Harriet Tubman Fight for Freedom
A strong and powerful lady said these wise words: “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me”.
The brave women who said these words were Harriet Tubman and she was one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves reach freedom. Although not an actual railroad of steel rails, locomotives and steam engines, the Underground Railroad was real nevertheless” (encyclopedia The Civil War and African Americans 329) The term “Underground Railroad” referred to the network of safe houses, transportation and the many very kind hearted people who risked their own lives to help the slaves escape from the Southern States to freedom. Many different kinds of transportation were actually used.
Sometimes the slaves would travel by foot or they could be hidden on boats, or hide in wagons or carts carrying vegetables or other goods The runaway slaves became known as “passengers”, and the route traveled was the “line” while people who helped out along the way were called the “agents”. Leaders like Harriet Tubman who would travel with the slaves that were escaping, were called “conductors”. Araminta Ross later known as Harriet Tubman was born a slave.
Since her master needed money, he would rent her out to work for different masters doing housekeeping and childcare but Harriet was not good at this type of work and so she was often beaten and sent back to her original master. She eventually was made to work as a slave in the fields with her father. One day, while Harriet was working, a slave who was trying to escape ran past her. The slave’s master was running after him “Araminta (Harriet Tubman) was told to hold the slave that had tried to escape while the owner whipped him.
She refused and tried to help the slave escape instead” (Journey to Freedom 13) She did this by getting in the way of the master who was running after the slave. This is how Harriet Tubman even as a child, helped a slave reach freedom and it was a big part of what inspired her to gain her own freedom and want to help other slaves escape. Even though Harriet Tubman was never taught to read or write she was very strong willed, religious and smart and she believed that people had the right to be free and did not think it was right to beat people just because they did not have white skin.
Harriet was determined to be free and help others, “she would become a beacon of hope to other slaves, “Moses” helping to set her people free”. (Harriet Tubman Moses of the Underground Railroad 23) Araminta married a white man named Richard Tubman when she was in her twenties. She still worked as a slave for her master but at night she was allowed to stay with her husband. She tried to talk to her husband about escaping but he just got mad and said that he would turn her in, so without Harriet telling him, she and three of her brothers decided to escape.
Her brothers became scared and turned back but Harriet made it to Philadelphia. When Harriet Tubman arrived in Philadelphia she later remembered feeling that “I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free. She said she felt as if she were in heaven. ” (Harriet Tubman Moses of the Underground Railroad 35) She got a job in Philadelphia and saved as much money as she could so that she could help other slaves to escape. Harriet Tubman became active with the “Philadelphia Vigilance Committee”.
This was a group that provided one of the stations of the Underground Railroad that helped runaway slaves. She was very anxious to become involved. Her first trip to rescue slaves was a trip to bring her sister and family to freedom. Harriet was an excellent planner and thought out every detail. She arranged for her brother-in-law to pose as an agent for a master and pretend that his master wanted to see the slaves before purchasing. The plan worked and Harriett’s sister, husband and family were able to calmly walk away without anyone suspecting that they were going to escape.
Harriet had many helpers or “agents” helping her. She used signals to let others know when it was safe to go from one place to another. Harriet’s sister and her family were able to crawl on a wagon that was carrying vegetables and make it all the way to Baltimore. Harriet met them in Baltimore and got them safely to Philadelphia by planning the entire route and hiring the necessary transportation and agents to help. Harriett Tubman was herself a fugitive and could have been caught anytime but he was brave and believed that she “heard the voice of god” and that He was telling her what to do to help the slaves escape. On another of her trips south to help free slaves, she sent a message to her husband asking him to join her in the North but she found out that he had married someone else.
This made Harriett even more determined. She returned to the South nineteen times. The slaves would know who she was because of the song she would sing. “Dark and thorny is the pathway, Where the pilgrim makes his ways; But beyond this vale of sorrow, Lie the fields of endless days. (The Underground Railroad in American History 65) Each time she came back she would bring a group of 4 to 5 slaves with her. She was personally responsible for bringing over 70 slaves to freedom, and is given credit for helping many more. It was never an easy trip. Even though there were, at times, safe places to stay along the way, most of the journey was done by foot and at night. Sometimes when they were traveling at night it would be so dark that the only way they could tell which direction they were going was to try to feel the moss on the trees since the moss grew thicker on the North side.
She would always leave on a Saturday night because on Sunday’s the slaves did not have to work and they would not be missed until Monday. Many times the slaves that came with her would become weak and scared and want to return, but she would not allow this because if one of them talked, then everyone who was set to help them now or in the future would be at risk. “The whole network of safe houses, agents and white and black allies who made the Railroad possible would be put in danger”.
Harriet Tubman Moses of the Underground Railroad 59) At one point, one of the slaves traveling with her became scared, Harriet always traveled with a gun and she took out her gun and said “do you think I would let so many die just for one coward man? ” Harriett Tubman Moses of the Underground Railroad 59) She became very well known and even had a reward of $40,000 for her capture. In 1850 it became even more dangerous for slaves escaping to the North because of the Compromise of 1850 “It required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves”.
There were posters that gave the names of slaves and stated “You’ve crossed the treacherous border states and, sor far, eluded slave catchers. But you can feel their breath, and as you cross into New England, you’ve heard tell of a law giving anyone with a badge not just the power but the obligation to arrest you. ” (The Boston Globe, Sepember 26, 2010) Because of this, Canada was becoming the safest place for escaping slaves. Canada was governed by the British who had passed the “Abolition of Slavery Act” in 1834. In Canada “Emancipation was not only a word in the dictionary but an action to liberate one’s destiny.
Harriet Tubman now helped slaves escape all the way to Canada because even slaves that had escaped to states in the North were not safe and could be sent back. During one of her journeys to Canada she was helping a group of slaves going from Philadelphia to Canada, the slaves were sure they were going to be caught and sent back but Harriett helped them take a train over a bridge that went to Canada and when they arrived in Canada “Tubman ran to one of the doubting slaves and said “You shook the lion’s paw, Joe. You’re free”
Harriet not only had to overcome the slave states in the South, but the efforts of the Southern States to get their slaves back. The Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court in 1857 made her efforts to keep slaves free in the North more difficult. It ruled that Black’s had no rights and could be kept as slaves. “Abraham Lincoln opposed this decision and in his campaign speeches for the presidency he said the Supreme Court should not have denied equal rights to African Americans”. (Journey to Freedom 25) It was not until the end of the Civil war that the Blacks were freed.
During the civil War Harriet aided the Union Army she helped set up field hospitals and formed a group of African American Scouts on a raid that freed 700 slaves. Using her skills from the Underground Railroad, she let them through the woods behind enemy lines (Journey to Freedom 26) after the war she continued helping the freed slaves to survive by buying food and get educated by fundraising for a school. Harriett Tubman truly was the “Moses” for her people helping lead them out of slavery. Harriett Tubman lived a long life dying in 1913 at the age of 93.