Good evening everyone my name is Kameron Hamilton and today I will be presenting to you the story of Harriet Jacobs. Harriet Jacobs was born a slave, in 1813, under the guise of her free father and a mistress who nurtured and took care of her up until her death when Harriet was 12. This woman taught Harriet to sew, read, and write, giving her the upper hand among other slave children her age as well as other slaves in general. At age 15, her life took a turn for the worse when her new slave master, Dr. Flint, began to sexually assault her while following her every move. He wanted to instill fear in her and continued to remind her that she was his property so that she would submit to his advances. Before this, Harriet lived a peaceful life and didn’t even realize she was owned by another human being until she was transferred to a new owner. Being 40 years her senior, Dr. Flint takes advantage of Harriet and her naivety but she was keen enough to understand what he was doing wasn’t right. She became fearful and she felt alone because there was no one she could turn to for protection. (Her grandmother would have acted but Dr.Flint often told her he would kill her if she told anybody). Later on, the master’s wife finds out about his infidelity inciting raging jealousy in her.
To save face, Dr.Flint often assaulted Harriet in private. Harriet was aware of his prudence and took advantage of it. She would often sleep with or be around her older family members (great aunt and grandmother) avoiding his provocative stares and caresses. He began to understand what she was doing and soon after ordered her to stay in his room at night. His wife was made aware of these arrangements and became infuriated with her husband. After Harriet tells the mistress everything that happens she vows to protect her. This vow is broken when Mrs. Flint confronts her husband. Realizing he has the upper hand in the marriage she backs down and comes to terms with her husband’s ways.
” Revenge, and calculations of interest, were added to flattered vanity and sincere gratitude for kindness. I knew nothing would enrage Dr. Flint so much as to know that I favored another; and it was something to triumph over my tyrant even in that small way”. Harriet meets an unmarried and kind white lawyer, Mr. Sands, who takes an interest in her. After Harriet discusses the cruel things Dr.Flint does to her in the hope that he purchases her, in sheer haste, Harriet sleeps with and is impregnated by Mr.Sands hoping Dr. Flint would sell her but this prompts him to tighten the reigns on his “property”. After her first child was born the father would visit often and took care of his son and after the birth of her second child her master became more abusive and aggressive towards her. In a fit of rage, he cut all of her hair off, and in another instance, he threw her down the stairs in which she sustained injuries that paralyzed her for days. After a while, Dr. Flint decides to sell Harriet to his son, Mr. Flint, and during this time she is required to work and she has little opportunities to see her children.
After she returns under the ownership of Dr.Flint, Harriet runs away and finds refuge in a tiny crawlspace. Her children and brother are imprisoned by Dr.Flint. After a while, in 1842, her children were purchased by their father while Harriet escaped to New York. She becomes involved in civil rights and becomes an author and an activist. Years later the father of her children sends them up north to see their mother. During this time, Harriet publishes “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” and founds a school for recently freed children and refugees. She was eventually able to become legally free and continued to live a private life until her death until 1897.
To conclude, it is evident that with determination anything can be possible. Harriet Jacobs was born a slave but died a free woman. I would like to pose several questions for discussion.
- What are some common themes that were discussed in this autobiography and previous readings?
- What would have been different if white people had been enslaved and black people were masters and mistresses?
- How did slave owners justify their actions?
I hope you have taken something from this presentation and are now able to see how hard of a life Harriet lived. Thank you!