February 11, 2010
At 12 years old, Jacobs was inherited by a 5-year old girl. An attractive young woman, Jacobs was pursued by the girl's father, Dr. James Norcom. He didn't bother to hide his lust, which even his wife knew about. His wife punished her (rather than her husband) by working her extra hard and flogging her often. To avoid her brutal owner, Jacobs had an affair with another white man named Samuel Sawyer (who later became a Congressman). With him, she had two children, Joseph and Louisa. These children were born slaves, owned by the Norcroms, though they were three-quarters white. Jacobs's domestic situation only got worse, so she escaped in 1835.
But she didn't go far. She stayed in a crawlspace above the home of her grandmother, where she watched her children grow for seven years. In 1842, she made her way north. Dr. Norcrom threatened to sell Joseph and Louisa so Sawyer purchased them and gave them their freedom. In need of money, Jacobs found herself in the employ of none other than Nathaniel Parker Willis (more on him here).
Years later, Jacobs would tell her story in the book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl using the pseudonym Linda Brent.
*Like many who were born enslaved, Jacobs was unsure of her own birthdate and scholars have disputed this information. Her gravestone offers February 11, 1815, but there is little evidence to support the winter birth. For more on the dispute, see this article by Mary Maillard or this article by Scott Korb (who first notified me of the discrepancies).