For My Children's Sake: Enslaved Women and the Idea of Home in Nineteenth-Century Tennessee
“The dream of my life is not yet realized,” Harriet Jacobs declared in her 1861 narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. After liberating herself from slavery and ensuring the freedom of her children, she authored a narrative about her experiences and newfound freedom. Jacobs cherished her freedom, but she also noted its shortcomings. “I do not sit with my children in a home of my own,” she told her readers. “I still long for a hearthstone of my own, however humble. I wish it for my children’s sake far more than my own.”2 At the time, Jacobs lived with her employer, and her children were engaged in various jobs in the North, which often left them separated from each other. She did not possess the means to support her family, so she struggled to establish the home she desired. While Jacobs’ words showed the insecurities of freedom, they also revealed its possibilities. Written in the last pages of her narrative, Jacobs revealed to her readers one of the most important possibilities of freedom—building a home. She associated home with reuniting her family, creating a safe place, and building a future for her children. Thus, Jacobs understood home as more than a physical place. It was a refuge, an aspiration, and a way to realize her understanding of freedom.