- Kate Culkin
Harriet Ann Jacobs was born in Edenton, North Carolina, to the carpenter Elijah Knox and Delilah Horniblow, both of whom were slaves. Her brother, John S. Jacobs, was born two years later. Only when Delilah died in 1819 did Harriet understand that she was enslaved. Margaret Horniblow, Harriet's owner, soon taught the young girl to write and sew. Upon her death in 1835, however, Margaret left Jacobs to her young niece, Mary Matilda Norcom, the daughter of Dr. James and Mary Norcom. Elizabeth Horniblow, the owner of Jacobs's grandmother, Molly Horniblow, died three years later, and Elizabeth's sister, Hannah Prichard, purchased Molly in order to free her.
After Jacobs entered adolescence, Dr. Norcom pursued her relentlessly. In 1829, attempting to thwart Norcom's sexual advances, she had a son, Joseph, with the lawyer Samuel Tredwell Sawyer Jacobs and Sawyer also had ...
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895.