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Harriet Tubman b/ Vivian Filer
To Lead A Guiding Life
Edited b/Debra Michals PhD
Maryland Historical Society (2015)
Known as the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman was enslaved, escaped, and helped others gain their freedom as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Tubman also served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Harriet was the first African American woman to serve in the military.
John Legend Produced a short-lived (TNT) television series (2015) that followed a group of runaway slaves on their death-defying ride on Harriet Tubman’s UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.
Harriet Tubman’s exact birth date is unknown, but estimates place it between 1820 and 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland.
1820 — Born Araminta Ross, the daughter of Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross, Harriet Tubman had eight siblings.
By age five, Tubman’s owners rented her out as a domestic servant.
Early signs of her resistance to slavery and its abuses came at age twelve when she intervened to keep her master from beating an enslaved man who had tried to escape. She was hit in the head with a two-pound weight, leaving her with a lifetime of severe headaches and narcolepsy.
Although slaves were not legally allowed to marry, in 1844, Tubman entered a marital union with John Tubman, a free black man. She took his name and dubbed herself Harriet.
Contrary to legend, Tubman did not create the Underground Railroad; it was established by black and white abolitionists in the late 18th Century.
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“I was the conductor of The Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say …
I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”
Harriet Ross Tubman
1820 — Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman) was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland. Given the names of her two parents, both held in slavery, she was of pure African ancestry. She was raised under the harshest conditions, and subjected to whippings even as a small child.
— Tom Sawyer
She slept as close to the fire as possible on cold nights and sometimes stuck her toes into the smoldering ashes to avoid frostbite. Cornmeal was her main source of nutrition and occasionally meat of some kind, as her family had the privilege to hunt and fish. Most of her early childhood was spent with her grandmother, who was too old for slave labor.
At six years old, Araminta was old enough to be considered able to work. She did not work in the fields though. Edward Brodas, her master, lent her to a couple who first put her to work weaving she was beaten frequently. When she slacked off at this job the couple gave her the duty of checking muskrat traps. Araminta caught the measles while doing this work. The couple thought she was incompetent and took her back to Brodas. When she got well, she was taken in by a woman as a housekeeper and babysitter. Araminta was whipped during the work here and was sent back to Brodas after eating one of the woman’s sugar cubes. As was the custom on all plantations, when she turned eleven, she started wearing a bright cotton bandana around her head indicating she was no longer a child. She was also no longer known by her “basket name”, Araminta. Now she would be called Harriet, after her mother. At the age of 12 Harriet Ross was seriously injured by a blow to the head, inflicted by a white overseer for refusing to assist in tying up a man who had attempted escape.
1844 — Harriet was 25 years old when she married John Tubman, a free black man in Baltimore, Maryland. Unfortunately, John didn’t share Harriet’s dream of moving north, and as a slave, she knew there was a chance that she could be sold, and her marriage would be broken. Harriet dreamed of traveling north, where the slave trade would be less likely to break up her marriage. John opposed her moving north and involving herself in the Underground Railroad as a conductor. He argued they were fine where they were, and there was no reason to move.
He tried to scare her out of going alone, intimidating her with frightening questions:
“When it’s dark, how will you know which way is north? What will you eat?”
He told Harriet that if she did run off, he would tell their master.
Seeing the anger in her husband’s face, Harriet knew he meant what he said, and it was then she decided her dream to be free was too vivid to give up.
So in 1849 she left her husband and escaped to Philadelphia.
Which Way To Freedom?
ALL ROADS NORTH
Leaving the Mississippi Delta and the Deep South Cotton Plantations of The Confederacy, an Exodus of Up The Muddy River, to Natchez, Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago. Or northeast, through Georgia, The Carolinas, The Atlantic Coast, and into Washington D.C.
Others stayed in the Blue Hills, followed the Appalachian Mountains north, a picked up a hillbilly twang, that they never lost, even after going the distance, and making a home in New York City.
That iseeper South, up the Appalachian Trail to Boston, New York City, Montreal, and small (port) towns along the Hudson River (Valley)
Louisiana Bayou, New Orleans, Natchez, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit
Savannah, Charleston, Great Dismal Swamp, Richmond, Washington D.C.
Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia
New York City New Bedford, Boston, Rochester, Montreal, Hudson Valley
Florida Okefenokee Swamp, Everglades, Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
1849 — Escape. Harriet was given a piece of paper by a white abolitionist neighbor with two names, and told how to find the first house on her path to freedom. At the first house she was put into a wagon, covered with a sack, and driven to her next destination. and kind enough to give her directions to safe houses and names of people who would help her cross the Mason-Dixon line. She then hitched a ride with a woman and her husband who were passing by. They were abolitionists and took her to Philadelphia. Here, Harriet got a job where she saved her pay to help free slaves. She also met William Still. Still was one of the Underground Railroad’s busiest “station masters.”
It is said that Henry “Box” Brown, a slave, had himself nailed in a wooden box and mailed by real train from Richmond to William Still in Philadelphia.] He was a freeborn black Pennsylvanian who could read and write. He used these talents to interview runaway slaves and record their names and stories in a book. He hoped that in the future, family’s could trace their relations using this book. Still published the book in 1872 under the title The Underground Railroad where describes many of Tubman’s efforts. It is still published today.
With the assistance of Still, and other members of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, she learned about the workings of the Underground Railroad (click for details). In 1850, Harriet helped her first slaves escape to the North. She sent a message to her sister’s oldest son that said for her sister and family to board a fishing boat in Cambridge. This boat would sail up the Chesapeake Bay where they would meet Harriet in Bodkin’s Point. When they got to Bodkin’s Point, Harriet guided them from safehouse to safehouse in Pennsylvania (which was a free state) until they reached Philadelphia.
1850 — In September, Harriet was made an official “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. This meant that she knew all the routes to free territory, and she took an oath of silence so the Underground Railroad would remain secret. She also made a second trip South to rescue her brother James and other friends. They were already running, and Harriet helped them across the last river and river, and to the home of Thomas Garrett. Garrett was the most famous Underground “Station Master” in history.
Around this time the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was passed. It stipulated that it was illegal for any citizen to assist an escaped slave, and demanded that if an escaped slave was sighted, he or she should be apprehended and turned in to the authorities for deportation back to the “rightful” owner down south. Any United States Marshall who refused to return a runaway slave would pay a $1,000 penalty. In response, The Underground Railroad tightened its security. A code was created to make communications more secret, and more escapees were sent to Canada, instead of northern American cities.
1851 — Tubman likely benefited from this network of escape routes and safe houses in 1849, when she and two brothers escaped north. Her husband refused to join her, and by 1851 he had married a free black woman. Tubman returned to the South several times and helped dozens of people escape.
Harriet’s success led slave owners to post a $40,000 reward for her capture or death.
Tubman was never caught and never lost a “passenger.”
She participated in other antislavery efforts, including supporting John Brown in his failed 1859 raid on the Harpers Ferry, Virginia arsenal.
Through the Underground Railroad, Tubman learned the towns and transportation routes characterizing the South—information that made her important to Union military commanders during the Civil War. As a Union spy and scout, Tubman often transformed herself into an aging woman. She would wander the streets under Confederate control and learn from the enslaved population about Confederate troop placements and supply lines. Tubman helped many of these individuals find food, shelter, and even jobs in the North. She also became a respected guerrilla operative. As a nurse, Tubman dispensed herbal remedies to black and white soldiers dying from infection and disease.
After the war, Tubman raised funds to aid freed men, joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in their quest for women’s suffrage, cared for her aging parents, and worked with white writer Sarah Bradford on her autobiography as a potential source of income. She married a Union soldier Nelson Davis, also born into slavery, who was more than twenty years her junior. Residing in Auburn, New York, she cared for the elderly in her home and in 1874, the Davises adopted a daughter. After an extensive campaign for a military pension, she was finally awarded $8 per month in 1895 as Davis’s widow (he died in 1888) and $20 in 1899 for her service. In 1896, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged on land near her home. Tubman died in 1913 and was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.
1851 — Canada. Harriet’s third trip was in September 1851. She went to get her husband, John, but he had remarried and did not want to leave. So she went back up North. Harriet went to Garret’s house and found there were more runaways (which were referred to as passengers) to rescue than anticipated. That did not stop her though. She gave a baby a sedative so he would not cry and took the passengers into Pennsylvania. The trip was long and cold but they did reach the safe house of Frederick Douglass. He kept them until he had collected enough money to get them to Canada. He received the money so she and her eleven passengers started the journey to Canada. To get into Canada, they had to cross over Niagara Falls on a handmade suspension bridge which would take them into the city of St. Catherine, Ontario in Canada. In St. Catherine, blacks and whites lived together in comfortable houses and they had their own land to farm and raise crops. St. Catherines remained her base of operations until 1857. While there she worked at various activities to save to finance her activities as a Conductor on the UGRR, and attended the Salem Chapel BME Church on Geneva Street.
1852 — Winter Tubman was ready to return to the U.S. to help free more slaves. In the spring, she worked in Cape May and saved enough money to go to Maryland. By now, Tubman had led so many people from the South – the slave’s called this the “land of Egypt” – to freedom, she became known as “Moses.” She was also known by the plantation owners for her efforts and a bounty of $40,000 was posted. The state of Maryland itself posted a $12,000 reward for her capture.
Tubman made eleven trips from Maryland to Canada from 1852-1857. Her most famous trip concerned a passenger who panicked and wanted to turn back. Tubman was afraid if he left he would be tortured and would tell all he knew about the Railroad. The unwilling passenger changed his mind when Tubman pointed a gun at his head and said “dead folks tell no tales.”
1857 — On the road between Syracuse and Rochester, were a number of sympathetic Quakers and other abolitionists settled at Auburn, NY. Here also was the home of US Senator and former New York State Governor William H. Seward (and known for Seward’s folly). Sometime in the mid-1850s, Tubman met Seward and his wife Frances. Mrs. Seward provided a home for Tubman’s favorite niece, Margaret, after Tubman helped her to escape from Maryland. In 1857, the Sewards provided a home for Tubman, to which she relocated her parents from St. Catherines. This home was later sold to her for a small sum, and became her base of operations when she was not on the road aiding fugitives from slavery, and speaking in support of the cause.
1857 — Spring. The time when Harriet set out on her most daring rescue to free her elderly father, Ben Ross. Tubman bought a train ticket for herself and traveled in broad daylight which was dangerous considering the bounty for her head. When she reached Caroline County, she bought a horse and some miscellaneous parts to make a buggy. She took this and her father and mother to Thomas Garrett who arranged for their passage to Canada. In Canada, she met famed abolitionist John Brown, a radical abolitionist, who had heard much about Harriet. When he came to St. Catherine, he asked J.W. Loguen to introduce them. When Brown met Tubman, he was overwhelmed by her intelligence and bearing and said “General Tubman, General Tubman, General Tubman.” From then on he would refer to her by this name. Brown called Harriet, “one of the best and bravest persons on this continent.” She worked closely with Brown, and reportedly missed the raid on Harper’s Ferry only because of illness.
1860 — Troy, New York, in which she set her mind to setting free a fugitive who had been captured and was being held at the office of the United States Commissioner. The slave, a man named Charles Nalle, did escape thanks to Tubman’s efforts. He later bought his freedom from his master, a man who was also his younger, half-brother.
Harriet Tubman’s career in the Railroad was ending.
by December 1860, she made her last rescue trip to Maryland, bringing seven people to Canada.
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1861 — Civil War
Tubman returned to the U.S. from living in Canada in 1861. The Civil War had begun and was enlisting all men as soldiers and any women who wanted to join as cooks and nurses. Tubman enlisted into the Union army as a “contraband” nurse in a hospital in Hilton Head, South Carolina and for a time serving at Fortress Monroe, where Jefferson Davis would later be imprisoned. Contrabands were blacks who the Union army helped to escape from the Southern compounds. Often they were half starved and sick from exposure. Harriet nursed the sick and wounded back to health but her work did not stop there. She also tried to find them work. When the army sent her to another hospital in Florida, she found white soldiers and contrabands “dying off like sheep”. She treated her patients with medicine from roots and miraculously never caught any of the deadly diseases the wounded soldiers would carry. During the summer of 1863, Tubman worked with Colonel James Montgomery as a scout. She put together a group of spies who kept Montgomery informed about slaves who might want to join the Union army. After she and her scouts had done the groundwork, she helped Montgomery organize the Combahee River Raid. The purpose of the raid was to harass whites and rescue freed slaves. They were successful in shelling the rebel outposts and gathering almost 500 slaves. Just about all the freed slaves joined the army. While guiding a group of black soldiers in South Carolina, she met Nelson Davis, who was ten years her junior. Denied payment for her wartime service, Tubman was forced, after a bruising fight, to ride in a baggage car on her return to Auburn.
1869 — After the war, Harriet returned home to Auburn, where she married Nelson Davis, in 1869. They shared a calm, peaceful nineteen years until he died.
Harriet was now left alone. Sarah Bradford wrote in biography “The Moses of Her People”
She turned her face toward the north, and fixing her eyes on the guiding star, and committing her way unto the Lord, she started again upon her long, lonely journey. She believed that there were one or two things she had a right to, liberty or death.
Tubman returned to Auburn, New York.
after the war and purchased Seward’s seven-acre plot in 1873 with $1,200 donated by author Sarah Bradford from sale proceeds of her book. The Tubman-Davis brick home remains today on that property.
1897 — Tubman received a government (military) pension of $20 per month.
Only twelve miles from Seneca Falls and Susan B. Anthony, Tubman helped Auburn to remain a center of activity in support of women’s rights.
1903 — Susan B. Anthony wrote a note praising Harriet Tubman’s life-long work oh behalf of African Americans, the elderly, and the disabled.
— Trump’s Favorite, Andrew Jackson
Florida’s first Governor, elected on the Glory of having conquered (rounded up like cattle) the Native Floridians, including Osceola, the Seminole Chief. Jackson had those “Indians,” who had survived the Seminole Wars, but were unable to escape into the Everglades, join the “Trail of Tears,” and take their designated place on one of the newly created “Reservations” on the Midwestern Plains.
Once an important “safe” house on the Underground Railroad, this small, brick building in Brooklyn, New York, failed in an attempt to be designated a historic landmark, and instead became a fresh-on-the-market piece of property, listed as a “great deal” at $3.5 million.
When the Spell is Broken
b/ Blind Boys of Alabama
w/ Bonnie Raitt
“The Bridge” is a continuation of the American Story Allan Harris tells on his 2006 album, Cross That River. “Cross That River” is the story of a Louisiana slave named Blue, who, in 1851, escapes across the Red River into Texas, works as a cowboy on a cattle drive to Oklahoma, and later joins the U.S. Cavalry, and clears the West of “Indians” as a famed Buffalo Soldier.
Vivian Filer (Usually on Sunday’s with her two sisters) puts voice (sings) the Langston Hughes poem, one of the most powerful pieces of literature arising from the Harlem Renaissance.
Vivian Filer at The Hippodrome Theater (Gainesville, Fla.)
Sale of Underground Railroad site to city caps off “financial disaster”
Despite $3.2M price, seller’s attorney says aborted project cost him a bundle
The de Blasio administration has purchased an abolitionist’s home in Downtown Brooklyn that recently received landmark status — ending a controversial developer’s plans for the site.
On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray announced the city purchased 227 Duffield Street for $3.2 million. The circa-1850 building is believed to have ties to the Underground Railroad, and while plans for the site are unclear, McCray stated that the purchase ensures the property “will be protected and celebrated for a very long time to come.”