Third Stop: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Once again folks I’d like to redirect your attention, this time to the South.  Currently taking place in the South is a radical change.  There is a secret passage that has been created linking the South to the North and it’s use is to help escaped slaves get to the Free States.  This secret passage exists in different forms–the most well-known being The Underground Railroad.  This railroad is not like the one you fine folks are travelling on, but a large network of people assisting escaped slaves to reach the Free States in the North.  The Underground Railroad was given its name due to the newly emerged steam railroad.  Since the railroad was new, it wouldn’t seem strange for people to be speaking in railroad terms which is one reason for deciding on the name the Underground Railroad.  For example, safe houses were known as “stations”, and run by people known as “stationmasters.”  There were also “stockholders” were people who donated money, food and goods to the escaping slaves.  The most important position on The Underground Railroad was the “conductor.”  It was the “conductor’s” job to help transport the slaves from one “station” to another.  The Underground Railroad was not just accessible by foot either.  Sometimes boats were used as part of The Underground Railroad as they were a faster way of reaching the Free States.  Convince and speed have their costs however and only those with enough money could buy their passage on board while still saving enough money to start a new life when they reached the North.  Folks if you consult your maps, I’m sure you will see the faint paths of The Underground Railroad travelling from South to North…

Another good map to examine when discussing slavery is the Map of American Slavery.  This map was of great importance during the Civil War because it showed the density of slave populations across all the United States of America — the darker the region, the denser the slave populations.

Folks, the reason I had you look at these maps is to get you familiar with the idea of slavery in America.  I did this because a popular form of American travel literature is the slave narrative.  As some of the most transient people, slaves traveled by boat from their homelands in Africa to the United States.  They were then auctioned off to the highest bidder and traveled to a new “home” with their master.  There was then the many escape attempts attempted by slaves, some not making it past the next plantation, while only the lucky made it all the way to the Free States and Canada.  The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill provides a great description of the travel one slave, Aminata Diallo, experienced.

A map depicting the travel routes of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

The Book of Negros, while both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, is a fictional work, however, authentic slave narratives do exist.  An example of an authentic slaver narrative can be found in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  This slave narrative is an autobiographical account, written by Harriet Jacobs, a free slave.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl describes the trials and tribulations slaves faced and their desperate desire to escape slavery, as well as the consequences they must face if caught.

For Harriet Jacobs, escape was possible, however to escape she had to abandon her children, a choice she struggled with as any good mother would.  Once she escaped, Jacob’s lived in constant fear of being found and she had to travel around from place to place in order to stay hidden and safe.  I attempted to trace Jacob’s hiding places and her journey goes as follows:

  1. She began at an unknown friends house (Jacobs 241).
  2. Next she stayed at a white lady’s house who was a friend of her grandmother and while there, Jacobs was concealed by a fellow slave named Betty (Jacobs 245).
  3. While at this house, Jacobs moved between a basement cellar and an attic store-room (Jacobs 246).
  4. She then was moved to a ship and then a swamp, both on the same night, while a place of concealment was being prepared for her (Jacobs 260).
  5. This special hiding spot was to be her home for the next seven years, and was a cramped attic space, above a shed on her grandmothers property (Jacobs 262-263).
  6. Her next movement was on board a ship, in which herself and her friend Fanny were being taken to the Free States (Jacobs 314).
  7. The ship docked in Philadelphia and Jacob’s promptly traveled to New York (Jacobs 324).

From her time of escape to her time of reaching the Free States, Linda moved or was moved to 9 different locations.  Once in New York, Linda continued to move about, finding different jobs and travelling as a nanny, however she did not have to hide herself away.  Unlike Aminata from The Book of Negros, Jacobs did not sail from Africa to America and was not sold from one master to another, however, the traveling Jacobs did take part in was just as important to a slave narrative, for without these constant movements, it is more than likely that Jacobs would have been captured and killed.  Travel for slaves was necessary for survival, not a pleasurable experience like it is for you folks.            _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sailing the Deadly Seas

Between 1540 and 1850, it is estimated that 15 million slaves were transported from Africa and the West Indies to the Americas.  The journey took approximately two months as the slaves were being transported by ship.

A floor plan of a slave ship. This image shows how each slave was given barely enough space to sleep.

In Africa, slaves could be bought for roughly $25.00 and sold in America for $150.00, therefore, slave-traders packed their ships with slaves, because even if some died along the way, they would still make a profit.  One study shows that on an average slave ship each slave was given about seven square feet to live in.  This means that in those seven square feet, the slaves had to eat, sleep, and relieve themselves, all while surrounded by the stench of those around them doing the same, as well as dealing with those who were sick or dead.  For a better feel of the conditions found aboard a slave ship check out this video by the Discovery Channel.

Next Stop: The Grapes of Wrath

Works Cited

Hill, Lawrence.  The Book of Negros.  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.  2007.

Jacobs, Harriet.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  United States of America: Modern Library.  2004.

“Slave Ships.”  Sparticus Educational.  Sparticus Educational Publishers Ltd.  13 November 2012.  .

“The Underground Railroad”  PBS: Judgement Day.  26 November 2012.  <;.

Categories: Travel Literature | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Third Stop: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

  1. Reblogged this on A Time to Rise up and commented:
    This is an excellent post describing The Underground Railroad, which I will be discussing in my next post. The maps used to demonstrate the underground passages / middle passage are also great to put into context the amount of railroads going from the South to the North. I also reblogged this post because of its reference to the Harriet Jacobs, whose narrative I will also be discussing. This account of Jacobs’ journey outlines the many residencies and hidings she had to undergo in order to free herself and her children. Jacobs was forced to keep moving and travelling toward the North in order to keep herself free of Dr. Flint and reduce the chances of being caught and killed. I like how this blog uses the idea of travel in Jacobs’ narrative to prove that travel was necessary for a slave’s survival.

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