Samuel T. Sawyer (1800 – 1865)

Written By North Carolina History Project

A lawyer, newspaper editor, state legislator, and U.S. Congressman, Samuel T. Sawyer is most known for being Harriet Jacobs’ lover.  He befriended and had a consensual relationship with the slave author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  Together they had two children.

An Edenton native, Sawyer was born in 1800 and acquired his foundational education at Edenton Academy.  He later attended the University of North Carolina and earned a law degree.  He returned to Edenton and started practicing law.  

While in the Chowan County capital seat, Sawyer met Harriet Jacobs and they started a consensual relationship.   When Jacobs fled her sexually harassing master, Sawyer hid her for seven years in Edenton.  He later purchased Jacobs and their two children and in 1842 helped them find work in New York.  

Sawyer is lesser known for his editorial and political work.  From 1829 to 1832, he served as a state legislator and in 1824 her served as a state Senator.  During the 1836 election, the Whig was elected to the 25th U.S. Congress (Whigs gained five seats in that election and Martin Van Buren was President).  Sawyer was not reelected.  He returned to Norfolk, Virginia, where he served as editor of the Norfolk Argus and in various local government positions, including collector of customs.   

During the Civil War, he served the Confederacy as major in the commissary.  He died in 1865 in New Jersey.