Harriet Jacobs: Cambridge

Harriet Jacobs: Cambridge

  • <p>Photograph of Harriet Jacobs seated in ornate chair</p>

“There are wrongs which even the grave does not bury.”

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in 1813 in North Carolina, where she remained until her escape at age 29.

Jacobs was taught to read and write by her first mistress, but she was later willed to relatives who abused her for ten years before she was able to escape. Unwilling to leave North Carolina without her two children, Jacobs hid in her grandmother’s attic for seven years before they were purchased and freed by her lover and the children’s father, Samuel Sawyer.

When she arrived in New York, Jacobs found work as a nursemaid and assistant in the home of a prominent literary figure, Nathaniel Parker Willis. She spent several months in Boston during this period, visiting her family. It was during this visit that she first became involved with the anti-slavery movement.

Jacobs met the abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Amy Post, who encouraged her to write about her experiences as a slave. Lydia Maria Child edited Jacobs's narrative and provided its preface. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published in Boston in 1861, under the pseudonym Linda Brent.

During the Civil War, Jacobs worked to improve conditions for refugee former slaves, splitting her time between Virginia and Massachusetts. The Story Street house was her residence from 1873-1876. Though she lived her final years in Washington, DC, she is buried with her brother and daughter in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Their plot can be found on Clethra Path in the northeastern corner of the cemetery.