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Former Slave's Story Ends with Freedom

In her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs wrote these words about her years of slavery: "Only by experience can any one realize how deep, and dark, and foul is that pit of abominations."

Harriet was born in 1813 in North Carolina. For the first six years of her life, she lived in a comfortable home with her parents and brother, not realizing she was a slave. But when her mother died, Harriet learned she wasn't free.

At age 15, her new master, Dr. James Norcom, pursued and harassed Harriet, while Norcom's wife oppressed her. Seeking to protect herself, Harriet turned to a white, unmarried lawyer and bore him two children.

Norcom retaliated by sending Harriet to a plantation to work as a field hand. Not wanting her children to become plantation slaves, she ran away before they could join her there. With the help of sympathetic neighbors, both black and white, she made her way to her grandmother's home. For the next seven years Harriet lived in a tiny cubbyhole under the front porch roof. The confined space was nine feet by seven feet, with a sloping ceiling only three feet high at one end. She shared her hiding place with rats and mice.

During this time Harriet wrote to Norcom, asking him to sell her the children. He refused. However, the children's father did buy the boy and girl, allowing them to stay with Harriet's grandmother. Hiding even from her children, Harriet would squint through a peephole, hoping to catch a glimpse of them playing outside.

In 1842, Harriet escaped to the North, and two years later her children joined her. Still, she was in danger of being returned to slavery by Dr. Norcom and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Complete liberation did not come until Harriet was forty years old, when her employer bought her freedom for $300.

Harriet Jacobs knew about slavery, fear, and brutality. She experienced the pain of a family torn apart, the indignity of being sold as property, and the uncertainty of living at the whim of someone else. Harriet wrote about her life experiences, and in 1861, the year the Civil War began, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published.

Harriet concluded her book with these words: "Reader, my story ends with freedom."

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