I have to admit that there was a time in my
life, when I heard that slaves escaped the South by an Underground Railroad, I
thought they all took the subway. (Not really.)
I believe that most people when they hear the
term, “Underground Railroad,” think of the great lady I wish to honor tonight
- Araminta Ross. Well, that was her birth name. She later took her first name
from her mother - Harriet - and her last name from her husband - John Tubman.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland
around 1820. During a ten year period during the 1850s, she made many trips
into the South and escorted, or conducted, over 300 slaves to freedom - once
bragging to Frederick Douglass that: “she never lost a single passenger.”
As a slave, Harriet became a house servant at
age 6 and then at age 13 became a field hand. While in her early teens, she
stood up to an overseer to protect another slave. The overseer picked up and
threw a two-pound weight striking Harriet on the head. She never fully
recovered and had spells for the rest of her life in which she would fall into
a coma-like sleep.
She married Tubman around 1844 and then in
1849, afraid that she, together with the other slaves on the plantation were
to be sold, Harriet decided to run away. She escaped one night with some
assistance from a friendly white woman. She made her way to Pennsylvania and
soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. The
following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her
sister's two children to freedom. She again made the dangerous trip back to
the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. She went to save
her husband on her third return, only to find he had taken another wife, so
she found other slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.
After this, Harriet returned to the South
again and again. She devised clever techniques that helped make her "forays"
successful, including using the master's horse and buggy for the first leg of
the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn't be
placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading south if
she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby
if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Harriet even carried a gun
which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided
to turn back, telling them, "You'll be free or die."
By 1856, her capture would have brought a
$40,000 reward from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading
her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled
out a book and pretended to read it. The ploy worked to fool the men.
Harriet made trips to slave country 19 times
by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her
70-year-old parents. She eventually became known as "Moses." Frederick
Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown -- no one who has willingly encountered
more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than Harriet Tubman."
And John Brown, who conferred with who he called "General Tubman" about his
plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she was "one of the bravest
persons on this continent."
During the Civil War Harriet worked for the
Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn,
New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913 at
around the age of 93 - One of the most courageous women in our history.
Compiled by Mel Maurer (Source: Facts from
2009-2010 HISTORY BRIEFS>>