Harriet Jacobs [link to harriet Jacobs website] was born into slavery in 1813 to Elijah and Delilah Jacobs. When Harriet’s mother died in 1819, she was sent to live with her mother’s owner and mistress, Margaret Horniblow, and was welcomed into the family. But, Margaret died when Harriet was 11, and instead of being emancipated like she had hoped, she was bequeathed to her mistress’s three-year-old niece, Mary Matilda. Because of Mary’s young age, her father Dr. James Norcom became Harriet’s master.

After years of unwanted sexual advances and abuse at the hands of Dr. Norcom, Harriet went into hiding above her grandmother’s home. For nearly seven years she confined herself in a small crawlspace between the storeroom and the roof waiting for her chance to escape, all the while listening to her children grow up in the home underneath her. In 1842, with the help of a friend, Harriet finally escaped. Harriet died in Washington, DC, on March 7, 1897, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA.

The following passages are taken from her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. It is one of the earliest works by an African American woman writer. Originally self-published in 1861 under the pen name Linda Brent, it was for generations thought to be a work of fiction until its authenticity was verified in the 1980s.

This and 11 other runaway slave narratives are featured in The Long Walk to Freedom (
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