Harriet Jacobs: Selected Writings and Correspondence Documents

The following documents represent just a few of the approximately 600 items gathered by Professor Yellin during her research on Harriet Jacobs. The Harriet Jacobs Papers Project is organizing these items into a two-volume documentary edition of papers by and about the 19th-century African-American author, abolitionist, and reformer Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897), to be published by the University of North Carolina Press.

Biographical information relating to Harriet Jacobs’s principal correspondents, as well as more documentary materials and further information, is available at the Harriet Jacobs Papers Project website. Spelling and typographical errors in the manuscript have been retained in the transcripts. Editorial remarks have been set apart in brackets.

Advertisement for the capture of Harriet Jacobs. American Beacon, Norfolk Virginia, July 4, 1835

Advertisement submitted by James Norcom for the capture of Harriet Jacobs after she went into hiding. “As this girl absconded from the plantation of my son without any known cause or provocation, it is probable she designs to transport herself to the North.”

Joshua Coffin to Lydia Maria Child. June 25, 1842

Coffin, a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, writes to author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child about Harriet Jacobs. “I hope you will call & see, if she is now in the city, one of the most interesting cases of escape from slavery that you have ever seen.”

John S. Jacobs to Sydney Howard Gay. June 4, 1846

John S. Jacobs, Harriet’s brother, who had escaped from slavery in 1838 to become a noted antislavery lecturer, writes to the journalist and abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay about the efforts of the Norcom family to recapture Harriet Jacobs. “He sais that he dont wish to sell her at any price   he wants to get her to make ensample [example] of her for the good of the institution.”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. [After December 20, 1852, before February 14, 1853]

Amy Kirby Post, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, befriended Harriet and urged her to write her autobiography. In this letter Harriet expresses her reservations about telling of her ordeal. “Your proposal to me has been thought over and over again but not with out some most painful rememberances.”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. February 14, 1853

Jacobs writes to Amy Post, reporting that she meant to approach the author Harriet Beecher Stowe about having Jacobs’s daughter Louise join her on her visit to England. “I thought Louisa would be a very good representative of a Southern Slave   she has improved much in her studies and I think that she has energy enough to do something for the cause.”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. April 4, 1853

In this letter to Amy Post, Jacobs angrily reports that Stowe had declined to have Louise accompany her to England. “She was afraid that if her situation as a Slave should be known it would subject her to much petting and patronizing which would be more pleasing to a young Girl than useful.”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. March, 1854

Jacobs writes of the difficulty she has had in finding time to write while working for Willis family. “I have not written a single page by daylight   Mrs W dont know from my lips that I am writing for a Book”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. June 21, 1857

Jacobs relates to Amy Post of the difficulty in writing of her sexual oppression while enslaved. “Woman can whisper—her cruel wrongs into the ear of a very dear friend—much easier than she can record them for the world to read.”

Lydia Maria Child to Harriet Jacobs. August 13, 1860

Child, a noted author of anti-slavery texts, agreed to write a preface to Jacobs’s work and edit the manuscript. “I have very little occasion to alter the language, which is wonderfully good…”

Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post. October 8, 1860

Harriet writes to Amy Post about the progress of her manuscript and Lydia Maria Child’s support. “Mrs C is like your self a whole souled Woman—we soon found the way to each others heart.”

Review of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The Weekly Anglo-African, April 13, 1861

Incidents received a glowing review in the pages of the The Weekly Anglo-African. “In such volumes as this, the true romance of American life and history is to be found.”

Harriet Jacobs, “Life Among the Contrabands.” The Liberator, September 5, 1862

Jacobs describes her relief work among the fugitives from slavery who had fled to Washington, D.C. “I found men, women and children all huddled together, without any distinction or regard to age or sex. Some of them were in the most pitiable condition.”

“Jacobs School.” The Freedmen’s Record, March, 1865

The Freedmen’s Record reports on Jacobs’s work providing support for a free school in Alexandria, Virginia. “Was any dream of the night dearer and sweeter to her than the present reality?—her people freed, and the school-house, built mainly by her own exertions, named in her honor, and presided over by black and white teachers, working harmoniously together.”

Harriet Jacobs to Ednah Dow Cheney. April 25, 1867

While visiting her family home in Edenton, North Carolina, Jacobs writes to Ednah Dow Cheney of the New England Freedman’s Aid Society. “Thank God, the bitter cup is drained of its last dreg. There is no more need of hiding places to conceal slave Mothers.”

“Savannah Freedmen’s Orphan Asylum.” (London) Anti-Slavery Reporter, March 2, 1868

Harriet Jacobs’s appeal for aid for the Savannah Freedmen’s Orphan Asylum. Harriet and her daughter Louisa were active in educational and relief work in Savannah, Georgia. “There are many thousand orphans in the Southern States.”