Nov 4, 2017

Harriett Tubman - The Moses of her People

Tubman was born a slave in Maryland around 1820. She escaped to
freedom and then returned to Maryland at least 19 times to helps others reach freedom in the North – most likely about 70 not hundreds as reported in some places. After 1850, due to the Fugitive Slave Law slaves had to go to Canada to be free. The Fugitive Slave law required runaways in the free states to be returned to the South. She once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she "never lost a single passenger." This was even more incredible when one considers she suffered from “spells” due to being hit in the head by an overseer whereby she would blackout for a short spell even in the middle of leading slaves to freedom.
Tubman married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. After reaching freedom returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister's two children to freedom. She made the dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband, only to find he had taken another wife but continued to help others to freedom. 

By 1856 Tubman's capture would have brought a $40,000 reward. She traveled on a Saturday night because she knew there would be no runaway slave announcement in the papers until Monday. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her wanted poster which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and feigned reading it. The ploy was enough to fool the men. It is said that Tubman even carried a gun which she used to encourage the fugitives to keep going if they became too tired or decided to turn back telling them, "You'll be free or die." 

During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union Army as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. She was especially helpful because she knew the land well. In 1863 she went with Colonel James Montgomery on a gunboat raid in South Carolina. Because she had inside information from her scouts, the Union gunboats were able to surprise the Confederates.

Harriet Tubman was familiar with William Seward, NY senator
then Secretary of State, because his house in Auburn was a stop (station) on the Underground Railroad. Seward offered to sell her his property for a reasonable price to encourage her to move to Auburn.  She started a Home for the Elderly and lived on site until she died in 1913 and is buried in the Auburn cemetery.

Auburn is a lovely, historic city.  On the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park we toured the Home for the Aged. Her red brick house is not yet open to the public but the park visitor center has a lot of great information.  John and I have visited the Seward’s house several times.  To honor her and all her achievements her face will replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill.