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Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs

No one in today’s society can even come close to experiencing the heartache, torment, anguish, and complete misery suffered by women in slavery. Many women endured this agony their entire lives, there only joy they found was through their children and families, who were torn away from them and sold, never to be seen or heard from again.

In the book, Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, Linda Brent tells a spectacular story of her twenty years spent in slavery with her master Dr. Flint, and her jealous Mistress. She speaks of her trials and triumphs as well as the harms done to other slaves. She takes you on the inside of slavery and shows you the Hell on Earth slavery really was. She tells you the love and heartbreak she experienced being an unmarried slave mother.

At the age of twenty or so, Linda escapes and with no place to hide she ends up in very small garret outside her grandmothers house. The garret was only nine-foot long and seven-foot wide, so small she could not even stand up. She lived in this hole with no light, no fresh air, and she barely moved for almost seven years. Linda finally escaped the confines of the garret and made her way to the North where she and her children lived much happier and most of all they lived free.

Linda Brent said, “Slavery is terrible for men, but is far more terrible for women.” She makes a good and true point, for when her life and the life of other slave women are compared to men’s, mentally, slavery takes a much larger toll on the suffering of women.

Women are responsible for their children, and the children of their masters. Mothers are often left feeling guilty for bringing their children into the cruel world of slavery. As Linda Brent expresses, “I often prayed for death; but now I didn’t want to die, unless my child could die too . . . it’s clinging fondness was a mixture of love and pain . . . sometimes I wished that he (Benny) might die in infancy . . .death is better than slavery”. In the book Linda has mixed feelings about her children because she so dearly loves them. She doesn’t want them to suffer in slavery as she has so she wishes they would die, but she loves them and she doesn’t want to lose them as many slave mothers had. I can only imagine how torn and incapable she must have felt as a slave and a mother.

Linda also speaks of “The Slaves New Year’s Day”, this was the time that slaves everywhere were sold and leased. Many mothers were torn from their husbands and their children. Linda speaks of one woman she witnessed, “I saw a mother lead seven children to the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her, but they took all . . .(The woman screamed) Gone! All gone! Why don’t God kill me?” Linda explains that these things happened daily, even hourly. This is only a small piece of the torture it was to be a woman in slavery.

Linda’s master often made perverted comments to her in which she expressed as too filthy to tell. He constantly threatened her and her life explaining that she was his to with as he pleased.

When Linda became pregnant with the son of a white man, Dr. Flint became very angry and he constantly reminded her of the fact that her baby was also his property, like a piece of land. When she had the boy she named him Benjamin, he was premature and Linda herself became very ill after the delivery. Linda refused to let anyone send for a doctor, because the only doctor that could treat her was Dr. Flint and she despised him. Finally when they thought she would die they sent for her master. He treated her and her child (Benny), and soon they recovered.

Almost three years later Linda had a daughter whom she named Ellen, which angered Dr. Flint even more. Once when Benny ran to cling to his mother when Dr. Flint was striking her, Dr. Flint knocked the child all the way across the room nearly killing him.

After the abuse afflicted on Benny, Linda finally escaped in search of a safe way to the North; she hid in various places, first, in a white friend’s house, where she was made very sick when concealed in a very damp place under the floor. She then remained in a locked storage room upstairs until she found out her children were sold to their father, who never really claimed them. Mr. Sands the children’s biological father handed the children and their papers over to Linda’s grandmother, so they thought. The woman Linda was staying with finally thought it best for both their sakes that she left, because people were becoming suspicious.

When Linda left, her family had no where to conceal her so, they disguised her and sat her out at the snaky swamp for two days while they build her a small garret outside her grandmother’s house. At the swamp she described the snakes, as being so plentiful that they had to push them away with a stick and the air so thick with mosquitoes she became ill from all the bites.

They finally finished and Linda hid out in the small garret that measured about three feet in height, nine feet in length, and five feet in width. Linda spoke of the suffocating air, the dampness always about during the rains and the smothering heat in the summer. She even talked about the rats and mice crawling over her body. She told about watching her children Ellen and Benny grow up through a small peephole. Her grandmother would bring her food at night and talk with her. Even as her great aunt was dying she could not leave to tend to her; all she could do was stay in her little smothering space.

Soon Dr. Flint began saying that Linda’s children belonged to his daughter and the contract of their sale was not legal because she was too young to consent to sale them. So in fear that he would take Ellen, Mr. Sands said he would send her to stay with a cousin, in the North where she would go to school.

Linda and her grandmother agreed and Ellen was on her way to Boston. The night before Ellen left her mother came out of her hole and into the house to talk with her. She told Ellen, “I am your mother.” and Ellen replied, “Are you really my mother?” Ellen couldn’t even remember what her own mother looked like. Linda spent that night with Ellen and they wept on each other and spoke of the things that had happened over the years. Ellen departed for Boston the following morning.

Finally, Linda received word that there was a safe way to get to the North and she left, after spending almost seven years in that tiny space. Linda finally made it to the North, safely and discreetly, no one suspected a thing. Dr. Flint assumed she’d lived in the North for years, he’d even gone in search of her several times. Although the North wasn’t everything Linda thought it would be, she was for the most part free. The people weren’t as nice as she thought they would be, and many of them were still extremely prejudice.

On her train ride to New York Linda had to pay to ride in a back car full of the smells of tobacco and whiskey. Shockingly, when Linda got there her Ellen had not been living very well. She had worn thin clothes and sometimes no shoes. She hadn’t even been sent to school even though she could have attended public schools for free. Ellen was extremely unhappy. She had actually been given to Mr. Sand’s niece as a handmaid. Although Linda was extremely angry she said nothing for fear of the selling of her daughter.

Linda found a job being a nurse to a nice family by the last name of Bruce and eventually got her daughter back and they later sent for her son to be with them. Dr. Flint continued to come to the North in search for her, but she had many friends who hid her.

In September 1850, a few years after Linda arrived in the North the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, it made it easy to legally seize and enslave any black man or woman at-large. All they had to do was apprehend the person, go before the commissioner, swear to the ownership of him or her and get a certificate of arrest. The commissioner received ten dollars for giving the certificate and five for denying it. Therefore, there were few denials.

The black man or woman accused of being a fugitive slave had no right to a trial and jury.
After the death of Dr. Flint, and Linda’s dear grandmother, Linda began thought it necessary to reading the paper everyday to see the new people checking into town. Linda especially looked for her mistress’s name, Mrs. Dodge, whom she’d heard, had been very low of funds and needed Linda simply to get some money.

Sure enough Mrs. Dodge showed up, Linda ran with the baby she nursed to California to stay with her brother. Benny was learning a trade with her brother and Ellen was in boarding school. At last Linda’s dear friend Mrs. Bruce purchased her for three hundred dollars. The Dodge’s were so certain that they’d never find her and so low on finances that they probably would have sold her for anything.

At last Linda and her children were free. Never to become captured by the Fugitive Slave Law and never again burdened with the thought that someone might know them and turn them in. What a relief that must have been after living such a long life as a runaway slave and poor slave mother.

As you could see Ms. Linda Brent was a very strong woman who’s love for her children fueled her determination to ensure that they would not live the horrible slave life as she had for so many years. She endured many painful years with the thought of one-day securing freedom for herself and her children, which she finally obtained. But I often wondered how strongly Linda must have about the word “free”. As I stated in my opening sentence no one from today’s society will ever come close to understanding the life of an enslaved person, and for that reason we will never understand the intense feelings Linda had about the word free.

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