Harriet Tubman was an American hero, leading abolitionist and an inspiration to people everywhere. Her grit, tenacity, and determination made her a legend. and enabled her to lead 100’s of slaves to freedom. She is still one of the most famous “conductors” for the Underground Railroad. In 1820, Araminta Ross (later Harriet Tubman) was born into slavery in Maryland.
Life as a slave
Harriet started work as a slave at age 6 and was beaten often. At age 12, she suffered a life-changing head injury. A slave-owner threw a metal weight at one of his slaves, but it hit Harriet. From that time on, she endured epilepsy, narcolepsy and agonizing headaches. She started having visions of herself leading the slaves to freedom.
In 1844, Harriet married a free, African-American, John Tubman. He was an asshole. Harriet wanted them to move North so she wouldn’t be forced back into slavery. John didn’t care and told her they were staying there. She said that she would go North without his ass. He said he would tell her master and she’d be brought back into slavery.
This did repress her for several years until in 1849 when she said screw it and escaped to Philadelphia. Harriet sure had a way with words because where ever she went she found people to help her. She got herself set up in a safe house, and joined William Still to help free slaves.
William was a brilliant man and an ex-slave. One day he received a shipment. You can imagine his surprise when he opened it up and saw an escaped slave, Henry “Box” Brown. Henry actually had someone nail him into a wooden box and ship him to freedom!
William Still later interviewed slaves and wrote a book called The Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was the code name for guiding the slaves to freedom. They used several other code words such as:
- Stations – stopping places and safe houses.
- Conductors – those who helped the slaves get to the Northern states or Canada.
- Passengers – escaped slaves.
Harriet was courageous and intimidating. Each trip she would lead dozens of slaves through the woods in the dead of night. Despite her being a tiny woman, they followed her orders.
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act passed, which made it illegal to help the slaves in any way. It stated that if anyone finds an escaped slave then they must report this or be fined “$1,000”.
On her 3rd trip to gather more slaves, she returned to get her husband. She was shocked to find he had replaced her with another woman.
So, she didn’t waste any more time on his ass and promptly left him to continue her mission of bringing passengers to the North. She led them to a safe house of an amazing man, Frederick Douglass. He saved up enough money to get them into Canada, where they’d be safe.
Harriet had freed so many people that she soon had a bounty of $40,000 for her capture.
Crossing over Niagara Falls on a Handmade Bridge
Despite a bounty on her head, she made 11 trips into Canada from 1852-1857. Crossing that rickety bridge, high above the roaring waters, would scare even the bravest of men.
They had to cross over Niagara Falls to get the passengers into Canada, on a handmade suspension bridge! That would be terrifying, but living as a slave would be much worse.
On one trip a passenger panicked at the sight of the makeshift bridge and wanted to go back to slavery! She knew he would be tortured until he told the secrets of the Underground Railroad. That shit wasn’t happening on her watch. She took him to the side, pressed the cold barrel of a gun against his head and said: “Dead folks tell no tales”. He probably peed a little, then scampered on over the bridge.
Harriet made at least 19 trips into the South to bring 100’s of slaves to the North and eventually to Canada. She never lost a single passenger.
Harriet’s Service During the Civil War
Harriet lived in Canada until 1861, when she enlisted in the Union (Northern states) army. Her job was to help escaped slaves get to safety and freedom. Many of them were starving, wounded and sick. She nursed them to health and got them to the North.
In 1863, Harriet worked with Colonel James Montgomery to devise the Combahee River Raid. The plan was to have spies infiltrate the plantations and speak with other slaves. They were to tell Harriet of those that wanted freedom.
This raid liberated 500 slaves. Afterwards, most of the former slaves joined the Union army. I can’t think of a more determined Union soldier than an ex-slave!
Harriet married Nelson Davis in 1869. They had a peaceful marriage for 19 years until he passed away.
She then worked on equal rights for women with Susan B. Anthony. She also built her home that she used to shelter the elderly. She gave her home to a church to continue taking care of the elders.
Harriet died in 1913 from pneumonia and was buried with full military honors. What do you think of Harriet Tubman?