Harriet Jacobs: A Champion of Freedom

220px-harriet_ann_jacobs18941On February 11, 1813, Harriet Jacobs, fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist, was born in Edenton.  Harriet spent her childhood unaware of her station in life. But when her white mistress, Margaret Horniblow, died in 1825, Harriet and her brother John were willed to Horniblow’s three-year-old niece, Mary Norcom and thus, under the control of Mary Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom.

A runnaway slave notice about Harriet Jacobs now in the State Archives

A runnaway slave notice about Harriet Jacobs now in the State Archives

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 only a block away from Norcom.  According to Jacobs memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, Harriet 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 ten 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 her southern homeland.


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