Samuel Tredwell Sawyer

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Samuel Tredwell Sawyer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1837 – March 3, 1839
Preceded byWilliam Biddle Shepard
Succeeded byKenneth Rayner
Personal details
DiedNovember 29, 1865 (aged 64–65)
Political partyWhig

Samuel Tredwell Sawyer (1800 – November 29, 1865) was an American attorney and politician. Although he served as Congressional Representative, today he is mostly remembered for fathering the two children of the young slave Harriet Jacobs, in whose autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, he features prominently.

Early life[edit]

Sawyer was born in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1800. He attended Edenton Academy and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sawyer studied law, was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice in Edenton.

Political career[edit]

Sawyer was elected to the North Carolina State house of representatives, serving from 1829 to 1832. Sawyer was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1834.

He was elected in 1836 as a Whig to the Twenty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1837 - March 3, 1839), where he was chairman of the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings. Sawyer was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the Twenty-sixth Congress, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, and resumed the practice of law. He was editor of the Norfolk Argus for several years. He was appointed a collector of customs at Norfolk on May 16, 1853, serving until April 6, 1858. Sawyer moved to Washington, D.C.

During the Civil War, he was appointed on September 17, 1861, as commissary with the rank of major in the Confederate service. He served until August 2, 1862.

Personal life[edit]

As a young man, before he married, Sawyer had a relationship with an enslaved Black woman, Harriet Jacobs, who was seeking protection from her master, Dr. James Norcom of Edenton. They had two children together, Joseph and Louisa, who were enslaved at birth, according to law, which transferred the mother's status as free or enslaved to her children.[1] After Jacobs went into hiding, she arranged with Sawyer to buy their children together with Harriet's brother John S. Jacobs in order to protect them from a sale to slave owners further away. In her autobiography, Jacobs relates that Sawyer promised to legally manumit their children, but failed to do so.[2]

In August 1838,[3] Sawyer married Lavinia Peyton, with whom he had three additional daughters, Fannie Lenox, Sarah Peyton, and Laura.[4] He moved to Washington, DC with his family when he served as a congressman.

Later Harriet Jacobs escaped from North Carolina, making her way to Philadelphia and then New York. She wrote her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and published it under a pseudonym in 1861. Sawyer features prominently in that book, pseudonymized as Mr. Sands.

Later years[edit]

Moving to the North, Sawyer died in Bloomfield, New Jersey in 1865.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harriet Jacobs", PBS, accessed April 21, 2009.
  2. ^ H.Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. J.F. Yellin, Cambridge 2000, p.253
  3. ^ H.Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. J.F.Yellin, Cambridge 2000, p.246
  4. ^ McFarland, Daniel. "Sawyer, Samuel Tredwell". NCpedia. University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved December 26, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harriet A. Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. Boston: For the Author, 1861. Enlarged Edition. Edited and with an Introduction by Jean Fagan Yellin. Now with "A True Tale of Slavery" by John S. Jacobs. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1987–2000. ISBN 978-0-6740-0271-5.
  • Jean Fagan Yellin: Harriet Jacobs: A Life. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004. ISBN 0-465-09288-8.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by