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Harriet Jacobs, daughter of Delilah, the slave of Margaret Horniblow, and Daniel Jacobs, the slave of Andrew Knox, was born in Edenton, North Carolina, in the fall of 1813.
In her will, Margaret Horniblow bequeathed eleven-year-old Harriet to a niece, Mary Matilda Norcom.In 1837 Sawyer was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1842 Jacobs escaped to the North by boat, determined to reclaim her daughter from Sawyer, who had sent her to Brooklyn, New York, to work as a house servant.Although he had purchased their children in accordance with their mother's wishes, Sawyer moved to Washington, D. For ten years after her escape from North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs lived the tense and uncertain life of a fugitive slave.She found Louisa in Brooklyn, secured a place for both children to live with her in Boston, and went to work as a nursemaid to the baby daughter of Mary Stace Willis, wife of the popular editor and poet, Nathaniel Parker Willis.From 1825, when she entered the Norcom household, until 1842, the year she escaped from slavery, Harriet Jacobs struggled to avoid the sexual victimization that Dr. Although she loved and admired her grandmother, Molly Horniblow, a free black woman who wanted to help Jacobs gain her freedom, the teenage slave could not bring herself to reveal to her unassailably upright grandmother the nature of Norcom's threats.Despised by the doctor's suspicious wife and increasingly isolated by her situation, Jacobs in desperation formed a clandestine liaison with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, a white attorney with whom Jacobs had two children, Joseph and Louisa, by the time she was twenty years old.
Hoping that by seeming to run away she could induce Norcom to sell her children to their father, Jacobs hid herself in a crawl space above a storeroom in her grandmother's house in the summer of 1835.
In that "little dismal hole" she remained for the next seven years, sewing, reading the Bible, keeping watch over her children as best she could, and writing occasional letters to Norcom designed to confuse him as to her actual whereabouts.
Since Mary Norcom was only three years old when Harriet Jacobs became her slave, Mary's father, Dr.
James Norcom, an Edenton physician, became Jacobs's de facto master.
Under the regime of James and Maria Norcom, Jacobs was introduced to the harsh realities of slavery.
Though barely a teenager, Jacobs soon realized that her master was a sexual threat.