c. 1828 | Edenton, NC

False Reports

Harriet Jacobs exposes the deceit of slaveholders.

Slaveholders pride themselves upon being honorable men; but if you were to hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves, you would have small respect for their veracity. I have spoken plain English. Pardon me. I cannot use a milder term. When they visit the North, and return home, they tell their slaves of the runaways they have seen, and describe them to be in the most deplorable condition.

A slaveholder once told me that he had seen a runaway friend of mine in New York, and that she besought him to take her back to her master, for she was literally dying of starvation; that many days she had only one cold potato to eat, and at other times could get nothing at all. He said he refused to take her, because he knew her master would not thank him for bringing such a miserable wretch to his house. He ended by saying to me, “This is the punishment she brought on herself for running away from a kind master.”

This whole story was false. I afterward stayed with that friend in New York, and found her in comfortable circumstances. She had never thought of such a thing as wishing to go back to slavery. Many of the slaves believe such stories, and think it is not worthwhile to exchange slavery for such a hard kind of freedom.


Harriet Jacobs

From Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. After running away from her North Carolina master in 1835, Jacobs took refuge in the attic of her free grandmother for seven years before escaping to the North. Her new employers officially bought and freed her and her two children in 1852. She spent years writing her memoir, which was published in 1861. Jacobs assisted blacks fleeing the South during the Civil War, and in 1864 she joined the executive committee of the Women’s Loyal National League, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.