It's very hard to define Harriet Tubman. Her dedication and bravery overwhelms us. Born a slave, beaten and whipped, Harriet Tubman's devout Christianity allowed her to pray for her "master", despite his treatment of her. Harriet's finely honed sense of right and wrong steeled her resolve and ultimately she escaped to Philadelphia.
Harriet then returned to Maryland to rescue her family, bringing them slowly (one group at a time) out of the state. Harriet went on to guide dozens of other slaves to freedom. Code named "Moses", traveling by night and in utter secrecy, Harriet "never lost a passenger". After the United States Fugitive Slave Law was passed (in 1850), Harriet helped to guide freedom seekers further north into Canada - following the Northern Star to freedom. She provided further support once they reached freedom - helping them find work and settle their families. During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army - first as a cook or nurse, then as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War when she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry - liberating over 700 slaves. For over 11 years, after escaping herself, Harriet repeatedly returned to Maryland, rescuing over 70 slaves in about 13 expeditions. Such chutzpah that woman had! She employed a variety of disguises and carried a revolver she wasn't afraid to use! With a large bounty on her head, she had to be on constant alert.
After the Civil War and the emancipation, Harriet was told by a train conductor to "move to the smoking car". Sound familiar? A precursor of Rosa Parks! Harriet refused and told the conductor about her government/war service. Did he respect it? No, he cursed her and enlisted two passengers to force her and in doing so, they broke her arm. Despite Harriet's years of amazing service, she did not receive a pension for her Civil War services until 1899 and never received a regular salary during service. In her later years, she worked to promote the cause of women's suffrage. When asked by a white woman if she believed women should have the right to vote, she replied "I suffered enough to believe it". While promoting women's rights, Harriet worked along women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. We owe an amazing debt to Harriet Tubman. Not just for her efforts to assist freedom seekers along the Underground Railroad but also for her war service, support of women's rights and her demonstration that free will is something to fight for and value highly. Look at the map below to get an idea of the vast distances these brave freedom seekers and their guides had to travel. At high risk, being sought by "law enforcement" and bounty hunters.
We learned so much about the Underground Railroad and the freedom seekers following the North Star at Bravo Niagara's North Star Festival: Voices of Freedom. Pencil this amazing three day festival into your calendar for next year. You won't want to miss it! Register for our blog to get updates on this and other events.