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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

From Slavery to Freedom (about 1820 - March 10, 1913)

Video courtesy via bio.com

An African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made thirteen missions to rescue more than 300 slaves using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

As a child in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten by masters she suffered a head wound when hit by a heavy metal weight. The injury caused disabling seizures, narcoleptic attacks, headaches, and powerful visionary and dream activity. Tubman ascribed the visions and vivid dreams to revelations from God. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night, Tubman (or "Moses", as she was called) "never lost a passenger".


When the Southern-dominated Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, requiring law officials in free states to aid efforts to recapture slaves, she helped guide fugitives farther north into Canada, where slavery was prohibited. $40,000 reward was offered for the return of many of the fugitive slave Tubman. Despite the best efforts of the slaveholders, Tubman was never captured, and neither were the fugitives she guided.Because the Fugitive Slave Law had made the northern United States more dangerous for escaped slaves, many began migrating further north to Canada. In December 1851, Tubman guided an unidentified group of 11 fugitives, possibly including the Bowleys and several others she had helped rescue earlier, northward. There is evidence to suggest that Tubman and her group stopped at the home of abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.

In his third autobiography, Douglass wrote:
"On one occasion I had eleven fugitives at the same time under my roof, and it was necessary for them to remain with me until I could collect sufficient money to get them on to Canada. It was the largest number I ever had at any one time, and I had some difficulty in providing so many with food and shelter...."

In November 1860, Tubman conducted her last rescue mission. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Tubman saw a Union victory as a key step toward the abolition of slavery. General Benjamin Butler, for instance, aided escaped slaves flooding into Fort Monroe. Butler had declared these fugitives to be "contraband" – property seized by northern forces – and put them to work without pay in the fort. Tubman soon met with General David Hunter, a strong supporter of abolition. He declared all of the "contrabands" in the Port Royal district free, and began gathering former slaves for a regiment of black soldiers. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, however, was not prepared to enforce emancipation on the southern states, and reprimanded Hunter for his actions. Tubman condemned Lincoln's response and his general unwillingness to consider ending slavery in the U.S., for both moral and practical reasons. "God won't let master Lincoln beat the South till he does the right thing," she said. When Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Tubman considered it an important step toward the goal of liberating all black men, women, and children from slavery.

Later that year, Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. When Montgomery and his troops conducted an assault on a collection of plantations along the Combahee River, Tubman served as a key adviser and accompanied the raid. On the morning of June 2, 1863, Tubman guided three steamboats around Confederate mines in the waters leading to the shore. Once ashore, the Union troops set fire to the plantations, destroying infrastructure and seizing thousands of dollars worth of food and supplies. When the steamboats sounded their whistles, slaves throughout the area understood that it was being liberated. Tubman watched as slaves stampeded toward the boats. "I never saw such a sight," she said later, describing a scene of chaos with women carrying still-steaming pots of rice, pigs squealing in bags slung over shoulders, and babies hanging around their parents' necks. Although their owners, armed with handguns and whips, tried to stop the mass escape, their efforts were nearly useless in the tumult. As Confederate troops raced to the scene, steamboats packed full of slaves took off toward Beaufort. The Confederacy surrendered in April 1865.


Harriet Tubman. (2012). Biography.com. Retrieved 06:48, Feb 14, 2012 from http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430