by Julie R. Adams
            So writes Harriet Jacobs (under the pen name of Linda Brent) in the Preface of her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.   Incidents is Jacobs' own story of what it was like to be born and reared in slavery.  Through her book, she gives the reader a clear picture of the life of a female house slave in the South before the Civil War.  In anguishing detail, Jacobs tells how she resisted being sexually exploited by her master and how she gained a degree of freedom from this oppression first by going into hiding and then by escaping to the North.  Incidents is also the story of the sacrifices Jacobs made to protect her family and to help her two children, as well as herself, become legally free.

            Harriet Jacobs was born in North Carolina in 1813.  She was born a slave but "never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away."  Both of Jacobs' parents were mulattos (children of a White father and a Negro mother), and her family, including her brother, lived together in a comfortable home.  When Jacobs' was six, her mother died.  It was at this time that she learned she was a slave.  Still her life was not difficult.  Her mistress was very kind to her and imposed no disagreeable tasks on her.  However, upon the death of her mistress, Jacobs found her situation becoming increasingly intolerable.  Jacobs was only fifteen when "Dr. Flint," her master, began his sexual pursuit of her.  This abuse and the resulting oppression from Flint's wife forced Jacobs to take drastic measures to protect herself.  She encouraged a relationship with "Mr. Sands," a white, unmarried lawyer and eventually bore two children by him, the first child (a son) when she was sixteen years old and a daughter when she was eighteen.

            When the situation with "Dr. Flint" became intolerable, Jacobs left her children and ran away.  She took refuge in the small garret of her grandmother's house, located in the same town as "Dr. Flint's" residence.  Jacobs was twenty-two years old.  She spent the next seven years living in the garret in a space that was only nine feet by seven feet and three feet at its highest point.  Her living conditions and the constant fear of detection took a big toll on her well-being.  Finally, Jacobs' was able to escape to the North, and her children eventually followed.  During the next six years, Jacobs managed to support herself while evading numerous attempts by "Dr. Flint" and his daughter to locate her and return her to slavery in the South.  Finally, at the age of forty, Jacobs was purchased and then emancipated by "Mrs. Bruce," a staunch abolitionist who was Jacobs' employer and friend.


            There are many different ways to read Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  The following is a list of several perspectives: .
            Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl also lends itself to critical discussions on a number of topics.  Several of these topics are listed below: .
Last updated: January 4, 1998