Harriet Jacobs of Edenton and Her Compelling Life Story

Image from the State Archives

On February 11, 1813, fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist Harriet Jacobs was born in Edenton.

Jacobs spent her childhood unaware of her station in life but, when her white mistress, Margaret Horniblow, died in 1825, she and her brother John were willed to Horniblow’s 3-year-old niece, Mary Norcom, and were placed under the control of Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom.

After suffering years of physical abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Norcom, Jacobs fled in 1835 and went into hiding in the attic of her paternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, a free black woman living in Edenton a block away from Norcom. According to Jacobs’ memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, she lived in that restricted space for almost seven years until she managed to escape north via Edenton’s maritime Underground Railroad.

Jacobs gained her full and legal freedom 10 years later. While living the life of a fugitive slave, Jacobs became an anti-slavery activist and an abolitionist author. By the time of the Civil War, as a free African American woman, Jacobs served as a relief worker dedicated to assisting the newly freed people of the South.

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