Before Anita Hill, Carmita Woods, Mechelle Vinson or other women part of the #METOO movement sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, there was former slave, abolitionist and author Harriet Jacobs.
Welcome to Day 8.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was the first woman to author a slave narrative called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by herself and self-published in 1861, the book addressed the struggles and sexual abuse of young women on the plantations, the anguish faced by slave mothers who faced the loss of their children, and the decisions she made to gain freedom for herself and her children. Her story showed the power of resourcefulness, courage and an undying quest for freedom.
In her writings she takes you on a chronological journey from her happy days as a young child when she lived a good life as a slave and wrote she was “pretty sheltered…didn’t thing she was “a piece of merchandise…”. Harriet’s mother died when she was just six and she was taken into the house by her slave master (Margaret) who taught her how to read, write and sew but when she was about 12 years-old her life took a turn for the worse when Margaret died and she was “gifted” to the niece (Mary Matilda Norcrom) who was no more than about five. Since the niece was far too young, Harriet was moved into the house of her soon-to-be tormentor (Dr. James Norcrom) who tried to make her his concubine but she was not interested.
Norcom was a relentless pervert.
He tried and tried to get Harriet to submit to his advances which started with the whispering of “dirty” words to more aggressive forms of sexual harassment, all with his wife living under the same roof but when he saw he was getting nothing but rejection, Norcrom began to retaliate.
Harriet tried anything to try getting away from this man and asked his permission to marry a free man she’d fallen in love with to which he refused, so she decided it was time for her to retaliate and became acquainted with an unmarried doctor (Samuel Treadwell Sawyer). She she started a sexual relationship with Sawyer and had two children yet still, Norcrom continued with his advances towards the young woman. When Harriet continued to reject him, the next form of retaliation was by sending her to work on a plantation but after a while, she began to adjust to that life which angered him even more.
whatever slavery might do to me, it could not shackle my children…if I fell a sacrifice, my little ones were saved
It wasn’t until this pervert took the steps to send her two children to work on the plantation that pushed Harriet over the edge which is when she devised her plan to fake her own escape, starting out hiding in the homes of different friends. While she was on the “run” she learned that Folcrom had planned on selling her children and she devised and executed an ingenious plan where her children ended up being sold to her former lover and father, so they ended up safely at her grandmother’s house.
Determined not to be away from her children, Harriet hid in the porch attic of her grandmother’s house for SEVEN years. Seven whole years in a small space where the only things that kept her company were the rats and mice crawling around her, the bible and her sewing materials. She used a small peephole that had been drilled to watch her children playing and in her mind, this was the best way of escaping her tormentor while being near her children at the time.
At times, I was stupefied and listless; at other times I became very impatient to know when these dark years would end, and I should again be allowed to feel the sunshine, and breathe the pure air.
After a chain of life events including the death of her grandmother, Harriet finally decided to escape and reunite with her children. For years, she lived in different areas including Boston and New York as a fugitive slave and supported her family as a seamstress..
Harriet Ann Jacobs is the epitome of a STRONG black woman and is a shero to be remembered.
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