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Harriet Tubman

Because of the hardness of her childhood, Harriet was not a likely candidate to become a leader. She never learned to read or write and she, herself, said "I grew up like a neglected weed-ignorant of liberty having no experience of it." (The Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century by Leon Litwack page 43).

Harriet was born Araminta Ross in Bucktown on the eastern shore of Maryland around 1820. The exact date is not known. When she was young people started calling her by her mother's name, Harriet, and as a child her father gave her valuable knowledge of the woods that would later help her in leading slaves to freedom. She had ten brothers and sisters all of whom she tried to take to freedom at some time in her life. By the time she was five she was working doing housework. After seven years she began working in the fields. This new work required much manual labor thus giving her muscular strength and physical endurance that made her stand out from the other slaves. This strength and endurance would prove to be vital in her later endeavors.

In 1844, she married John Tubman, a freedman. Even though she was married to a freedman Harriet remained a slave and when rumors spread that her master was planning to sell his slaves out of state she decided to run away. In 1849, Harriet left for the freestate of Pennsylvania. Since her husband was free he was not interested in going with her. So she went alone. It has been documented that the only thing that Harriet took with her was a prized, albeit a primitive/slave, quilt. The woman who housed her on the first stop helped Harriet to the next safe house. Harriet was so grateful she gave this cherished quilt, her only tie to her family left behind, to the woman.

After attaining true freedom, Harriet became the greatest conductor in the history of the Underground Railroad. She was known as the "Moses" of her people because her exploits resembled those of Moses leading his people to the promised land. She returned nineteen times to lead slaves, including her parents, to freedom.

Enraged over this woman, Southern planters offered $40,000 for her capture but were not successful. Harriet carried a pistol on her many trips back and was known to say to any slave having second thoughts, "You'll be free or die!"

Two of her most famous sayings were: ""Lord, you have been with me through six troubles. Be with me in the seventh." And "I nebber run my train off de track and I nebber lost a passenger."

The Fugitive Slave Law which gave slave hunters the right to return former slaves living in freestates to their masters forced conductors to lead slaves on into Canada. On one of Harriet's trips on a real train, a frightened slave remained silent and refused to look at the scenery while crossing into Canada. When the man realized he was on free soil, he sang and shouted so loud that no one could shut him up. Finally, Harriet told him, "You old fool, you! You might at least have looked at Niagara Falls on the way to freedom!"

Two of her most famous sayings were: ""Lord, you have been with me through six troubles. Be with me in the seventh." And "I nebber run my train off de track and I nebber lost a passenger."

But probably the one feeling every slave shared with Harriet was what she expressed when she reached freedom. Harriet said, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory trou de trees and ober de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven."

The source for the tidbits this week are:


Quite a remarkable woman. Next week I'd like to tell you about some of her trips to bring back slaves. Hope you all have a good week and I'll talk to you next Sunday.



I forgot to tell you last week that one of the reenactors at the Vermont Civil War Days had a quilt in the pack he carried on his back. :=)

(Part II)

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux