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Historical Document
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
1861

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Click here for the text of this historical document.

Harriet Jacobs wanted to tell her story, but knew she lacked the skills to write the story herself. She had learned to read while young and enslaved, but, at the time of her escape to the North in 1842, she was not a proficient writer. She worked at it, though, in part by writing letters that were published by the New York Tribune, and with the help of her friend, Amy Post. Her writing skills improved, and by 1858, she had finished the manuscript of her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

L. Maria Child, a prominent white abolitionist, agreed to edit Jacob's book, although she apparently did little to alter the text except to rearrange some sections, suggest the removal of one chapter, and add material to another. In a letter to a friend, Child wrote, "I abridged, and struck out superfluous words sometimes; but I don't think I altered fifty words in the whole volume."

The subject matter of the book -- sexual abuse of slave women -- was taboo in the mid-19th century, and Harriet had struggled over whether or not to expose herself so publicly. But she realized the significance of her story and so decided to go ahead, although she wrote under the psydonym, Linda Brent, and assigned fictitious names to everyone mentioned in the book. Child, too, was aware of the story's significance, writing in the book's introduction:

"I am well aware that many will accuse me of indecorum for presenting these pages to the public; for the experiences of this intelligent and much-injured woman belong to a class which some call delicate subjects, and others indelicate. This peculiar phase of Slavery has generally been kept veiled; but the public ought to be made acquainted with its monstrous features, and I willingly take the responsibility of presenting them with the veil withdrawn."





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