Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Phebe Ann Jacobs

First page of the Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs by Mrs T. C. UphamPreparing for a class this week, we dug into the life of Phebe Ann Jacobs, a slave once owned by the wife of Dartmouth President John Wheelock. We knew a little bit of the story from some student research a few years ago, but we got a little more serious and found a tantalizing story--naturally filled with gaps.

Phebe was born into slavery around 1785 in New Jersey. At the age of seven, she was given to John Wheelock's wife, Marie, to be a servant and help care for her daughter (also named Marie). Little Marie and Phebe grew up together, one as master, the other as servant. When Marie married William Allen, the president of Bowdoin, Phebe went with her as her slave. She was later emancipated, probably at the time of Marie's death, and continued to work, as a washerwoman for Bowdoin students. "Mrs. T. C. Upham" chronicled some of her life in an abolitionist pamphlet published by the American Tract Society that was subsequently used as source material by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In William Allen's papers, we found a few casual mentions of Phebe. Both in letters from Marie to her husband when she was away. In each case she gives him instructions to impart to Phebe. If Upham's account is accurate, she appears to have been more than just a servant, and she remained close with Marie's children, though we know that Phebe moved away from the Allen family, and set up her own home after she was freed.

There is a bigger story to tell, and now that Phebe is on our radar, we hope to find other fragments of her life.  You can read more about her by asking for DC History E185.97 U76. To see the letters that mention her, ask for MS-916, Box 1, folder 11. There is also a letter written by John Wheelock recounting the trip to New Jersey when Phebe was given to Marie, but, tellingly, there is no mention of anything so insignificant as a slave girl.

No comments :

Post a Comment