Harriet Jacobs wrote her story under a pseudonym because she feared recapture by her former masters. Hers is one of the few slave narratives that exist from women. She was tough as nails and should be an inspiration to all Americans. Hell, she inspired me.
To escape, this woman hid for 7 years in her grandmother’s 4’x7′ crawl space where she couldn’t stand up or make a sound. Her grandmother was the only one who knew her whereabouts. She had to watch her children grow up by looking through a peep hole to see them play in the yard.
Just saying she escaped from slavery doesn’t describe this book. What circumstances did she escape from? Who were the people who loved her or wanted to possess her, what dangers did she face? She paints a picture of the world she experienced. It was sad and ugly. Sometimes even kindness and beauty survived.
She was born in Edenton, North Carolina. Here is one of many compelling stories from the book: Her grandmother was a slave to a fair woman who promised grandma freedom when the mistress died if she saved up the money for her purchase. Grandma sold preserves and sweets and did sewing and bit by bit saved the money. Grandma built up a good reputation in town by her work and her kindly ways. Her mistress, good to her word, put it in her will that the grandma was to be freed.
When the mistress died, an unscrupulous relative tore up the will. He put grandma up for public auction. The people of the town knew of the injustice. They loved the old lady. So they refused to bid on her. Finally one man bid one dollar and the woman was sold. The man immediately released grandma and gave her her freedom.
Jacobs described a complicated world of good and evil, of how the practice of slavery ate at the souls of the perpetrators worse than it wore out the backs of the enslaved. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she borrowed heavily from the real stories of people like Harriet Jacobs.