1) The Primary Source Assignment includes a set of 3 primary documents relating to the time period being covered in Unit 3. Using all of the documents provided in the set, write an essay based on the following guidelines.
2) For the content of your paper:
– Provide historical context/background for each document, connecting the individual accounts to the larger historical themes of the era.
– Compare the experiences and attitudes of each author.
– Based on what you have read in the textbook, explain how all of these documents relate to social and economic conditions experienced by many Americans during the first half of the 19th century (1800-1850).
– You DO NOT need to answer the questions at the end of each document.
3) Writing Requirements: Each PSA must be more than 500 words in length. Direct quotes do not count toward the required word count.
4) Research and Citations: This assignment does not require any outside research and can be completed using the documents, the textbook, and the videos. In the case of these sources, only direct quotes need to be cited, requiring only the author’s last name in parentheses. Outside sources (books, websites, etc.) may also be used, but in this case all information must be cited and must be listed in a works cited (or bibliography) at the end of the essay. For your citations, please use Chicago, MLA, or APA. You will submit your paper through plagiarism checking software, so be sure to cite any and all direct quotes.
Part Eleven: Reforming the Nation
11-6 A Lowell Mill Girl Tells her Story (1836)
Harriet Hanson Robinson worked in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts from the age of ten in 1834 until 1848. Later, as the wife of a newspaper editor, Robinson wrote an account of her earlier life as female factory worker and a description of the strike of 1836. Deeply involved in the political culture of her time, Robinson explained some of the family dynamics involved, and portrayed women as active participants in their own lives.
Source: Internet Modern History Sourcebook http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/robinson-lowell.html
In what follows, I shall confine myself to a description of factory life in Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1832 to 1848, since,
with that phase of Early Factory Labor in New England, I am the most familiar—because I was a part of it.
In 1832, Lowell was little more than a factory village. Five “corporations” were started, and the cotton mills
belonging to them were building. Help was in great demand and stories were told all over the country of the new factory
place, and the high wages that were offered to all classes of workpeople; stories that reached the ears of mechanics’ and
farmers’ sons and gave new life to lonely and dependent women in distant towns and farmhouses. . . . Troops of young
girls came from different parts of New England, and from Canada, and men were employed to collect them at so much a
head, and deliver them at the factories.
* * *
At the time the Lowell cotton mills were started the caste of the factory girl was the lowest among the employments of women. In England and in France, particularly, great injustice had been done to her real character. She was represented as subjected to influences that must destroy her purity and self-respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a
brute, a slave, to be beaten, pinched and pushed about. It was to overcome this prejudice that such high wages had been
offered to women that they might be induced to become mill girls, in spite of the opprobrium that still clung to this
degrading occupation. . . .
The early mill girls were of different ages. Some were not over ten years old; a few were in middle life, but the
majority were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. The very young girls were called “doffers.” They “doffed,” or
took off, the full bobbins from the spinning frames, and replaced them with empty ones. These mites worked about fifteen
minutes every hour and the rest of the time was their own. When the overseer was kind they were allowed to read, knit,
or go outside the mill yard to play. They were paid two dollars a week. The working hours of all the girls extended from
five o’clock in the morning until seven in the evening, with one half hour each, for breakfast and dinner. Even the doffers
were forced to be on duty nearly fourteen hours a day. This was the greatest hardship in the lives of these children. Several years later a ten hour law was passed, but not until long after some of these little doffers were old enough to appear
before the legislative committee on the subject, and plead, by their presence, for a reduction of the hours of labor.
Those of the mill girls who had homes generally worked from eight to ten months in the year; the rest of the time
was spent with parents or friends. A few taught school during the summer months. Their life in the factory was made pleasant
to them. In those days there was no need of advocating the doctrine of the proper relation between employer and employed.
Help was too valuable to be ill-treated. . . .
* * *
The most prevailing incentive to labor was to secure the means of education for some male member of the family.
To make a gentleman of a brother or a son, to give him a college education, was the dominant thought in the minds of a great
many of the better class of mill girls. I have known more than one to give every cent of her wages, month after month, to
her brother, that he might get the education necessary to enter some profession. I have known a mother to work years in this
way for her boy. I have known women to educate young men by their earnings, who were not sons or relatives. There are
many men now living who were helped to an education by the wages of the early mill girls.
It is well to digress here a little, and speak of the influence the possession of money had on the characters of some
of these women. We can hardly realize what a change the cotton factory made in the status of the working women. Hitherto woman had always been a money saving rather than a money earning, member of the community. Her labor could
command but small return. If she worked out as servant, or “help,” her wages were from 50 cents to $1.00 a week; or, if
she went from house to house by the day to spin and weave, or do tailoress work, she could get but 75 cents a week and
her meals. As teacher, her services were not in demand, and the arts, the professions, and even the trades and industries,
were nearly all closed to her.
As late as 1840 there were only seven vocations outside the home into which the women of New England had
entered. At this time woman had no property rights. A widow could be left without her share of her husband’s (or the
family) property, an “ encumbrance” to his estate. A father could make his will without reference to his daughter’s share
Reforming the Nation
of the inheritance. He usually left her a home on the farm as long as she remained single. A woman was not supposed to
be capable of spending her own, or of using other people’s money. In Massachusetts, before 1840, a woman could not,
legally, be treasurer of her own sewing society, unless some man were responsible for her. The law took no cognizance of
woman as a money spender. She was a ward, an appendage, a relict. Thus it happened that if a woman did not choose to
marry, or, when left a widow, to remarry, she had no choice but to enter one of the few employments open to her, or to
become a burden on the charity of some relative.
* * *
One of the first strikes that ever took place in this country was in Lowell in 1836. When it was announced that
the wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike or “turn out” en masse. This was
done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went from their several corporations in procession to the grove on Chapel
Hill, and listened to incendiary speeches from some early labor reformers.
One of the girls stood on a pump and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that
it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in
Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience.
It is hardly necessary to say that, so far as practical results are concerned, this strike did no good. The corporation would not come to terms. The girls were soon tired of holding out, and they went back to their work at the reduced
rate of wages. The ill-success of this early attempt at resistance on the part of the wage element seems to have made a
precedent for the issue of many succeeding strikes.
1. According to Harriet Hanson Robinson, what was one of the primary reasons why women worked
in the mills?
2. Describe the life of a mill girl as depicted by Robinson. What is her assessment of the efficacy of
the strike in 1836?
Part Twelve: Manifest Destiny
12-3 Across the Plains With Catherine Sager Pringle in 1844
As a child, Catherine Sager Pringle emigrated with her family from Ohio to Missouri and soon participated in the long overland journey to Oregon. She preserved her experiences in her diary in 1860. In this
excerpt from her first chapter, Pringle relates incidents on the trail and the emotional story of the death
of her parents.
Source: The Oregon Trail Web Site
ON THE PLAINS IN 1844
My father was one of the restless ones who are not content to remain in one place long at a time. Late in the fall of 1838 we
emigrated from Ohio to Missouri. Our first halting place was on Green River, but the next year we took a farm in Platte
County. He engaged in farming and blacksmithing, and had a wide reputation for ingenuity. Anything they needed, made or
mended, sought his shop. In 1843, Dr. Whitman came to Missouri.
The healthful climate induced my mother to favor moving
to Oregon. Immigration was the theme all winter, and we decided to start for Oregon. Late in 1843 father sold his property
and moved near St. Joseph, and in April, 1844, we started across the plains. The first encampments were a great pleasure to
us children. We were five girls and two boys, ranging from the girl baby to be born on the way to the oldest boy, hardly old
enough to be any help.
Startlng on the Plains
We waited several days at the Missouri River. Many friends came that far to see the emigrants start on their long journey,
and there was much sadness at the parting, and a sorrowful company crossed the Missouri that bright spring morning. The
motion of the wagon made us all sick, and it was weeks before we got used to the seasick motion. Rain came down and
required us to tie down the wagon covers, and so increased our sickness by confining the air we breathed.
Our cattle recrossed in the night and went back to their winter quarters. This caused delay in recovering them and
a weary, forced march to rejoin the train. This was divided into companies, and we were in that commanded by William
Shaw. Soon after starting Indians raided our camp one night and drove off a number of cattle. They were pursued, but never
Soon everything went smooth and our train made steady headway. The weather was fine and we enjoyed the
journey pleasantly. There were several musical instruments among the emigrants, and these sounded clearly on the evening
air when camp was made and merry talk and laughter resounded from almost every camp-fire.
Incidents of Travel
We had one wagon, two steady yoke of old cattle, and several of young and not well-broken ones. Father was no ox
driver, and had trouble with these until one day he called on Captain Shaw for assistance. It was furnished by the good captain pelting the refractory steers with stones until they were glad to come to terms.
Reaching the buffalo country, our father would get some one to drive his team and start on the hunt, for he was
enthusiastic in his love of such sport. He not only killed the great bison, but often brought home on his shoulder the timid
antelope that had fallen at his unerring aim, and that are not often shot by ordinary marksmen. Soon after crossing South
Platte the unwieldy oxen ran on a bank and overturned the wagon, greatly injuring our mother. She lay long insensible in
the tent put up for the occasion.
August 1st we nooned in a beautiful grove on the north side of the Platte. We had by this time got used to
climbing in and out of the wagon when in motion. When performing this feat that afternoon my dress caught on an axle
helve and I was thrown under the wagon wheel, which passed over and badly crushed my limb before father could stop the
team. He picked me up and saw the extent of the injury when the injured limb hung dangling in the air.
The Father Dying on the Plains
In a broken voice he exclaimed: “My dear child, your leg is broken all to pieces!” The news soon spread along the train
and a halt was called. A surgeon was found and the limb set; then we pushed on the same night to Laramie, where we
arrived soon after dark. This accident confined me to the wagon the remainder of the long journey.
After Laramie we entered the great American desert, which was hard on the teams. Sickness became common.
Father and the boys were all sick, and we were dependent for a driver on the Dutch doctor who set my leg. He offered his
services and was employed, but though an excellent surgeon, he knew little about driving oxen. Some of them often had
to rise from their sick beds to wade streams and get the oxen safely across. One day four buffalo ran between our wagon
and the one behind. Though feeble, father seized his gun and gave chase to them. This imprudent act prostrated him again,
and it soon became apparent that his days were numbered. He was fully conscious of the fact, but could not be reconciled
to the thought of leaving his large and helpless family in such precarious circumstances. The evening before his death we
crossed Green River and camped on the bank. Looking where I lay helpless, he said: “Poor child! What will become of
you?” Captain Shaw found him weeping bitterly.
He said his last hour had come, and his heart was filled with anguish for
his family. His wife was ill, the children small, and one likely to be a cripple. They had no relatives near, and a long
journey lay before them. In piteous tones he begged the Captain to take charge of them and see them through. This he
stoutly promised. Father was buried the next day on the banks of Green River.
His coffin was made of two troughs dug out
of the body of a tree, but next year emigrants found his bleaching bones, as the Indians had disinterred the remains.
We hired a young man to drive, as mother was afraid to trust the doctor, but the kindhearted German would not
leave her, and declared his intention to see her safe in the Willamette.
At Fort Bridger the stream was full of fish, and we
made nets of wagon sheets to catch them. That evening the new driver told mother he would hunt for game if she would
let him use the gun. He took it, and we never saw him again. He made for the train in advance, where he had a sweetheart.
We found the gun waiting our arrival at Whitman’s. Then we got along as best we could with the doctor’s help.
Mother planned to get to Whitman’s and winter there, but she was rapidly failing under her sorrows. The nights
and mornings were very cold, and she took cold from the exposure unavoidably.
With camp fever and a sore mouth, she
fought bravely against fate for the sake of her children, but she was taken delirious soon after reaching Fort Bridger, and
was bed-fast. Travelling in this condition over a road clouded with dust, she suffered intensely. She talked of her husband,
addressing him as though present, beseeching him in piteous tones to relieve her sufferings, until at last she became unconscious. Her babe was cared for by the women of the train. Those kind-hearted women would also come in at night and wash
the dust from the mother’s face and otherwise make her comfortable. We travelled a rough road the day she died, and she
moaned fearfully all the time.
At night one of the women came in as usual, but she made no reply to questions, so she
thought her asleep, and washed her face, then took her hand and discovered the pulse was nearly gone. She lived but a few
moments, and her last words were,“Oh, Henry! If you only knew how we have suffered.” The tent was set up, the corpse
laid out, and next morning we took the last look at our mother’s face. The grave was near the road; willow brush was laid
in the bottom and covered the body, the earth filled in—then the train moved on.
Her name was cut on a headboard, and that was all that could be done. So in twenty-six days we became orphans. Seven
children of us, the oldest fourteen and the youngest a babe. A few days before her death, finding herself in possession of her faculties and fully aware of the coming end, she had taken an affectionate farewell of her children and charged the doctor to take
care of us. She made the same request of Captain Shaw. The baby was taken by a woman in the train, and all were literally
adopted by the company. No one there but was ready to do us any possible favor.
This was especially true of Captain Shaw and
his wife. Their kindness will ever be cherished in grateful remembrance by us all. Our parents could not have been more solicitous or careful. When our flour gave out they gave us bread as long as they had any, actually dividing their last loaf. To this day
Uncle Billy and Aunt Sally, as we call them, regard us with the affection of parents. Blessings on his hoary head!
At Snake River they lay by to make our wagon into a cart, as our team was wearing out. Into this was loaded what
was necessary. Some things were sold and some left on the plains.
The last of September we arrived at Grande Ronde,
where one of my sister’s clothes caught fire, and she would have burned to death only that the German doctor, at the cost
of burning his hands, saved her. One night the captain heard a child crying, and found my little sister had got out of the
wagon and was perishing in the freezing air, for the nights were very cold. We had been out of flour and living on meat
alone, so a few were sent in advance to get supplies from Dr. Whitman and return to us. Having so light a load we could
travel faster than the other teams, and went on with Captain Shaw and the advance. Through the Blue Mountains cattle were
giving out and left lying in the road.
We made but a few miles a day. We were in the country of “Dr. Whitman’s Indians,”
as they called themselves. They were returning from buffalo hunting and frequented our camps. They were loud in praise of
the missionaries and anxious to assist us. Often they would drive up some beast that had been left behind as given out and
return it to its owner.
One day when we were making a fire of wet wood Francis thought to help the matter by holding his powder-horn
over a small blaze. Of course the powder-horn exploded, and the wonder was he was left alive. He ran to a creek near by
and bathed his hands and face, and came back destitute of winkers and eyebrows, and his face was blackened beyond
recognition. Such were the incidents and dangerous and humorous features of the journey.
We reached Umatilla October 15th, and lay by while Captain Shaw went on to Whitman’s station to see if the doctor
would take care of us, if only until he could become located in the Willamette. We purchased of the Indians the first potatoes
we had eaten since we started on our long and sad journey. October 17th we started for our destination, leaving the baby very
sick, with doubts of its recovery. Mrs. Shaw took an affectionate leave of us all, and stood looking after us as long as we were
in sight. Speaking of it in later years, she said she never saw a more pitiful sight than that cartful of orphans going to finda
home among strangers.
Part Twelve: Manifest Destiny
We reached the station in the forenoon. For weeks this place had been a subject for our talk by day and formed
our dreams at night. We expected to see log houses, occupied by Indians and such people as we had seen about the forts.
Instead we saw a large white house surrounded with palisades. A short distance from the doctor’s dwelling was another
large adobe house, built by Mr. Gray, but now used by immigrants in the winter, and for a granary in the summer. It was
situated near the mill pond, and the grist mill was not far from it.
Between the two houses were the blacksmith shop and the corral, enclosed with slabs set up endways. The garden
lay between the mill and the house, and a large field was on the opposite side. A good-sized ditch passed in front of the
house, connecting with the mill pond, intersecting other ditches all around the farm, for the purpose of irrigating the land.
We drove up and halted near this ditch. Captain Shaw was in the house conversing with Mrs. Whitman. Glancing through
the window, he saw us, and turning to her said: “Your children have come; will you go out and see them?” He then came out and
told the boys to “Help the girls out and get their bonnets.” Alas! it was easy to talk of bonnets, but not to find them! But one or
two were finally discovered by the time Mrs. Whitman had come out. Here was a scene for an artist to describe! Foremost stood
the little cart, with the tired oxen that had been unyoked lying near it. Sitting in the front end of the cart was John, weeping bitterly; on the opposite side stood Francis, his arms on the wheel and his head resting on his arms, sobbing aloud; on the near side
the little girls were huddled together, bareheaded and barefooted, looking at the boys and then at the house, dreading we knewnot
what. By the oxen stood the good German doctor, with his whip in his hand, regarding the scene with suppressed emotion.
Thus Mrs. Whitman found us. She was a large, well-formed woman, fair complexioned, with beautiful auburn hair,
nose rather large, and large gray eyes. She had on a dark calico dress and gingham sunbonnet. We thought as we shyly looked
at her that she was the prettiest woman we had ever seen. She spoke kindly to us as she came up, but like frightened things
we ran behind the cart, peeping shyly around at her. She then addressed the boys, asking why they wept, adding: “Poor boys.
no wonder you weep!” She then began to arrange things as we threw them out, at the same time conversing with an Indian
woman sitting on the ground near by.
A little girl about seven years old soon came and stood regarding us with a timid look. This was little Helen Mar
Meed, and though a half-breed, she looked very pretty to us in her green dress and white apron and neat sunbonnet.
Having arranged everything in compact form Mrs. Whitman directed the doctor and the boys where to carry
them, and told Helen to show the little girls the way to the house. Seeing my lameness, she kindly took me by the hand
and my little sister by the other hand, and thus led us in. As we reached the steps, Captain Shaw asked if she had children
of her own. Pointing to a grave at the foot of the hill not far off, she said: “All the child I ever had sleeps yonder.” She
added that it was a great pleasure to her that she could see the grave from the door. The doctor and boys having deposited
the things as directed, went over to the mansion. As we entered the house we saw a girl about nine years old washing
dishes. Mrs. Whitman spoke cheerfully to her and said: “Well, Mary Ann, how do you think you will like all these sisters?”
Seated in her arm-chair, she placed the youngest on her lap, and calling us round her, asked our names, about our parents,
and the baby, often exclaiming as we told our artless story, “Poor children!”
Dr. Whitman came in from the mill and stood in the door, looking as though surprised at the large addition so suddenly made to the family. We were a sight calculated to excite surprise, dirty and sunburned until we looked more like
Indians than white children. Added to this, John had cropped our hair so that it hung in uneven locks and added to our
uncouth appearance. Seeing her husband standing there, Mrs. Whitman said, with a laugh: “Come in, doctor, and see your
children.” He sat down and tried to take little Louisa in his arms, but she ran screaming to me, much to the discomfiture
of the doctor and amusement of his wife. She then related to him what we had told her in reference to the baby, and
expressed her fears lest it should die, saying it was the baby she wanted most of all.
Our mother had asked that we might not be separated, so Captain Shaw now urged the doctor to take charge of us all.
He feared the Board might object, as he was sent as a missionary to the Indians. The captain argued that a missionary’s duty
was to do good, and we certainly were objects worthy of missionary charity. He was finally persuaded to keep us all until spring.
His wife did not readily consent, but he told her he wanted boys as well as the girls. Finding the boys willing to stay, he made
a written agreement with Captain Shaw that he would take charge of them. Before Captain Shaw reached the valley, Dr.
Whitman overtook him and told him he was pleased with the children and he need give himself no further care concerning them.
The baby was brought over in few days. It was very sick, but under Mrs. Whitman’s judicious care was soon restored to health.
Our faithful friend, the German doctor, left us at last, safe in the motherly care of Mrs. Whitman. Well had he kept
his promise to our dying mother.
1. What were some of the more unfortunate accidents witnessed or experienced by Catherine Sager
Pringle along the trail? How many of these mishaps might have been anticipated by the
2. What do you think Catherine Sager Pringle learned about herself during her trip across the plains in
Part Nine: Economic and Social Change
9-12 The Trials of a Slave Girl
Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1813. After suffering years of physical and sexual abuse from her owner, Dr. James Norcom (“Dr. Flint”), Jacobs became involved with a
white neighbor, Samuel Sawyer, simply so she could stay away from Norcom. Sawyer and Jacobs had
two children together, Joseph and Louisa. In 1842, Jacobs escaped to the North where she became
active in the antislavery movement. At the urging of several female abolitionists, she wrote Incidents in
the Life of a Slave Girl, which was published in Boston in 1861 under the pseudonym, Linda Brent. The
book is significant for its description of the sexual abuse of female slaves, avoided by most nineteenthcentury critics of the institution.
Source: Jacobs, Harriet Ann, 1813–1897, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, Electronic
DURING the first years of my service in Dr. Flint’s family, I was accustomed to share some indulgences with the children
of my mistress. Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it, and tried to merit the kindness by the
faithful discharge of my duties. But I now entered on my fifteenth year—a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl. My master
began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import.
I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master’s age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they left me trembling.
He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean
images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred. But he was my master. I was
compelled to live under the same roof with him—where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred
commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted
against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or
as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from
death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men.
The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage. The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe. They are greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you credited one half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless millions suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own soil, the mean and cruel work which trained bloodhounds and the lowest class of whites do for him at the south.
Every where the years bring to all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery the very dawn of life is darkened by
these shadows. Even the little child, who is accustomed to wait on her mistress and her children, will learn, before she is
twelve years old, why it is that her mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves. Perhaps the child’s own mother
is among those hated ones.
She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the
cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s
footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove
her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave.
I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most
acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I
am still pained by the retrospect.
My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by
heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother’s grave, his dark shadow fell on me even there. The light heart
which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings. The other slaves in my master’s house noticed the change.
Many of them pitied me; but none dared to ask the cause. They had no need to inquire. They knew too well the guilty practices under that roof; and they were aware that to speak of them was an offence that never went unpunished.
I longed for some one to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my grandmother’s
faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave.
Then, although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as loved her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with
a respect bordering upon awe. I was very young, and felt shamefaced about telling her such impure things, especially as I
knew her to be very strict on such subjects. Moreover, she was a woman of a high spirit. She was usually very quiet in her
demeanor; but if her indignation was once roused, it was not very easily quelled. I had been told that she once chased a white
gentleman with a loaded pistol, because he insulted one of her daughters. I dreaded the consequences of a violent outbreak;
and both pride and fear kept me silent. But though I did not confide in my grandmother, and even evaded her vigilant
Economic and Social Change
watchfulness and inquiry, her presence in the neighborhood was some protection to me. Though she had been a slave, Dr.
Flint was afraid of her. He dreaded her scorching rebukes. Moreover, she was known and patronized by many people; and
he did not wish to have his villany made public. It was lucky for me that I did not live on a distant plantation, but in a town
not so large that the inhabitants were ignorant of each other’s affairs. Bad as are the laws and customs in a slaveholding community, the doctor, as a professional man, deemed it prudent to keep up some outward show of decency.
O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself
that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered.
I once saw two beautiful children playing together. One was a fair white child; the other was her slave, and also
her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away from the lovely
sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave’s heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be
changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood to womanhood her pathway was
blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose
on her happy bridal morning.
How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful;
but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink.
In view of these things, why are ye silent, ye free men and women of the north? Why do your tongues falter in
maintenance of the right? Would that I had more ability! But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak! There are noble
men and women who plead for us, striving to help those who cannot help themselves. God bless them! God give them
strength and courage to go on! God bless those, every where, who are laboring to advance the cause of humanity! . . .
Dr. Flint contrived a new plan. He seemed to have an idea that my fear of my mistress was his greatest obstacle.
In the blandest tones, he told me that he was going to build a small house for me, in a secluded place, four miles away from
the town. I shuddered; but I was constrained to listen, while he talked of his intention to give me a home of my own, and
to make a lady of me. Hitherto, I had escaped my dreaded fate, by being in the midst of people. My grandmother had
already had high words with my master about me. She had told him pretty plainly what she thought of his character, and
there was considerable gossip in the neighborhood about our affairs, to which the open-mouthed jealousy of Mrs. Flint contributed not a little.
When my master said he was going to build a house for me, and that he could do it with little trouble
and expense, I was in hopes something would happen to frustrate his scheme; but I soon heard that the house was actually
begun. I vowed before my Maker that I would never enter it. I had rather toil on the plantation from dawn till dark; I had
rather live and die in jail, than drag on, from day to day, through such a living death. I was determined that the master, whom
I so hated and loathed, who had blighted the prospects of my youth, and made my life a desert, should not, after my long
struggle with him, succeed at last in trampling his victim under his feet. I would do any thing, every thing, for the sake of
defeating him. What could I do? I thought and thought, till I became desperate, and made a plunge into the abyss.
And now, reader, I come to a period in my unhappy life, which I would gladly forget if I could.
fills me with sorrow and shame. It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth, and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may. I will not try to screen myself behind the plea of compulsion from a master; for it was not
so. Neither can I plead ignorance or thoughtlessness. For years, my master had done his utmost to pollute my mind with
foul images, and to destroy the pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good mistress of my childhood. The
influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely
knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world. I know what I did, and I did it with deliberate calculation.
But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the
objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! If
slavery had been abolished, I, also, could have married the man of my choice; I could have had a home shielded by the
laws; and I should have been spared the painful task of confessing what I am now about to relate; but all my prospects had
been blighted by slavery. I wanted to keep myself pure; and, under the most adverse circumstances, I tried hard to preserve
my self-respect; but I was struggling alone in the powerful grasp of the demon Slavery; and the monster proved too strong
for me. I felt as if I was forsaken by God and man; as if all my efforts must be frustrated; and I became reckless in my
I have told you that Dr. Flint’s persecutions and his wife’s jealousy had given rise to some gossip in the neighborhood. Among others, it chanced that a white unmarried gentleman had obtained some knowledge of the circumstances
in which I was placed. He knew my grandmother, and often spoke to me in the street. He became interested for me, and
asked questions about my master, which I answered in part. He expressed a great deal of sympathy, and a wish to aid me.
He constantly sought opportunities to see me, and wrote to me frequently. I was a poor slave girl, only fifteen years old.
So much attention from a superior person was, of course, flattering; for human nature is the same in all. I also
felt grateful for his sympathy, and encouraged by his kind words. It seemed to me a great thing to have such a friend. By
Part Nine: Economic and Social Change
degrees, a more tender feeling crept into my heart. He was an educated and eloquent gentleman; too eloquent, alas, for
the poor slave girl who trusted in him. Of course I saw whither all this was tending. I knew the impassable gulf between
us; but to be an object of interest to a man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to the pride and
feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her any pride or sentiment. It seems less degrading to give one’s self,
than to submit to compulsion.
There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except
that which he gains by kindness and attachment. A master may treat you as rudely as he pleases, and you dare not speak;
moreover, the wrong does not seem so great with an unmarried man, as with one who has a wife to be made unhappy.
There may be sophistry in all this; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles of morality, and, in fact, renders
the practice of them impossible.
When I found that my master had actually begun to build the lonely cottage, other feelings mixed with those I
have described. Revenge, and calculations of interest, were added to flattered vanity and sincere gratitude for kindness. I
knew nothing would enrage Dr. Flint so much as to know that I favored another; and it was something to triumph over my
tyrant even in that small way.
I thought he would revenge himself by selling me, and I was sure my friend, Mr. Sands,
would buy me. He was a man of more generosity and feeling than my master, and I thought my freedom could be easily
obtained from him. The crisis of my fate now came so near that I was desperate. I shuttered to think of being the mother
of children that should be owned by my old tyrant. I knew that as soon as a new fancy took him, his victims were sold far
off to get rid of them; especially if they had children.
I had seen several women sold, with his babies at the breast. He never
allowed his offspring by slaves to remain long in sight of himself and his wife. Of a man who was not my master I could
ask to have my children well supported; and in this case, I felt confident I should obtain the boon. I also felt quite sure that
they would be made free. With all these thoughts revolving in my mind, and seeing no other way of escaping the doom I
so much dreaded, I made a headlong plunge.
Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be
a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated
tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and trembled within hearing of his voice. I know I did wrong.
No one can feel it more sensibly than I do. The painful and humiliating memory will haunt me to my dying day. Still, in
looking back, calmly, on the events of my life, I feel that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the same standard
The months passed on. I had many unhappy hours. I secretly mourned over the sorrow I was bringing on my
grandmother, who had so tried to shield me from harm. I knew that I was the greatest comfort of her old age, and that it
was a source of pride to her that I had not degraded myself, like most of the slaves. I wanted to confess to her that I was
no longer worthy of her love; but I could not utter the dreaded words.
As for Dr. Flint, I had a feeling of satisfaction and triumph in the thought of telling him. From time to time he told
me of his intended arrangements, and I was silent. At last, he came and told me the cottage was completed, and ordered me to
go to it. I told him I would never enter it. He said, “I have heard enough of such talk as that. You shall go, if you are carried
by force; and you shall remain there.” I replied, “I will never go there. In a few months I shall be a mother.”
He stood and looked at me in dumb amazement, and left the house without a word. I thought I should be happy in
my triumph over him. But now that the truth was out, and my relatives would hear of it, I felt wretched. Humble as were
their circumstances, they had pride in my good character. Now, how could I look them in the face? My self-respect was gone!
I had resolved that I would be virtuous, though I was a slave. I had said, “Let the storm beat! I will brave it till I die.” And
now, how humiliated I felt!
I went to my grandmother. My lips moved to make confession, but the words stuck in my throat. I sat down in the
shade of a tree at her door and began to sew. I think she saw something unusual was the matter with me. The mother of slaves
is very watchful. She knows there is no security for her children. After they have entered their teens she lives in daily expectation of trouble. This leads to many questions. If the girl is of a sensitive nature, timidity keeps her from answering truthfully,
and this well-meant course has a tendency to drive her from maternal counsels.
Presently, in came my mistress, like a mad
woman, and accused me concerning her husband. My grandmother, whose suspicions had been previously awakened, believed
what she said. She exclaimed, “O Linda! has it come to this? I had rather see you dead than to see you as you now are. You
are a disgrace to your dead mother.” She tore from my fingers my mother’s wedding ring and her silver thimble. “Go away!”
she exclaimed, “and never come to my house, again.” Her reproaches fell so hot and heavy, that they left me no chance to
answer. Bitter tears, such as the eyes never shed but once, were my only answer.
I rose from my seat, but fell back again, sobbing. She did not speak to me; but the tears were running down her furrowed cheeks, and they scorched me like fire. She had
always been so kind to me! So kind! How I longed to throw myself at her feet, and tell her all the truth! But she had ordered
me to go, and never to come there again. After a few minutes, I mustered strength, and started to obey her. With what feelings did I now close that little gate, which I used to open with such an eager hand in my childhood! It closed upon me with
a sound I never heard before.
Economic and Social Change
Where could I go? I was afraid to return to my master’s. I walked on recklessly, not caring where I went, or what
would become of me. When I had gone four or five miles, fatigue compelled me to stop. I sat down on the stump of an
old tree. The stars were shining through the boughs above me. How they mocked me, with their bright, calm light! The
hours passed by, and as I sat there alone a chilliness and deadly sickness came over me. I sank on the ground. My mind
was full of horrid thoughts. I prayed to die; but the prayer was not answered. At last, with great effort I roused myself,
and walked some distance further, to the house of a woman who had been a friend of my mother. When I told her why
I was there, she spoke soothingly to me; but I could not be comforted. I thought I could bear my shame if I could only
be reconciled to my grandmother. I longed to open my heart to her.
I thought if she could know the real state of the case,
and all I had been bearing for years, she would perhaps judge me less harshly. My friend advised me to send for her. I
did so; but days of agonizing suspense passed before she came. Had she utterly forsaken me? No. She came at last. I knelt
before her, and told her the things that had poisoned my life; how long I had been persecuted; that I saw no way of
escape; and in an hour of extremity I had become desperate. She listened in silence. I told her I would bear any thing and
do any thing, if in time I had hopes of obtaining her forgiveness. I begged of her to pity me, for my dead mother’s sake.
And she did pity me. She did not say, “I forgive you;” but she looked at me lovingly, with her eyes full of tears. She laid
her old hand gently on my head, and murmured, “Poor child! Poor child!”
1. Based upon your reading of this excerpt from Harriet Jacobs’s narrative, what power and influence
did the matriarchs of the slave family have in both the slave community and among white owners?
Why do you think this was so?
2. Why do you think the wives and mothers of slave owners did not do more to stop the physical and
sexual abuse of female slaves?
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