Harriet Jacobs, Writer and Abolitionist

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Harriet was an African-American abolitionist and writer whose autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, is now considered an “American classic”.

Born into slavery (about 1813 or 1815) in Edenton, North Carolina, she was sexually harassed by her enslaver. When he threatened to sell her children if she did not submit to his desire, she hid in a tiny crawl space under the roof of her grandmother’s house, so low she could not stand up in it.

After staying there for seven years, she finally managed to escape to the free North, where she was reunited with her children Joseph and Louisa Matilda and her brother John S. Jacobs. She found work as a nanny and got into contact with abolitionist and feminist reformers. Even in New York City, her freedom was in danger until her employer was able to pay off her legal owner.

During and immediately after the American Civil War, Jacob travelled to Union-occupied parts of the Confederate South together with her daughter, organizing help and founding two schools for fugitive and freed slaves. She died March 7, 1897.