Knowing she needed to move on, family and friends constructed a new hiding place for her. In an attic space atop a small storage shed attached to Molly’s house, a nine by seven cavity was selected as Harriet’s new home. Covered by a slanted shingled roof, the tallest point was just three feet high. Her uncle constructed a concealed trap door in which food, water, and conversation passed. Harriet began her road to freedom in 1835, yet her first seven years would be in this self-imposed cage at her grandmother’s.
With no air and no light, Harriet eventually bore a small hole in a side wall. It was enough to allow the tiniest of fresh air, light, and voices of her children in. She was able to read, sew, listen to, and sometimes watch her children as they played outside. She crawled about when she could for exercise, but it made little effect on her young body.
During her time in her personal prison, Harriet arranged to have several letters she wrote to Norcom mailed from New York to keep up the charade. It worked as Norcom traveled there several times to find her. He spent so much in his efforts, he finally sold Harriet's children and brother unknowingly to Sawyer. Also, her children’s father was elected to the United States House of Representatives for North Carolina, her brother escaped while in the North with Rep. Sawyer, and Sawyer took their daughter, Louisa, with him and his new family to Virginia. However, Harriet’s goal stayed the same, obtaining freedom for her children.
Harriet broke out of her jail in 1842, escaping to New York. After witnessing so much deception and racism from white people, Harriet’s trust was partially restored as Northern abolitionists opened their hearts and homes to help her. She reunited with her daughter, Louisa, and brother, John, and soon her son, Joseph, was able to join them. She worked for Nathaniel and Mary Willis in New York as their daughter’s nurse, but fled several times to her brother’s in Boston when Norcom came to town. Upon Mrs. Willis’ death, she accompanied Mr. Willis to England to attend to his daughter as he visited family. Those eight months in England, which abolished slavery a few years earlier, exposed Harriet to a society free of the racism she still experienced even in the North.
In 1849, John found a school in New York for Louisa, and invited Harriet to Rochester, where he started an anti-slavery reading room and bookstore. Being located above the offices of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star, they became very active in the abolitionist movement. (see ) The business failed, but during her 18 months in Rochester, she cultivated an important relationship with Quaker abolitionist Amy Post, who persuaded Harriet to start writing about her life experience.
Reconnecting with Mr. Willis, she became his nurse again for his new wife and child. However, since the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law passed, Harriet spent much of her time looking over her shoulder. (see ) When Harriet’s legal mistress, Mary Norcom Messmore, and her husband Daniel came knocking, Mrs. Willis offered $300 for Harriet and her children. On February 29, 1852, the Norcom family finally relented, giving up their hold on Harriet once and for all. Immediately after the deal was official, Mrs. Willis freed Harriet. The transaction was bittersweet for Harriet as it meant even in a free state she was nothing more than chattel, where money purchased what was rightfully hers: Freedom. Regardless, she was grateful.
The following year, with Ann Post's urging, Harriet began writing her life story in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. First printed as a serial in a newspaper, abolitionist friends helped her publish her work in 1861. Due to the Civil War, the book remained largely overlooked, yet it found an audience in Britain under the title The Deeper Wrong.
Her work remained in the shadows until the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century. Many believed it was a fictional account written by Lydia Maria Child, a leading white antislavery writer, as Harriet used false names for everyone, even calling herself Linda Brent. Letters discovered between Child and Harriet proved the authorship belonged to Harriet alone.
Harriet continued to fight for freedom and equality for the remainder of her life. She and her daughter, Louisa, were champions of the rights of blacks and women. She rejoiced when Republican President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the Southern slaves and Congress declared freedom for all slaves with the . She lost her citizenship with the Dred Scott Decision, but regained it with the . (see ) She even witnessed her brother and son receive the right to vote with the . (see and ) On March 7, 1897, at age 84, Harriet died in Washington DC. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, next to her brother.
Harriet’s book is a fascinating narrative of her life and should be read in her own words as it reveals how we are no better today than the people back then. In one chapter of her book, Harriet describes how slave owners would tell lies about the circumstances of runaway slaves. She was told a fugitive friend was starving in New York and desperate to return to slavery. Harriet found and stayed with that friend years later, who was doing very well and never considered returning to the South. Harriet reveals the slave owners recounted such dastardly lies, convincing the slaves their lives in chains were much better than the hardships of freedom. It is the same lie the Democratic Party tells the black population 200 years later, that without the Democrats, they would not survive. (see )
Only wanting to shield their wives and families from danger while supplying their needs, the male slave felt powerless. They believed they had no choice but to step aside and allow the masters to sexually abuse their wives and daughters, which is exactly why Norcom didn’t want Harriet married to a free man. Other slave owners, like Harriet’s mistress, believed Negros were not meant for such family connections, sometimes denying marriages even between slaves. Yet often those allowed to marry were reminded daily they still belonged to the masters, not each other. (see ) Lincoln destroyed this disgusting conduct, freeing all blacks, allowing and encouraging them to marry and have true, solid families. However, Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson brought the horrendous abuse back to America by passing the Great Society. (see ) Turning the government into a welfare state, black men were again no longer necessary in the black family to provide for and protect their women. Unwed pregnancies again skyrocketed in the black community, as the mothers were now sexual toys for both black and white fathers, while the government plantation provided the food, housing, and other necessities.
Harriet put a light on an issue even abolitionists wanted to keep in the dark. As horrible as slavery was, people did not want to admit that its atrocities included sexual abuse. We are doing the same things today, Liberty. We bury our heads in the sand and refuse to discuss abortion, allowing the excuse of "women's health" to satisfy our consciences. (see and ) Yet here we are, 150 years later, condemning the people of the early 19th century for not speaking out about slavery and sexual abuse while feminists demand if you are a man, or a conservative women, you are not allowed to comment on abortion. Slave owners and advocates used similar bullying tactics to silence their critics as well. Not surprising, most supporters of both slavery and abortion come from the same political party.
Many demean Christianity, rightfully criticizing the "Christian" slave owners who worshipped on Sunday and mercilessly whipped their slaves on Monday. Harriet describes how these masters voiced anger to preachers who dared preach the true Gospel to the slaves. They also rebuked pastors who even approached the laws and commandments God gave to masters and how they should treat their servants, while demanding the slaves be saturated with God's words to servants, endlessly repeating their role and behavior to their masters. These "Christians" are only equaled by churches today who dismiss and promote abortion as "women's health". Many Democrat leaders, the very same ones who demonized slave owners, wear their Christianity on their sleeve, openly admitting they don't govern by their faith, proclaiming unborn babies are the mother's property to do as she pleases. It is the exact same argument slave owners used regarding their slaves. (see )
Leftists today point out how horrible our ancestors were while satisfying their consciences that women have the right to choose whether or not to kill her baby, claiming it is her body, therefore her decision. These people maintain they are Progressives, but they are no better than the pagans who sacrificed their babies to the god Moloch 5,000 years ago. (see ) Norcom asked Harriet, “Do you know…that I can kill you, if I please?” How can one abhor this behavior but praise it when a mother thinks the exact same thing about her own unborn baby? (see ) Slavery had become such a staple in the South, supporters argued as far back as the founding of the country it was necessary for those states to economically survive. Today, pro-choice advocates again use the economic excuse, claiming a single woman couldn’t survive with a baby.
Harriet was raised with people that loved her, then she was taken by someone who saw her as just property. Fortunately, her faith in humanity and Christianity was restored as people showered her once more with love. As she states in her book, her abolitionist friends “measure(d) a man’s worth by his character, not by his complexion.” A statement echoed 100 years later by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. (see ) We are again missing the love as babies are seen as property and not living human beings with feelings.
Harriet spent her life in a struggle with her faith, wrestling with God and the atrocities of slavery. Thanks to God’s grace, Harriet always returned to His embrace. Liberty, there is so much to learn from Harriet’s fight with guilt and contentment in God’s love. Find strength in her ability to continue to praise God even after enduring slavery and all the evils it produces.
That’s my 2 cents.
February 11, 2019
Harriet peered out of the peephole, her only access to the outside world. She watched as their daughter climbed into the carriage. He was supposed to free her, not take her away. It was at that moment Harriet decided nothing would stop her from escaping her prison, breaking free of the chains of slavery forever, for her and her children.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, on February 11, 1813. She lived with her parents, Elijah Knox and Delilah Horniblow, and brother John, in their own home despite them having different owners. When Delilah died, six-year-old Harriet moved in with her mother's mistress, Margaret Horniblow, who had been raised with and loved Delilah dearly.
Under questionable circumstances, Harriet became the property of Mary Norcom, Margaret’s 5-year-old niece, when Margaret died in 1825. Harriet’s grandmother, Molly Horniblow, obtained her freedom at the same time with the help of Margaret's sister. Harriet’s father attempted to buy her freedom several times, but those dreams died along with him a year later.
Harriet grew up surrounded by those who loved her. Margaret treated her more as a daughter than a slave, teaching Harriet reading, writing, sewing, and the Scriptures. However, Dr. James Norcom, Mary’s father and Harriet’s master de facto, impressed in Harriet’s mind she was his property to do his will. His wife echoed the sentiment, treating Harriet horribly.
As was common at the time, Norcom fathered multiple children by his slaves. Viewing them as nothing more than his chattel, Norcom discarded both mother and children on the auction block when his attentions focused elsewhere. Barely a teenager, Harriet became his next target and he let her know it. Trying desperately to remain virtuous, Harriet asked for permission to marry a free black man she loved. Norcom violently refused the idea of her being beholden to a free husband. Striking her with a blow, he asked, “Do you know that I have a right to do as I like with you-that I can kill you, if I please?”
Now obsessed with controlling Harriet, he began building a cottage several miles out of town just for her. Upon informing Harriet of his plans, she vowed to God she would never set foot in it. At this same time, a single, white neighbor, Samuel Sawyer, took a shining to Harriet. She knew if she went to Norcom’s cottage she would be his sex slave, forced to fulfill his every desire until the next young slave caught his eye. Then, he would likely sell her and her children, possibly to different people, and move on to another. In a calculated move of revenge and survival, Harriet decided “there is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you.” Already knowing Norcom did not want to share her with a free man, she anticipated he would sell her, confident Sawyer would purchase her and any children.
The day Norcom announced the cottage was ready, ordering Harriet there, she told him she was expecting. Her delight in her announcement quickly turned to remorse knowing how it would devastate her grandmother. Distressed at first, Molly soon opened her arms and home to the 15-year-old mother-to-be, where Harriet remained for many years. Yet Harriet would lament over her sin for decades to come.
Harriet had two children, Joseph and Louisa Jacobs, who by law took Harriet’s slave status upon birth. (see ) Instead of terminating Norcom’s propositions, he used the children as pawns in his sick game of control, threatening to sell them if she did not comply. Sending her to his son’s plantation outside of town, Norcom planned on forever chaining her in slavery by using her children as her anchor. Knowing this, Harriet fled.
A friend originally hid Harriet before a white woman and slave owner took compassion on her. She safely concealed Harriet in an upper room for several weeks while search parties looked for her. Harriet held tight to her motto: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” as Norcom traveled to New York, convinced she escaped to the North. (see )
THE GREAT ESCAPE