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People/Characters: James Norcom

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Works (2)

Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Fagan Yellinsexual harasser
Voices of a People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Character description

Dr. James Norcom 29 Dec. 1778–9 Nov. 1850) was a physician who went to the University of Philadelphia medical school. Norcom was awarded the M.D. degree in 1797 after a defense of his Inaugural Thesis on Jaundice, Containing Observations on the Liver, and Some of Its Diseases (1799).

He opened a successful practice in Edenton. He also offered charitable assistance to indigent people on During most of his life Norcom made and recorded careful observations of weather, temperature, and barometric pressure and compared his records for different years, relating them to the varieties of illness occurring most frequently during the same periods. From these studies he drew certain conclusions concerning the ecology of disease, especially epidemics, and often made accurate predictions as to the character and type of the ailments of an approaching season. Norcom was a serious student of literature and science in general.

Norcom and Henry Flury signed as witnesses to an unsigned, dubiously legal codicil to the will of of Margaret Horniblow, who owned Harriet Jacobs. Horniblow had left all her slaves to her mother in her will, but the the codicil left the 13-year-old Harriet to Norcom's five-year-old daughter, Mary Mathilda who was also Horniblow's niece.

Norcom was thus Harriet Jacobs de facto master, and he soon began sexually harassing Harriet. He refused to allow her to marry a man of her choice. Harriet entered into a consensual relationship with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, and unmarried white lawyer. In her biography of Harriet Jacobs, Jean Fagan Yellin suggests that Sawyer, being of higher social standing, gave her some protection against Norcom. Harriet said in her memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl that she felt that a relationship with an unmarried man was more moral than one with the married Norcom. She and Sawyer had two children, Joseph and Louisa, whom Sawyer promised to arrange freedom for, and whom Norcom threatened to sell. He also struck at Harriet Jacobs' aunt Betty Horniblow, an attendant of his wife, by refusing to allow her to meet her husband.

Things became so intolerable that Harriet first went into hiding, and after years escaped north. Norcom, and later his daughter Mary Mathilda attempted to track Jacobs and persuade or force her to return.

A Memoir of the Life of Dr. James Norcom of Edenton, North Carolina by Solomon Sampson Satchwell, c.14 pages, was published in 1852.

Biography of James Norcom on NCpedia.org

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