but the one child, whose eyes she saw closing in death, while she thanked God for taking her away from the greater bitterness of life.

III. The Slaves' New Year's Day

Dr. Flint owned a fine residence in town, several farms, and about fifty slaves, besides hiring a number by the year.

Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2d, the slaves are expected to go to their new masters. On a farm, they work until the corn and cotton are laid. They then have two holidays. Some masters give them a good dinner under the trees. This over, they work until Christmas eve. If no heavy charges are meantime brought against them, they are given four or five holidays, whichever the master or overseer may think proper. Then comes New Year's eve; and they gather together their little alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait anxiously for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear their doom pronounced. The slave is sure to know who is the most humane, or cruel master, within forty miles of him.

It is easy to find out, on that day, who clothes and feeds his slaves well; for he is surrounded by a crowd, begging, "Please, massa, hire me this year. I will work very hard, massa."

If a slave is unwilling to go with his new master, he is whipped, or locked up in jail, until he consents to go, and promises not to run away during the year. Should he chance to change his mind, thinking it justifiable to violate an extorted promise, woe unto him if he is caught! The whip is

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  • (4/5)
    Gutwrenching and sincere. Expertly pulled together.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book, it was very accessible and expected a reasonable amount of intelligence from readers. :-) Jacobs has a wry sense of humor in the face of a blatant and systemic injustice.
  • (5/5)
    I gave this book five stars for a couple of reasons: it is five star hellish, it is five star storytelling. There are parts of her life story that I won't soon forget.
  • (3/5)
    enjoyed it, found it rather eye-opening as much as slavery stories can be for someone who's taken a bunch of decent american history classes, but I do wish it could be re-written for a different audience, because I found her constantly pleading tone a bit much, after awhile.
  • (3/5)
    For the most part, stories like this are not ones that I read willingly. I am not someone who follows after those persecuted and who have gone through many hardships that are based on reality because, like everyone else, I have enough hardships and things in my own life that I have to deal with. I read usually to get away from reality, and to expand the creativity and horizons of my imaginative mind. Nevertheless, I will give credit where credit is due, and although I did not love this story--for how could anyone love a tale of such great wrongs and horrors?--I respect it and truly was able to find my way through it without having the usual obscenities and injustices of slavery shoved down my throat.

    I speak harshly, and many people would resent me for that. I don't deny that many people still are vulgar enough not to take matters like this seriously, and there is no way that I wouldn't take the cruelties of this to heart and advocate every right of every person ever enslaved in this country to shout their experiences and rights, and rub them in the faces of those who would ignore them. My own personal feelings are biased because of my education, where too often I had tales like this shoved daily down my throat in every literature class when all I wanted to do was to read something that would cater to my child-like imagination. I almost never received it.

    Harriet Jacobs account of her own life experiences are a blessing to people like us, who never had to experience what she went through, and yet could face every single ounce of the horrors and injuries that she bore as she strove for her freedom, for her children's freedom, and for the safety of those around her who helped where help was least expected. It is an account that gives insight, that rumbles onwards with defiant and knowledgeable experience, and shows us all the things that a woman must go through when she is faced with the circumstance of slavery. And while fiendish, while cruel, while vile and disgusting--everything that Jacobs gave us was an account that awoke in us the ability to acknowledge what she went through, without being turned away by the grotesque descriptions of things already too well known. At least, in my part, too often thrown in my face.

    I appreciated Jacobs for that, for writing something that for once did not try to force its way into my head and fill my mind with things that contaminated it more than educated it. Should the truth be concealed from us? Absolutely not! Can the truth be harsh? Of course it can. But thank the blessed Lord that someone had the decency to tell us her story without blatantly describing the--*Shudders*--the WORDS that planted slimy, obscene thoughts in a young girl's skull, or the way she was TOUCHED... *Turns away her face in disgust and horror* PLEASE. Do I understand that that's what some women went through in slavery and that it was horrible? YES. I DO. But God help me! All the absolutely base things that were written and described that I NEVER wanted to have to entertain! A child is smart enough to know when and what horrors lurk in words even when those acts of vileness are not described and only hinted at. Jacobs either could not bear to recount those things to us out of her own unwillingness to relive them in such graphic detail, or she was kind enough to spare us the horror of what she went through in order to give us the greater message: that she STROVE for her freedom, because she knew it was a God-given right to her and her children, and by keeping faith, by doing her very best and being an honorable, determined, persevering woman, she achieved something that should have been hers from the very beginning. It is a success story unlike so many others, and one well worth listening to.

    For that discretion alone, and her magnificent character, I would give the book the highest rating, but I cannot lie and say it was amazing when I felt nothing of that feeling evoked in me throughout its pages. Yet, in comparison to the other books I have read on the subject, this one far outdoes the others. Some would say blasphemy! That I'm a coward and a poltroon, who cannot handle the truth. I tell them if they want to eat up all those disgusting details of others' sufferings, then go right ahead! I honor and respect the woman with enough discretion to CARE about what she reveals, and who still finds a way to leave us with the unblemished truths to think about while saving us from the tortures of her own experiences. It doesn't undermine them. Not one bit. It only heightens my respect and admiration for her, and though this has been written so long, long ago, I wish I could go up to her and shake her hand, with tears in my eyes. Because for this woman, no words are enough to express the joy I feel for her, and what she finally was able to receive in this life.

    It's a good book. Is it fantastic? Like I said, something like this cannot be fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. It was, however, something I felt was worth the reading. On that note, if you would enjoy something written upon the subject matters it touches--slavery, oppressed women, and the like--then it's recommended. Pick it up. It's good for a read.
  • (5/5)
    A must read! A first hand account of what kidnapped/enslaved Africans went through during slavery, this woman in particular. Even when she went to the free states she encountered bigotry. To know that you were born into a land, forced to labor for this land, and be treated worse than the immigrants who came to America on purpose, would have made anyone angry at everyone.The courage this woman had to pursue what she wanted and needed for herself and her children is inspiring.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book, it was very accessible and expected a reasonable amount of intelligence from readers. :-) Jacobs has a wry sense of humor in the face of a blatant and systemic injustice.
  • (5/5)
    This book moved me. The true life story of this womans fight for freedom, for not only herself and her children was more than she expected even in the Free North. I love that at although she tells her story, she is very polite about the whole thing and she never reveals too much, as a lady would never do that. It just goes to show how the times have changes.
  • (5/5)
    I was assigned this book in college and its made a powerful impression, especially since it was the first slave narrative I had read. I would later read Frederick Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom, and especially after reading that, the man is one of my greatest heroes, and that's one powerful book. Jacobs is certainly far less well known--I'd never heard of her before I was assigned the book--but this book packs as much as a wallop--particularly because as a woman, Jacobs was subject to an abuse that while I'm sure men weren't completely free of, was certainly not spoken of that I know about and I'm sure was much less common--sexual harassment and rape. Jacobs hit hard on a theme that I'd later see when I came to read to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: That one of the greatest crimes of slavery is that it robbed slaves of moral agency. Quite simply a slave could not say no. To anything. And Jacobs in her experiences and observations is able to underline that in ways no dry objective history could.
  • (5/5)
    Being a subscriber to Brown Girl Collective, a Facebook page that regularly features inspirational Black women in history, I happened upon the life story of Harriet Jacobs, a runaway slave. Learning she had written a book (under the pseudonym Linda Brent), I knew this was a must read and promptly got it from Amazon. When the book arrived, I opened its pages tentatively, and indeed, at first, I wasn't certain I could make it all the way through. Notwithstanding the uncomfortable topic, I steeled myself, and very soon I was unable to put this little gem of a book down. As I read, I kept thinking I couldn't believe it hadn't been made into a movie, because this true story has it all: an engrossing story that keeps the reader on pins and needles; intriguing personalities, including the indomitable Harriet; and the backdrop of a society so sick and depraved in nature that it took its toll on all involved.In all my years, I have never read a real-life slave account, and I fully expected this story to be rather dry and unappealing. Instead, I was treated to a tale that rivals any of the best novels I've ever read. Harriet tells her story with such heart, the reader can feel the pain, anger, fear, and despair she endured for years. Even fully aware of her ultimate fate before I started reading (she manages to make it North as a runaway), I still found myself worried and anxious as I read. Her journey to freedom is anything but a straight line, and the events leading to her freedom are fraught with tension and suspense. Fiction could not be any better.Then, there are the personalities that populate the story. There's Harriet herself, a proudly stubborn girl who refuses to give into her master and is determined to secure both her and her children's freedom at almost unbelievable cost to herself. Her master Dr. Flint is almost inhuman....nothing less than sick, jealous, and vindictive, determined that if he cannot have her himself, no one else ever will and she will never go free. Mrs. Flint is equally unhinged, hating Harriet because of her husband's obsession. And then, there are the good souls: Harriet's beloved grandmother who would do anything for her; her uncles and brothers who try to protect her; and the host of friends, both Black and white, who try to help Harriet. As she writes, Ms. Jacobs gives her laser-beam perceptions on people, acknowledging the good and the bad in people whether no matter their color.And this brings us to the setting of the antebellum South, a sick, depraved society that infected everyone in its grip. Indeed, one can say that everyone was a victim in this society. To be clear, I am certainly not saying that Whites suffered anywhere near what African slaves did under the system. There is simply no comparison when one reads of slashing tendons in the ankles to prevent runaways, whippings, selling off family members, denying food to slaves too old to work..the list goes on. Nevertheless, in Dr. Flint and his wife, one can see how divorced from humanity this system caused many southern Whites to become. When one is born and suckled in such depravity, what chance do most have to rise above it and be something other than inhuman? Surely, some did, as we see in Harriet's story, but for the most part, we are a product of our environment. This book opened my eyes even further to this fact, and helps further understanding of why our country is as it is even 150 years after slavery.In the end, I urge everyone to read this book. It is enlightening, and also, just plain good reading.
  • (4/5)
    This is a good story and reads like an autobiography. The author conveys well the over-reaching ethical decadence and depravity caused by slavery as it interfered with her life, family, and friends for many decades. Unfortunately this version has illustrations on the cover and embedded within it that are completely unrelated to the story. One illustration, page 232 cannot be read even with a jeweler's headband, very poor illustrations. The author's name is in fine print in the introduction and on page 251 instead of somewhere on the cover, dust kacket, binding, or with the publishing information or title page. There is a lot about a person named Bob Carruthers both inside the book, and on the dust cover, complete with an Academy Award picture, apparently belonging to Bob Carrutheres. I find all this Bob Carruthers promotion a distraction from the real author, so I give this version ony 4 stars, not more.
  • (4/5)
    Jacob's autobiography shows readers the horrible and devastating institute of slavery. You can feel her righteous anger, her anguish, and her powerful will through her words. She recounts her time as a slave and as a runaway - where conditions were grim (she was confined to a 9x7x3 space while in hiding for 7 years), but according to her, preferable to the alternative of being a slave.

    The despicable acts of the slaveholders is coupled with the blind eye of the North (for even though they were "free" states, their lack of humanity toward blacks is evident). Jacob's descriptions of such events are heartbreaking and horrifying and her pursuit of freedom from this (for herself and her children) is admirable and inspiring.
  • (5/5)
    I began reading this book last night and every time i would get to a new chapter i would say, "just one more then you can stop for the night..." Well, little did i know i wouldn't put the book down till the sun came up and my youngest daughter woke up for her morning feed! This book is absolutely excellent at displaying slave times in the south of this country. The scenes that this woman describes are so sad i couldn't hold back the tears...definitely a personal story...almost like a confession of ones life...She is so real with her readers, actually sharing thoughts and feelings that she struggled with during those times. Considering the subject, i would say this book also displays true Christian character...her struggle with right and wrong and also the strong with forgiveness of her oppressors, etc. I haven't completed it yet, but it's absolutely excellent!!! I wouldn't advise this book for very young readers, but i do believe teenagers would look at the world a little differently if given something like this to read. Teens today are so very selfish and don't realize how hard things were back then for so many people. Harriet Jacobs is an excellent author and a woman of true Christian character and worth....I was surprised that while going through a life harder than most could ever imagine...she could still see the pain even in her abuser!!! Not very many people of today share such wisdom!!!
  • (5/5)
    This is one of the most important documents of American literature. There would be no Uncle Tom's Cabin without it. There would be no Beloved without it. It's a terrifying life story of indignities and survival, an American Anne Frank.
  • (5/5)
    Deeply moving and raw. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Should be required reading for our jr. high students to get a look at slavery and how it destroyed people.
  • (5/5)
    Such a personal look into the life of a slave. I loved the realistic ending of her story. Such an eye opener into what my ancestors endured.
  • (3/5)
    Reviewed March 2007 Originally purchased for History 100W a writing class, I read this book as it was about slavery pre-civil war. Not sure what to say about this book, it is a quick read and it really does seem unbelievable. Regardless of the appendix by two persons who claim the story is true it is very hard to believe that this woman shut herself in a small attic, unable to stand for 7 years. Her children, family and friends were just too perfect, risking death to help her. Yet all around her other slaves were dying for little cause. I also didn’t understand how she was able to “run into” so many acquaintances and friends from the South when she was in Boston, New York and Philadelphia? Through the book is truly unbelievable it was still written during the 1850’s and seems to tell the story of slavery. I’m glad I added this book to my library. P.S. I looked up Jacobs on-line and it appears she is a source of historical resource. There is a website with pictures of the doctor and his home. Also a drawing of her grandmother’s home with the crawlspace. Yale University is sponsoring a paper project and other universities offer her later writings for research. so I guess there must be more to her than I thought. 7-2007
  • (5/5)
    One could say that the writing style of [Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl] were too genteel for the topic of escape from the evils of slavery, but women in the 19th century valued gentility, [[Harriet Jacobs]] perhaps more than most because she felt her readers might find some of her life choices indicative of low morals rather than survival tactics. I was surprised that the attempted "wooing" of "Linda" seemed so much like the wooing referred to in [Wench], though I imagine [[Perkins-Valdez]] is very familiar with this work. I hadn't thought that wooing had any part in master-slave relations, but rather that such relationships stemmed from more straight forward rape. However, I'm sure it eased the conscience of some slave owners to think that their paramours had willingly succumbed to their charms. Spiritual leaders like Dinesh D'Souza and historians like Thaddeus Russell have have parroted the Confederate belief that idealizing the rebellion against slavery is a source of disability among some African Americans. In his book The End of Racism (D'Souza) asserted that the "American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well." Perhaps D'Souza has a very limited imagination if he cannot think of the ways property can be misused and the implications of this misuse when the property is a human being. Russell says that slave families were of course split up, but so were non slave families because children had to be sent from home to work. Jacobs, having heard that argument even in the 19th century describes just such English families that have to separate to find work but who are able to communicate with each other, thus maintain the family. Slave families, once broken up, often didn't even know where the various members had been sent. The most impressive part of the book to me was the account of the slave's life once she had escaped to the North. Just as all romances used to end with marriage, "and they lived happily ever after", accounts of escape from slavery usually end with the joy of escape. However, in the US the slave couldn't relax in her new found freedom because she was at all times subject to capture and return even from the "enlightened" cities of Boston and New York. The description Jacobs gives of the way she raised her children, sending one to boarding school and the other off with a brother reminded me of the Filipino people I have known and the fluid child rearing methods immigrants have always used to try to guarantee the futures of their children. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to get an accurate picture of slavery, and of the treatment of women.
  • (4/5)
    I'm sorry that I had never heard of this book before now. And I'm more surprised that this book isn't required reading in high schools and colleges. It should. An amazing personal look into the life black women had to endure during the era of slavery. Very touching story.
  • (4/5)
    This was one of the more well written books that I have ever read. Incidents in the life of a slave girl followed the story of "Linda Brent", which is actually a fake name. The books was written as a slavery narrative of the authors life. I feel the overall message of the book is about survival. The story brings to light how power and abuse can ruin someone's life. I also feel that the reasoning behind this book being written was to teach the reader how the life of a female slave differed from the life of a male slave. Although both were very cruel and horrid, Harriet Jacobs allowed the reader to see into the mind and psyche of a female slave. The characters are very well developed in this book. The author used characters from her own experiences as a slave, although she did change the names of some of the characters to protect their identities. The main character, Linda Brent, was actually a pseudonym for Harriet Jacobs. The story follows her life and her experiences as a slave. As a reader, you are able to gain so much insight into the mindset of a female slave. Her relationship with Dr. Flint (her new master once her mother and the mothers mistress had passed away) was a very disturbing relationship. He attempted to create a sexual relationship with Linda. The reader bears witness to the mindset of Dr. Flint, who would rather use tricks and cunningness to lure Linda into a sexual relationship, rather than just rape. After all, slaves were considered to be the property of their master, whom which could do whatever they wanted with their property. Other characters include Linda's family, including her brother, who she is very close to. Her brother escapes from his master. I feel that this event in the story shows how all slaves have the mindset that freedom is desired above all else. The characters point of view was also very important to the story, as well as very well written. As I mentioned above, the book followed the telling's of Linda Brent. Being a pseudonym to Harriet Jacobs, this book is considered to be an autobiography of her life as a slave. She tells the story with extreme detail. However, Jacobs reveals in the beginning of the book that there were aspects of her story that she could not bear to write down on paper. These details are able to create a vivid image for the reader. Although there are no illustrations in the book, the author uses word choice and language very effectively to create pictures in the readers head. I enjoy reading books about war times and hardships. Out of all of the books that I have read about slavery, I believe that this may be the best written one. To read about personal experiences and real life events, it is much more descriptive than I would have ever thought when I picked up this book.
  • (4/5)
    A book of such pain, but such dignity, and very accessible. Her story feels unique, but I have to remind myself that it represents the life of so many people enslaved at that time. And she was actually luckier than many others! Hearing the story of slavery from a woman also gave me a unique perspective. This book should be read over and over to remind ourselves what must never happen again anywhere in the world. Of course I knew "in my mind" what happened during slavery, but it is quite different to read a first-hand account. For me, it ranks with Nelson Mandela's autobiography in its ability to sensitize me to the dehumanizing conditions of slavery and racism. Absolutely a worthwhile read.
  • (4/5)
    This is an account of the life of a girl born in slavery in 1813 in Edenton, N.C. When she was a teenager she was sexually molested by her master, from whom she hid in a garret for nearly seven years before escaping to the North. She had had two children by Samuel Sawyer, who went on to serve one term in he U.S. House from 1837 to 1839 and did little for the children she bore him. The author suffered from racism even in the North. The book is not well-written and I found myself glad to get to the end of the book, even though one cannot help but empathize with the author and her dire, almost ubelievable travail.
  • (5/5)
    This is a great historical document, written at the dawn of the American Civil War. Reading this narrative by someone who lived the life of slavery and could so eloquently describe her truth to us, even when read so many years later in a whole different world, is a revelation and a precious gift. The author was able to convey the evils of slavery, even as administered without the utmost brutality, giving the reader increased awareness and sensitivity. There has been much speculation on the veracity of this telling of her life and it has apparently been proven to be accurate. The only reservation I have, is that the vocabulary and writing skill seems very advanced for someone of the author's circumstance. I urge anyone who treasures freedom and is interested in the struggle for freedom for all to read this book.
  • (4/5)
    While Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was an interesting and education read, I found myself cringing many times over the treatment these people endured. I found myself having to put the book down after each chapter and then practically having to force myself to pick it up again. What this one woman went through to attain freedom for herself and her children is a testament to her spirit and endurance.I have heard that this book is not the actual life of one person, but rather a collection of stories put together and released as an abolitionist document. I say either way these atrocities did occur and it’s important to bring these slave stories to light.While the book at times is over-written in the language of the day, it still manages to convey the corruption and dehumanization of slavery. Putting this book into our hands makes it impossible to turn away from the history of persecution and ill-treatment that slavery brought to so many. So, not a book to enjoy, but certainly a book to educate and inform.
  • (3/5)
    It is my understanding that slave narratives were written to aid the abolitionist in persuading white northerners to join the movement by illustrating the horrors of slavery. Considering the era and her audience, I realize it was necessary for Jacobs' language to bring attention to such vulgarities without actually being vulgar. Personally, I felt her portrayal was too tame when it came to describing the 'brutality and injustice inflicted on female slaves that trampled on their humanity and their gender all at once.' Still, her pain and anguish are not wasted on me:"I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South..." or here,"Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and trembled within hearing his voice,' just to highlight a few.Coming out on the other end of this narrative, I have a greater appreciation for my own basic HUMAN liberties that I take for granted every day. Jacobs' story moves me as a woman, angers me as an African, and shames me as an American to know that this is part of my history.
  • (5/5)
    This book is a free book available for Kindle and as there are so few memoirs of slaves written by themselves, I couldn't resist. You most likely know it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write and those who did learn usually kept that fact secret. This slave, however, as a house slave had access to reading materials and read especially newspapers and the Bible all her life to give pertinent news to other slaves.Her name was Linda. She was owned by the very young daughter of a doctor, but the doctor treated her as his own. She resisted his attempts to seduce her and managed to evade his direct orders to make her body available to him at will. She was quite valuable since she had light skin (the daughter of mullatoes) so he didn't dare lessen her value in any way.Eventually she was seduced by a white man who she trusted; he had convinced her he would buy her and set her free. She had two children by him which of course infuriated Dr. Flint, her owner's father. When the children are still quite young, she finds herself in such danger that she must leave her children with her aged grandmother in order to escape. She spends many years hidden in an attic of a shed where she is unable to stand up before she is able to escape to the North.Linda's story is one of courage and heartbreak, a story of almost unendurable physical and mental abuse and hardship, but throughout a story of a woman's pride despite being a slave and her devotion to her family, particularly her children. It is also the story of the courage of people willing to help her and her children. I found it as page-turning as a mystery novel and even more frightening since it was a true story.I recommend this free book to Kindle owners.
  • (5/5)
    This was published in 1861, just before or at the start of the CIVIL WAR. The memoirs of a black woman and her growing up and adulthood in slavery. At the end she was in the north, having her freedom bought by the woman for whom she worked. And she was reunited with her children at that time. Very good, interesting. Amazing that even in the north, there was class discrimination. The only reason I did not give it a "5" was that as it was written in the way of the day, I found it difficult to read. But that was also part of the uniqueness.
  • (5/5)
    I've had this book for a while. I should have read it sooner!
  • (4/5)
    I enjoy reading 19th century memoirs, so I expected to like Harriet Jacobs' memoir of her life in slavery and her eventual escape. I did like it, but not as much as I expected. Jacobs wrote under a pseudonym and changed names of places and people. This decision is understandable since the book was published before slavery was abolished, but it made it feel a bit like fiction to me. While the heavy appeal to readers' emotions is typical of the book's era, 21st century readers have been conditioned by decades of political spin and Madison Avenue advertising to be skeptical of this sort of approach. I have a recent biography of Harriet Jacobs by Jean Fagan Yellin in my TBR stash. Since my interest has been aroused, I hope to work Yellin's biography into next month's reading list. It should have more details and documentation than Jacobs was comfortable putting in her memoir, and I hope it will give me a greater sense of her life and legacy.