“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger… If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you… Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” – Harriet Tubman
Most already know the history surrounding the Underground Railroad, a network of intricate routes, transportation, and secret safe houses that abolitionist established in order to help slaves reach freedom. They were usually taken up north to free states or directly to Canada. It was quite a risky and dangerous endeavor that countless brave souls participated in.
In today’s post I want to cover Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. She was an iconic American woman whose life in slavery led her down a path to be the hero everyone needed. Not only did she help others achieve their freedom, her acts of bravery during the civil war are worth a lifetime of accolades. Harriet is forever a true patriot of freedom.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave, and due to this fact, her exact age and place of birth is not clear. Using historical documents, payment records, and Tubman’s runaway advertisement, many historians estimate her birth to have been around the year 1822 on a Maryland plantation owned by Anthony Thompson in Dorchester County near Blackwater River.
In 1849, Harriet’s world would change. She managed to escape slavery despite the protest and concern of even her own husband. The risk was great but opportunity couldn’t be ignored when she was hired out to another household and her absence wouldn’t be noticed. Harriet would later explain that, “liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”
Tubman didn’t go and live her life to enjoy freedom carefree however. She bravely crusaded on the behalf of all the innocent people forced to endure slavery despite the great risk to her own life. Harriet had endured years in captivity. I am sure there cannot be adequate words to explain how much she understood the mistreatment, abuse, neglect, and horror others faced.
This inspired her to be part of the Underground Railroad system and network. If she or anyone involved in this were caught they would be killed automatically but none of them cared because doing the right thing against this cruel behavior and practice mattered just a little bit more to them.
It is quite an admirable story and I have more to add that shows how truly brave the people were to work for the Underground Railroad. Now this mostly took place before the civil war but it was during that awful time in our history that makes Harriet Tubman a thousand times more incredible.
Once the U.S Civil War had officially broken out Harriet Tubman set off to immediately help the Union. She arrived in South Carolina in 1862 to do whatever possible for the cause. It began with her simply working with former slave women. Harriet taught them a varying range of skills that would help them survive the war but earn wages with the Union army.
Harriet had the women doing all sorts of things that were vital and helpful to Union soldiers. According the Boston African American National Historical Society, Tubman was running around all over the place doing her best to be useful and help the Union succeed and win the war:
“Tubman first volunteered for duty shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, offering her services to Brigadier General Benjamin Butler at Fort Monroe in Virginia. As enslaved people rushed to sanctuary at the garrison, Tubman provided humanitarian aid as a cook, laundress, and nurse. While Tubman spent the winter of 1861-1862 in Boston, Massachusetts, Governor John A. Andrew recruited her for a new assignment, performing humanitarian work in Port Royal, South Carolina. In spring 1863, army leadership in South Carolina allowed Tubman to leave her nursing position and take on a role that aligned with her underground railroad experience. Tubman served on the front lines in South Carolina.”
Not much time passed before she was carrying secret intelligence and information between several camps going behind enemy lines in order to map out the surrounding territory for gathering useful tidbits about the countryside that would prove to be indispensable to the Union.
Harriet Tubman and Colonel James Montgomery along with one-hundred and fifty black union soldiers would lead a raid of monumental proportions. It was a history making mission that wound up saving hundreds of slaves.
The raid led by Tubman and Colonel Montgomery resulted in the utter destruction of every plantation and property in sight. It took place on June 2nd, 1863. Houses and barns were promptly burned right to the ground. People by the hundreds started running towards the soldiers for a new life.
During this raid over seven-hundred slaves were quickly shuffled to safety and freedom. Harriet Tubman was the first woman in the U.S. to have ever led such a large military operation of this kind. She freed ten times more slaves during this event than the entire ten years the Underground Railroad was existences. It was an amazing feat to have been achieved in one mission.
BOOK PICK OF THE DAY
Harriet Tubman served a pivotal role in leading slaves to freedom in the decade before the Civil War. This biography offers a demythologized chronicle of her life and work with information about her life as a slave, role as conductor on the Underground Railroad, work as a military scout during the Civil War, and postwar activism for blacks and women.
The book provides some extremely valuable context that situates Harriet Tubman against the backdrop of the slavery debate in antebellum America, and the hardships endured by ex-slaves in postbellum America. As such, the timeframe covers nearly an entire full century.
In addition to ten biographical chapters and a short timeline, Harriet Tubman includes an interpretive essay reflecting on her importance in American history. The volume also includes an appendix of primary documents about Tubman’s life and work, a bibliography, and a number of sidebars and short commentaries embedded in the text, inviting readers to explore connections between Tubman’s life and social culture.
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- Boston African American National Historical Society
- Harriet Tubman ca. 1820-1913 by Debra Michals, PhD
- The Charles P. Wood Manuscripts of Harriet Tubman
- Harriet Tubman Day 1990 – A Presidential Proclamation
- Biography: Harriet Tubman – Library Of Congress
- Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross(1822-1913)
- Harriet Tubman: Life, Liberty and Legacy
- Nurse, Spy, Cook:’ How Harriet Tubman Found Freedom