Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent Quotes in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s Word: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor.
I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me. What cared my owners for that? He was merely a piece of property. Moreover, they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they were human beings. This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to teach…
When my grandmother applied for him for payment he said the estate was insolvent, and the law prohibited payment. It did not, however, prohibit him from retaining the silver candelabra, which had been purchased with that money. I presume they will be handed down in the family, from generation to generation.
The girl’s mother said, “The baby is dead, thank God; and I hope my poor child will soon be in heaven, too.”
“Heaven!” retorted the mistress. “There is no such place for the like of her and her bastard.”
The poor mother turned away, sobbing. Her dying daughter called her feebly… “Don’t grieve so, mother; God knows all about it; and He will have mercy upon me.”
But to the slave mother New Year’s day comes laden with peculiar sorrows. She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that has brutalized her from her childhood; but she has a mother’s instincts, and is capable of a mother’s agonies.
For my master, whose restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking whom to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words; words that scathed ear and brain like fire. O, how I despised him! I thought how glad I should be if some day when he walked the earth, it would open and swallow him up…
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…But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him … He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things.
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.
She felt that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted; but she had no compassion for the poor victim of her husband’s perfidy. She pitied herself as a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for the condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate, helpless slave was placed.
The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.
Some poor creatures have been so brutalized by the lash that they will sneak out of the way to give their masters free access to their wives and daughters. Do you think this proves the black man to belong to an inferior order of beings? What would you be, if you had been born and brought up a slave…
I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.
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 too could have married the man of my choice; I could have had a home shielded by the laws…
I know I did wrong. No one can feel it more sensibly than I do…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 as others.
You must forsake your sinful ways, and be faithful servants. Obey your old master and your young master…if you disobey your earthly master, you offend your heavenly Master. You must obey God’s commandments.
There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious.
Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.
We knelt down together, with my child pressed to my heart, and my other arm round the faithful, loving old friend I was about to leave forever. On no other occasion has it ever been my lot to listen to so fervent a supplication for mercy and protection. It thrilled through my heart, and inspired me with trust in God.
Yet that intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man was a chattel! Liable, by the laws of a country that calls itself civilized, to be sold with horses and pigs!
I replied, “God alone knows how much I have suffered; and He, I trust, will forgive me. If I am permitted to have my children, I intend to be a good mother, and to live in such a manner that people cannot treat me with contempt.
I did not discover till years afterward that Mr. Thorne’s intemperance was not the only annoyance she suffered from…he had poured vile language into the ears of [Grandmother’s] innocent great-grandchild.
I thought that if he was my own father, he ought to love me. I was a little girl then, and didn’t know any better. But now I never think any thing about my father. All my love is for you.
Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage….The dream of my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with my children in a home of my own.