Monday, July 14, 2014

Biography: Harriet Tubman: Slave Fugitive, UGRR Conductor, Union Spy

Harriett Tubman,  this information is gleaned from the chapter in “Bound for the North Star.  It gives additional information I was not aware of.  For example she went through life with a dent in her head and suffering from some sort of narcolepsy.  This was from an incident when another slave was running away while they were in the grocery store.  The owner picked up a can to throw at the fugitive, missed and hit Harriet Tubman.  She had periods throughout her life when she would suddenly lose consciousness and nod off asleep, and then after a time would wake up without knowing she had been asleep.  She would also wear a bandana to cover the dent in her head because it made her easily identifiable. 
Tubman would use song to communicate with people.  In the songs would be hidden messages.  The promised land was the “North”.  She escaped slavery in 1849 but following the north star.  Her husband refused to go with her.  However she could not totally enjoy her freedom without her family.  She became familiar with people on the Underground Railroad, and with this knowledge returned to the South to help her family.  She first helped her sister Mary Ann and her children, and then made more trips for other family members, and others not from her family.  As she made rescue after rescue, the slaves began to call her Moses.  She would usually leave with slaves Saturday evenings, when they were less well guarded.  She would often borrow the buggy and horses of slave owners.  This way she earned the knick name “Old Chariot”. 
If a runaway would become fearful, and want to return, this would jeopardize the entire party.  Tubman would pull a loaded pistol she kept in her pocket and threaten the fugitive, “You go on or die!”   This way she helped many who would have gone back to slavery.  “Go Down Moses” was her fighting song.  If she were to sing it several times, it would let fugitives she might be picking up know that the coast was clear.  If she sang just once and then stopped, there was trouble afoot and people would stay hidden.  For someone observing they would just see a little old lady (one of her favorite disguises). 
She was so successful she was able to help over 300 men women and children escape slavery.  Some of the last were her own elderly parents.  There was a reward of $40,000 placed on her (about $800,000 in today’s money).  Harriet took no thought of this, feeling God would protect her, and if it was her time to go then so be it. 
Harriet’s exploits did not end with helping people reach freedom.  She was also active in the Civil War, spying for the North.  She scouted, and then directed the raid up the Combahee River in South Carolina.  This raid freed more than 700 slaves.  This has been called the only military in U.S. history planned by a woman. 
Her post Civil war days were lived in poverty.  She remarried, and nursed her husband who suffered from tuberculosis for 20 years.  She was always poor, because she was always giving to others.  She had a final dream, a home for elderly.  She accomplished this, and this is where she died in 1913.

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