Harriet Jacobs



“Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl”


Jacobs informs her readers that “slavery is terrible for men—but it is far more terrible for women.”  Much of her story chronicles her continuing attempts to resist rape by her faster and to protect her children from slavery.



“Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery the very dawn of life is darkened by these shadows.  Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will learn, before she is twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves.  Perhaps the child’s own mother is among those hated ones.  She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause.  She will be come prematurely knowing of evil things.  Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s footfall.  She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child.  If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse.  That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave.  I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it.  I cannot tell how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the retrospect.  My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him.  If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me.  If I knelt by my mother’s grave, his dark shadow fell over me even there.  The light heart which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings.  The other slaves in my master’s house noticed the change.  Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause.  They had no need to inquire.  They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished.”




Source:  Alan Gallay, ed.  Sources of the Old South.  Athens:  University

of George Press, 1994.