The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers

Two-volume boxed set

Edited by Jean Fagan Yellin

With a searchable CD of the entire contents

The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers

480 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 37 illus., 5 maps, 26 tables, 1 family tree, appends., notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8078-3131-1
    Published: November 2008

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Awards & distinctions

2009 J. Franklin Jameson Prize, American Historical Association

Although millions of African American women were held in bondage over the 250 years that slavery was legal in the United States, Harriet Jacobs (1813-97) is the only one known to have left papers testifying to her life. Her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, holds a central place in the canon of American literature as the most important slave narrative by an African American woman.

Born in Edenton, North Carolina, Jacobs escaped from her owner in her mid-twenties and hid in the cramped attic crawlspace of her grandmother's house for seven years before making her way north as a fugitive slave. In Rochester, New York, she became an active abolitionist, working with all of the major abolitionists, feminists, and literary figures of her day, including Frederick Douglass, Lydia Maria Child, Amy Post, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fanny Fern, William C. Nell, Charlotte Forten Grimké, and Nathan Parker Willis.

Jean Fagan Yellin has devoted much of her professional life to illuminating the remarkable life of Harriet Jacobs. Over three decades of painstaking research, Yellin has discovered more than 900 primary source documents, approximately 300 of which are now collected in two volumes. These letters and papers written by, for, and about Jacobs and her activist brother and daughter provide for the thousands of readers of Incidents--from scholars to schoolchildren--access to the rich historical context of Jacobs's struggles against slavery, racism, and sexism beyond what she reveals in her pseudonymous narrative. Accompanied by a CD containing a searchable PDF file of the entire contents, this collection is a crucial launching point for future scholarship on Jacobs's life and times.

About the Author

Jean Fagan Yellin is Distinguished Professor Emerita of English at Pace University. She is author or editor of ten books, including the award-winning Harriet Jacobs: A Life.
For more information about Jean Fagan Yellin, visit the Author Page.


"A masterwork. . . . The opening chronology and brief biographies of persons referenced in the documents are themselves gems. This model of documentary collecting and editing is required for every library serious about its collections on U.S. history, literature, Blacks, women, or slavery."—Library Journal

“A trove of primary and annotated sources on southern slavery. . . . Reader friendly . . . and written in . . . an engaging fashion.”—Multicultural Review

"Everything a reader could wish for is here. . . . These volumes will be of greatest interest to graduate students and scholars and those seriously committed to African American and women's history. . . . Essential."—CHOICE

"Yellin's work shines. . . . As the product of twenty-two years of research, it will likely prove definitive for scholars of Jacobs and of slave narratives."—H-Net Reviews

"This vast array of sources, including diaries, letters, convention reports, newspapers, bills of sale, and wills, offers significant insight into many facets of nineteenth-century life. . . . Certainly this excellent collection . . . will enhance research on northern reform, gender relations, race relations, and slavery. . . . Yellin and her team deserve our gratitude for making available and contextualizing this wealth of primary material."—Journal of Southern History

"The volumes are reader-friendly, accessible whether one goes to them for a particular document or a general reading. . . . An absolute gift to the field as well as a model for the sort of scholarship to which many of us aspire."—Legacy