Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Slavery, in my eyes, is an institution that has always been ridiculed on behalf of the physical demands of the practice, but few know the extreme mental hardships that all slaves faced. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs writes autobiographically about her families' and her personal struggles as a maturing "mullatto" child in the South. Throughout this engulfing memoir of Harriet Jacobs life, this brave woman tells of many trying times to keep dignity, family, and religion above all else.

In the life of slaves, daily routines greatly depended on the gender of the slave. A male slave was, who was old enough, was usually found laboring in the field under the hot sun, while female slaves were obligated to do household work, sew, or watch over their master's children. Often times, the young slave girl is ordered to do petty things around the household, like fetching drinks for their masters, or cleaning up after dinner, but as they age, their responsibilities increase greatly. While it seems that men of slavery had the most demanding jobs of this time, my opinion has been swayed by tales of this book. Men were required to work from dawn to dusk, and do not get me wrong, that is an amazing feat, but they could also rest at night because they had no other responsibilities, all the while the women would work all day in the household, tend to their biological family, if they had not been separated, and then often times go back to work in the house until the wee hours of the night, waiting on the master and mistress' every beckoned call. Women of slavery were commonly called upon to nurse their mistresses' children through infancy so that the mother was not troubled in her sleep by her child. These women would often be found sleeping on the floor at the entry of their slaveholders' bedroom, easily awakened and ready to serve the child's every wish. Jacobs speaks of her Aunt Nancy who held this position for many years, and it was obvious that the needs of the white child and mother greatly out-weighed that of the black mother and child. Jacobs recalls, "… Until one midnight she was forced to leave, to give premature birth to a child. In a fortnight she was required to resume her place on the entry floor, because Mrs. Flint's babe needed her attentions. She kept her station there through summer and winter, until she had given premature birth to six children; and all the while she was employed as night-nurse to Mrs. Flint's children. Finally, toiling all day, and being deprived of rest at night, completely broke down her constitution, and Dr. Flint declared it was impossible she could ever become the mother of a living child." This excerpt from Jacobs' book is a perfect example of the respect that was given to slaves, which was none. The Flint's trusted this kind woman enough to basically raise their children, all the while making her sleep on the floor like a dog, not worthy of a decent bed to rest in.

Throughout slavery, Africans all throughout the country were forced to become unattached to their families as much as possible, simply for fear of being hurt. Kinship was hard to hold onto as a slave because of the unsympathetic and uncaring ways of slave masters. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and anyone else close to you could be sold into another state on any given day. The most heart wrenching day for slaves, was New Year's Day. On New Year's Day, or Hiring Day, as slave traders called it, traders would come to the plantations to buy slaves to sell to other slaveholders. Jacobs describes this day by writing, "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." One cannot easily relate with this feeling, but it is easy to imagine. The loss of...
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