Movies like 12 Years a Slave give us a good idea of what the desperate escape to freedom must have been like for many African-American slaves. But the following accounts are equally as captivating. Such fine examples of luck, trickery, and pure dogged determination deserve to be noticed.
Born in 1813, Harriet Jacobs was frequently the victim of brutal sexual assaults from her master, James Norcom. Even when Jacobs took a lover and had two children with him, Norcom’s sexual advances continued. Finally, it got to be more than she could bear. In 1835, she went to hide with friends.
Jacobs knew the odds were slim that she’d make it to the North, so she hid in a cramped crawl space in her grandmother’s attic on the North Carolina plantation. Barely big enough to accommodate Jacobs, the space was infested with rats. Nonetheless, she lived there for the next seven years.
In 1842, she escaped the plantation by boat to Philadelphia. Upon arriving, she was taken in by members of the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee. She later wrote about her life and trials in the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
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