Harriet Jacobs (Linda Brent) • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) using the pseudonym (pen name) Linda Brent, is the most widely read female slave narrative in American history. • In her account Jacobs details the sexual harassment and abuse she suffered as a female slave in Edenton, NC and her eventual escape. • Ultimately her story is one of triumph and spirit.
Pseudonyms • The real names of the people described in Incidents in theLife of a Slave Girl were changed: • Linda Brent—Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897), born a slave in Edenton, NC, she eventually escaped to the North and gained her freedom. She wrote her autobiography using the pseudonym of Linda Brent in 1861; later she worked as a reformer and activist. • Aunt Martha—Molly Horniblow, Harriet’s grandmother, made a living selling baked goods to black and white townspeople. She purchased the freedom of her son Phillip and eventually became free at the age of 50 due to the kindness of an elderly white woman. • Mr. Sands—Samuel Treadwell Sawyer was a white, unmarried lawyer and the father of Harriet’s two children. He was later elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Pseudonyms • Dr. Flint—Dr. James Norcom was Harriet’s slave master. She entered his household when Harriet was willed to his step-daughter. According to Harriet he owned a residence in town, in addition to several farms, and about 50 slaves. He pursued Harriet, after she escaped, until his death. • Mrs. Flint—Mary Matilda Horniblow Norcom and wife of Dr. James Norcom, was unable to control her husband. Humiliated by his advances towards Harriet, she directed abuse at Harriet. • Young Mr. Flint—James Norcom, Jr. • Miss Emily Flint, later Mrs. Dodge—Dr. Norcom’s daughter Mary Matilda Norcom, later Mrs. Daniel Messmore, traveled to New York with her husband, Messmore, to seize Harriet and her daughter, after her father’s death.
Chapter 1 & 2 Summary • Until the age of 6 (when her mother dies) Harriet did not realize she was a slave. • Her parents were termed mulattoes. • Her first mistress teaches her to read and write between the ages of 6 & 12. • When her first mistress dies she bequeaths (wills) her to her 5 year old niece. • Harriet’s father dies shortly after she goes to live with the Norcoms (Flints). • Harriet’s grandmother has to go up for auction. The old woman who buys her for $50 give her grandmother her freedom. • Harriet tells the story of the male slave that Dr. Norcom(Flint) brutally beats because he was arguing with his wife over the color of their child. • Harriet also shares the story of the mistress cursing the young slave girl that is dying after having her husbands baby.
Chapter 3 & 4 Summary • January 1 was “hiring day”. On this day many slaves were sold to different masters and had to leave their families behind. • Children were often forced to leave their mother’s behind. • Harriet tells about her Uncle Benjamin running away after hitting his master. He is caught, imprisoned, sold to a new master, and escapes again. • Uncle Benjamin was able to “pass” as white due to his skin color, but is never able to be with the family again. • Her Uncle Philip also escapes and passes for white. Eventually her grandmother is able to by Phil’s freedom.
Chapter 5 & 6 Summary • Dr. Norcom (Flint) is constantly sexually harassing Harriet. He follows her everywhere trying to get her to submit herself to him. He is 40 years older than she is. • Harriet says to be beautiful is a curse for a slave girl. • Mrs. Norcom (Flint) is not happy with how her husband is with Harriet. She blames her and the other slave girls for his behaviors. • Mrs. Norcom (Flint) is terribly jealous and goes so far as to watch her sleep to try to catch Harriet in a lie over her relationship with Dr. Norcom. • Harriet’s grandmother offers to buy her freedom, but Dr. Norcom refuses to sell her.
Chapter 7 Summary • Harriet falls in love with a free born black man who is a carpenter. • Her lover wanted to buy her freedom, but Dr. Norcom (Flint) would not agree to this. Dr. Norcom offers one of his slaves to her if all she wants is to be married. • When she is telling Dr. Norcom of her love for this man he hits her for the first time. • To keep her from her lover, Dr. Norcom devises a plan to move them to Louisiana, but this does not work out. • Harriet and her lover never marries in part because she does not want him to suffer through having a slave for a wife and the fact that if they have children they would be slaves as well.
Chapter 8 & 9 Summary • Harriet discusses the lies that and misinformation that slaveholders tell the slaves about the Free States. • She holds Northerners accountability for not doing more to help with slavery and for enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. • She shares stories of the brutality inflicted on slaves by their masters. • She tells about the torture, abuse, and murder of slaves on the neighboring plantations of Mr. Litch, Mr. Conant, and Mrs. Wade.