Friday, 30 April 2021

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) was born a slave and only fifteen when her master, Dr Flint, began his pursuit of her. At 40, she was purchased and emancipated by an abolitionist. Jacobs became an antislavery activist. Here are a few excerpts:

"(...) though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise (...). 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. (...)

The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences. (...)

There was a planter in the country, not far from us, whom I will call Mr. Litch. He was an ill-bred, uneducated man, but very wealthy. He had six hundred slaves, many of whom he did not know by sight. His extensive plantation was managed by well-paid overseers. There was a jail and a whipping post on his grounds; and whatever cruelties were perpetrated there, they passed without comment. He was so effectually screened by his great wealth that he was called to no account for his crimes, not even for murder. (...)

No pen can give an adequate description  of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear. The lash and the foul talk of her master and his sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or his sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her with presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped or starved into submission to their will. (...)

I was twenty-one years in that cage of obscene birds. I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious, it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation. 

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Jacobs, H. (2000). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Harriet Jacobs writing as Linda Brent. With an Introduction by Myrlie Evers-Williams. New York. A Signet Classic.


  1. Abbie Winterburn30 April 2021 at 14:31

    Lovely, thanks for this book recommendation!

    1. It was good to read about slavery from a slave woman's perspective.
      Thanks, Abbie!