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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPolitical caricature depicting black and white men and women interacting
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Character Spotlight Men, Women & Gender

Photo of actor portraying Harriet Jacobs in SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA
Photo of actor portraying Harriet Jacobs
Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)

As a child Harriet Jacobs was purchased by Dr. Norcum of Edenton, North Carolina. As a house worker, Harriet shared some of the indulgences bestowed upon the Norcum children. By the time Harriet was fifteen, however, those few comforts of her early years evaporated.

Harriet was now the object of her master's sexual desire and her mistress' jealousy. Dr. Norcum's incessant sexual advances left Harriet ashamed, afraid, and determined to escape his grasp. When an unmarried white gentleman called Samuel Sawyer showed interest in her, she became his lover.

Harriet was not only flattered by Sawyer's attention and grateful for his sympathy, but also saw her relationship with him as a means to revenge herself against Norcum, who would be irate to learn that she favored another man. For Harriet, the decision had even deeper significance. In choosing her own partner, to the degree that she was able, she had claimed her body as her own.
Photo of dramatic re-enactment of Harriet Jacobs running through the woods
Harriet Jacobs running through the woods from the dramatic re-enactment
Photo of North Carolina reward notice for the return of Harriet Jacobs
A Reward for Harriet's Return

Photo of dramatic re-enactment of Harriet Jacobs in hiding
On July 2, 1835, Dr. Norcum posted this advertisement in THE AMERICAN BEACON. The notice describes Harriet's physical appearance and promises $100 for her apprehension or return.

Read Harriet Jacobs' account of her life online at http://docsouth.unc.edu/jacobs/jacobs.html
Learn more about Harriet and her narrative in the book HARRIET JACOBS: A LIFE
by Jean Fagan Yellin (Basick Books; 2003)

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