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T. C. Upham
Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs
London: J. S. Stewart, 1850?.


According to her biography, Phebe Ann Jacobs (1785-1850) was born enslaved in Morris County, New Jersey. She was given "at an early age" to Mrs. Wheelock, wife of Dartmouth College President John Wheelock, to be an attendant to their daughter, Maria Malleville (p. 1). Miss Malleville later married President William Allen of Bowdoin College, and Jacobs joined the Allen family in Brunswick, Maine, in 1820. She remained with the family until Maria Allen's death, "from which time she chose to live alone," and scholars infer from this information that she likely obtained her freedom in Mrs. Allen's will (p. 1). During her time as a freewoman, Jacobs supported herself "by washing and ironing for the students of Bowdoin College" (p. 1). It is likely that she became acquainted with the author of her biography, Mrs. T. C. Upham, through her active involvement in the Brunswick spiritual community. Upham's Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs states that she died February 28, 1850.

Mrs. T. C. Upham was born Phebe Lord (1804-1882), of Kennebunkport, Maine, the daughter of Nathaniel Lord, one of the richest men of York County. She married Thomas Cogswell Upham, a prominent professor of theology at Bowdoin College, in May 1825. They had no biological children during their marriage, but they adopted and raised six orphans. She was actively engaged in the spiritual and intellectual community of which her husband was a member, and she is credited with influencing and supporting her husband's theological ideologies. She often spoke to public assemblies and, according to the Telegraph, spoke with "ease, precision, [and] with so evident a sincerity as to win attention, if all her views were not accepted by her hearers." She was a prolific writer; in addition to the Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs, Upham published poetry as well as collections of spiritual writings and was a frequent contributor to the Guide to Holiness, a publication of the nineteenth-century Methodist Holiness Movement. Her best known work was a spiritual autobiography titled The Crystal Fountain, published in 1887. She was known for her religious piety as well as her social activism, and Bowdoin College historian Charles C. Calhoun observes that "she made a nuisance of herself in the eyes of the minister of the First Parish Church by championing the rights of women to speak in church meetings" (p. 62). Phebe Upham died on March 18, 1882.

While at Bowdoin College, Upham met and became close friends with famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose husband, Calvin, was awarded a two-year Collins professorship there. Stowe drew on the Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs in her writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which she began while in Brunswick, Maine. While the tone and theme of Stowe's novel differ significantly from Upham's text, scholars Theodore R. Hovet and Joan D. Hedrick have noted the ways in which Uncle Tom's piety and goodness, as well as some of the settings, were modeled after a handful of key moments in the Narrative.

The Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs was originally published as a religious tract and is also known as the narrative of "Happy Phebe," as some of the copies were printed with such title variations as Happy Phebe, a narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs and Narrative of Phebe Ann Jacobs, or, "Happy Phebe." This brief spiritual biography portrays Jacobs' life after her emancipation with the purpose of demonstrating how Jacobs' "life evinces that she had clear and happy views of the way of salvation by Christ" (p. 1). The Narrative focuses on Jacobs' position as a member of the Bowdoin College community and describes the spiritual qualities that made her remarkable. Upham promotes Jacobs as a model Christian who inspires others through her example: forgiving, loving, and happy, she frequently turns to prayer for guidance, comfort, and support. Noting Jacobs' intellectual capacity and spiritual thirst, her biographer observes that "Phebe had the same Bible that others have, but she found in it a great deal more than is commonly found" (p. 3). While other women had played important leadership roles in the New England spiritual communities of which Jacobs was a part, her role as an African American woman who led and inspired white women was ground-breaking for her time: "In the female prayer-meeting, all loved to kneel when Phebe prayed" (p. 5).

Jacobs is happy because she "loved to pray," because "faith and confidence in God were practical," because she "was humble," and because she "had no fear of death" (p. 4, p. 6). The narrative closes with Jacobs' death, which she anticipates with peace and joy: "If to-morrow you hear I am gone home to heaven," she tells Upham shortly before her death, "rejoice and give thanks, and remember, it is well with me" (p. 7). While the author expresses the community's sadness at the loss of "a woman greatly respected and beloved," a church member pays tribute to Jacobs and captures their sentiments: "Yes, we have lost, but heaven has gained. Who will sing the Saviour's praises louder, sweeter, than Phebe?" (p. 8, p. 7).

Works Consulted: Calhoun, Charles C., A Small College in Maine: Two Hundred Years of Bowdoin, Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College Press, 1993; "Died," Telegraph (March 24, 1882); "Obituary 2 – No Title", ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) Online, New York, NY (March 20, 1882): 5, 14 October 2008; Fuchs, Alfred H., "Upham, Thomas Cogswell," American National Biography Online, 14 October 2008; Hedrick, Joan D., Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life, New York : Oxford University Press, 1994; Hovet, Theodore R., "Mrs. Thomas C. Upham's 'Happy Phebe': A Feminine Source of Uncle Tom," American Literature 51:2 (1979): 267-70; Hovet, Theodore R., "Principles of the Hidden Life: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Myth of the Inward Quest in 19th-Century American Culture," Journal of American Culture 2:2 (1979): 265-70; Salter, Darius L., Spirit and Intellect: Thomas Upham's Holiness Theology, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1986.

Jenn Williamson

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