Harriet Tubman and her Rather Exuberant and Entrancing Journey
Monserrath Guel Garcia
Professor Isaac G. PietrzakU.S. History 1301
November 26, 2018
Throughout history, women have fought for their rights to be treated as equals with the opposite gender. Evidence of this has been seen countless of times, but it has become more popular as our society has progressed. Some women are remembered with compassion and thankfulness for their actions. Among them, there is Harriet Tubman, famous for freeing hundreds of slaves with the aid of the Underground Railroad. As a fugitive, it must have been terrifying thinking of everything that could happen if she was to be caught. However, even as she made it to freedom, her willingness for equality did not stop her from going back and forth to the South, establishing a permanent mark on the future of the abolitionist movement. This research addresses Harriet Tubman’s determination to keep going without regrets that led her to free over 300 slaves from bondage.
Growing up, Harriet had to overcome some difficult moments in her life that must have prepared her for the risk-taking journeys she took later on. “Miss Susan”, one of the first masters Tubman was hired off to, tasked her with cradling her baby, but if it wailed, she would get ruthlessly whipped. Having this happen regularly at night was a bad first experience, but it taught her a lot at the same time. Were it not for these long nights of torment, she might have never stayed focused in the dark, tiresome nights she spent with the Underground Railroad.
In addition, she got the bad luck of living her childhood surrounded by mobs and bogeyman against blacks. These groups of people accounted for an innumerable amount of manslaughters directed towards slaves and kidnappings that scarred Harriet for life. Even during her rescue missions traveling back to the South, she could not bear to stand the dreadful and devastating view of passing by plantations of her people suffering the barbarous treatments of slavery. These recollections made her wish for a world where this did not exist, which is how she was set on going to the north. In an account of Sarah H. Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, Harriet describes to Sarah her ideal dream – “I seemed to see a line, and on the other side of that line were green fields, and lovely flowers.” This was what she was going to fight for, and she was not going to stop until it was achieved.
In Catherine Clinton’s Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, the author argues that the most horrifying thing that could happen to a slave were auction blocks, rather than toiling in the fields, which is exactly how two of Tubman’s sisters never saw each other ever again. This loss had a tremendous impact on Harriet that it became the catalyst of her decision to go North. It opened her eyes to all the injustices done to blacks that she became determined in making sure it would not happen to anyone.
Once she reached freedom for herself, she felt like “a stranger in a strange land.” She knew the burdens that slavery could have on a person, and she did not want to be alone knowing her family was still suffering from them, so she had to go back to liberate them. Harriet’s niece and her two children were to be sold off, but Harriet managed to rescue them and did not hesitate once. This was a very dangerous plan to orchestrate because back then, this was Harriet’s first trip back to her home ever since she escaped, so she lacked the resources she had obtained later on. Regardless, she made the trip, corroborating that family was one of her strongest motivators to not give up on her journeys.
Even though she left her parents last to be taken to the North, it was a smart plan because of their age. Making two old, tired people walk long distances is a challenge, but it was one Harriet was determined to accomplish. Harriet carefully thought that she should take the more sustainable, younger slaves so that slaveowners ran out of options as to who to sell eventually in slave auctions. Because of her tactical mind, Tubman succeeded in her goals.
As a slave, it was hard not to get caught between the fearful moments inside a plantation. To get through these tough times, Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross, Tubman’s parents, kept their family bond strong and stable with their religion. It helped develop what made Harriet Tubman one of the bravest and most determined black woman of her time, and that is her faith in God. During the time that she became one of the most notorious fugitives in America, the price set for her head was huge, ranging anywhere from $12,000 to $40,000. Nevertheless, when asked how she kept moving forward while knowing this fact, she said – “T’was de Lord! I always tole him, ‘I trust to you.'” Even though she did not know the way or was in absolute danger of getting caught, she relied on God to help her succeed.
In an article from The Richmond Palladium, a story about how Harriet asked God what she must do while escaping the South is described in such a way that it paints religion into a light of hope for people to follow. When God told her to go left, she obeyed, and soon after that, she found out that the side where God prohibited her to go to was where a searching party of men looking for her was walking by. Everyone that knew her was impressed by how self-assured she was in her faith. A letter written by Thomas Garret, a Wilmington Quaker, quotes – “She (Harriet) has frequently told me she talked with God, and he talked with her every day.” The only fact that Harriet Tubman was confident about was that God was going to be by her side every step of the road, whether it was mentally or physically.
Tubman was surrounded by important people in her life who inspired her to do better. Not only did her parents imply faith in her, but they also set up a great example of strong-will for her, especially her mother. When one of her children was going to be sold away to a Georgia man, Harriet Green was determined to keep him hidden, claiming – “the first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open.” This shows that Tubman’s mother was a strong-minded woman who would stop at nothing to get what she wants, foreshadowing to her daughter’s persistent trips to free her people from slavery. It is clear Harriet Tubman’s mother was a great role model for her. Afterwards, Edwards Brodess, her master at the time, promised to give the family their freedom when he died if they stay loyal to him. This sounds similar to Harriet Tubman, as she tended to obtain the respect from her fugitive followers and of white people she worked with because of her actions.
The 19th century was a time of rebellious movements from abolitionists towards whites. These kinds of rebels would often inspire Tubman into her own journeys. One of the most famous persons involved in this was John Brown. In a letter to his son the day after he met Tubman, John describes her as “the most of a man, naturally, that I have ever met with.” John Brown truly believes that Harriet Tubman has the mentality of a man at that time because she’s strong, independent, and a reliable soldier. Just as he admires Tubman, Harriet has respect for Brown as well. Because of this, it makes her even more determined to go after her goals of freeing slaves without giving up. “Dere’s two things I’ve got a right to, and dese are, Death or Liberty – one or tother I mean to have.” This quote perfectly describes Harriet’s intentions to be similar to that of John Brown, who ended up dying when he didn’t get liberty for blacks.
Although he did not have any face-to-face contact with Tubman, Nat Turner was an abolitionist who encouraged Harriet into her aspiration for freedom. One of the most popular black uprisings of the century was Nat Turner’s revolt of 1831, where him and his crew killed over sixty whites less than a hundred miles from where Tubman’s home was at the time. Although this event was seen as terrifying for the whites, it was exhilarating for the black community, from which young Tubman was a part of. Nat Turner must have been a big influencer for Harriet’s bold personality that led her to become a national hero. Regardless of the revolt being a massacre, Turner had obvious beliefs, one of which included that blacks should not be treated as property. Harriet Tubman’s “revolt” to make her belief come true was to free slaves.
During her constant trips, the slaves who accompanied her were obviously scared. To calm them down, Tubman sang verses to them such as – “Hail, oh hail ye happy spirits, Death no more shall make you fear.” These words would not only flow beautifully within the fugitives but also in Tubman herself. The goal of her music was to keep her people strong, so when they were ready to keep moving, Harriet could not give up on her already lifted up followers. Whether she realized it or not, the song meant for the fugitives was also a glimpse of hope for herself.
Harriet Tubman believed that she could foretell the future, which was a great asset in her determination. She claims that when she came to the North for the first time, one of the visions she had when she was younger replayed itself in real life exactly the way she remembered. That is why she constantly rescued slaves from the South without a second thought. She believed that any dream she could possibly have would become true. She was so assured of this because her father also had “similar powers,” given that he somehow predicted the outcome of the Mexican war.
Knowing the amount of faith in God that she had, she still could not have stayed on track if it was not for the help of friends and white co-workers. Passes were given to her by people who worked with her during the Civil War, allowing her ease of transportation, entrance to a building, or just to grab whiskey. If a white man did all the work Harriet achieved, it would have been easier to free slaves by simply crossing them over, only having to hide the slaves and not himself. That was not the case, so Tubman, as a spy for the Civil War, used these passes to do what she was appointed to do plus help lead “rescue missions to free slaves deep into the occupied South Carolina.”
Some might argue that because Harriet Tubman was very determined, her actions showed to be too extreme at times. One of her most famous quotes – “Dead niggers tell no tales” – depicts how Harriet would often threaten slaves into not giving up, because if they did, she would kill them. In contrast, this did show how smart she was, because even if she let one person go back to the South alive, the chance of Harriet’s plan coming out to the public would have always been a possibility.
Harriet Tubman was a woman that made history by freeing countless of slaves without feeling content with freedom just for herself. Her fearless and intrepid personality is an abstract subject that has many reasons behind how it was formed and kept steady throughout her trips. What made her so special is that she kept putting herself in danger for an estimated amount of 19 times, even though Tubman herself never kept track of the number of her trips. Almost any book or article about Harriet Tubman will say that it is unknown how Harriet built up the courage to go back to the South, but they do not realize that the answer lays in the events of her life, beliefs, and people she encountered rather than just on hard facts that most historians rely on. All in all, Tubman was a remarkable woman with an amazing story behind her actions.
Bradford, Sarah H. Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman Auburn, NY: Dennis Bro’s ; Co.,
The Richmond palladium. (Richmond, Ind.), 23 March 1869. Chronicling America: Historic
American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.Secondary Sources
Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom New York: Little, Brown and
Lowry, Beverly. Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life New York: Doubleday, 2007.