Samuel Tredwell Sawyer
Samuel Tredwell Sawyer (1800 – November 29, 1865) was an 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.
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.
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.
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. 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 masters further away. He promised to free the children, but failed to do so.
In August 1838, Sawyer married Lavinia Peyton, with whom he had three additional daughters, Fannie Lenox, Sarah Peyton, and Laura. 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.
Moving to the North, Sawyer died in Bloomfield, New Jersey in 1865.
- 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.
- United States Congress. "Samuel Tredwell Sawyer (id: S000093)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- A True Tale of Slavery by John S. Jacobs. London, 1861. Republished online by Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself. by Harriet Jacobs. Boston, 1861. Republished online by Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina)
|U.S. House of Representatives|
William B. Shepard
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 1st congressional district