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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPhoto of a slave family on a plantation in Georgia
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The Slave Experience: Family
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INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. WRITTEN BY HERSELF.
1861
Courtesy of University of Michigan Library, Making of America

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In this excerpt from INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL, Jacobs describes the conflicting thoughts and feelings she experienced regarding her son's illness. For Harriet and many other slave women, children were a singular comfort and joy in an otherwise sorrowful life. Although she prayed for the child's life, Harriet knew that death was his best chance to escape slavery.


As the months passed on, my boy improved in health. When he was a year old, they called him beautiful. The little vine was taking deep root in my existence, though its clinging fondness excited a mixture of love and pain. When I was most sorely oppressed I found a solace in his smiles. I loved to watch his infant slumbers; but always there was a dark cloud over my enjoyment. I could never forget that he was a slave. Sometimes I wished that he might die in infancy. God tried me. My darling became very ill. The bright eyes grew dull, and the little feet and hands were so icy cold that I thought death had already touched them. I had prayed for his death, but never so earnestly as I now prayed for his life; and my prayer was heard. Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery. It was a sad thought that I had no name to give my child. His father caressed him and treated him kindly, whenever he had a chance to see him. He was not unwilling that he should bear his name; but he had no legal claim to it; and if I had bestowed it upon him, my master would have regarded it as a new crime, a new piece of insolence, and would perhaps, revenge it on the boy. O, the serpent of Slavery has many and poisonous fangs!
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