Dehumanized Women and Civil War

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According to Economic History Association, nearly 4 million slaves with a market value estimated to be between $3.1 to $3.6 billion lived in the U.S. just before the Civil War. Slavery was a time period where many blacks suffered and died. An era that benefited a large number of people, including cotton consumers, insurance companies and industrial enterprises (Bourne). Slavery was brutal for everyone but heinous for women, especially after enduring the evil act of being separated from their children. It was rare for families to stay together when born into slavery. The autobiography of Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a great example of how slavery dehumanized women. She documented the horrors experienced in twenty-seven years as a slave.

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Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery on February 11, 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. Despite common factors of slavery, her father Daniel Jacobs, who was a carpenter and a slave to Andrew Knox, managed to live with her mother Delilah who was slave to Margaret Horniblow (Jacobs 618). She lost her mother at the age of six and then became property of her mom’s kind mistress, who nurtured and taught her how to write,read and sew. Slaves were also owned by masters that were kind and treated them as family, not everyone was this fortunate. To be clear, kind masters do not change the immortal act of slavery. After all, slaves were merchandise to men, and needed to be kept in their best condition.

Happiness did not last for Harriet, in 1825 at the age of twelve, the kind mistress died and her ownership gets transferred to her niece Mary Matilda who was only three years old. Due to her age the actual master is her father, Dr. James Norcom. A year after her father died, leaving her brother and grandma as her only family. Her grandma Molly Horniblow was a free woman living in the same area of the plantation, well respected and patronized by many people. Even then Harriet would not dare to tell her of any of the abuse she endured out of pride and fear.

Dr. Norcom brought nothing but misery into her life. When she turned fifteen years old, he began to whisper foul words in her ear, which the mistress suspected of. During slavery there were no laws protecting slaves of insult, violence or death (Jacob 619). No one spoke of these shameful actions, it was a violation with consequences. As much as she wanted to confide in someone, she would not dare because her master threatened to kill her if she was not “as silent as the grave” (Jacob 620). The master secretly was the father of eleven slaves, during this time masters impregnated a lot of slaves and would either raise them amongst their own or sell them off. Many Southern women were aware of this and married them either way. They would instead acknowledge them as property as well. 

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