The freedom of slaves can not be discussed without mentioning Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman was an amazing woman, born into slavery without rights, without any kind of privileges, without hope in any worldly sense. But despite her burdens, Harriet Tubman— at great risk— was able to free many slaves from captivity using the Underground Railroad, earning her the moniker “Black Moses.” Tubman made people think twice about slavery and helped the slaves recover their freedom. She also fought for women’s suffrage and showed that women are as capable as men. She changed the world’s perspective on African Americans and women.
Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, to Harriet and Ben Ross (Janney,page 26). Her birth name was Araminta Ross, but as she grew up she used her mothers’ name, Harriet (Janney 26). Growing up a slave, Tubman lived a life of constant sorrow and suffering. She was expected to be obedient to her master, Mary Patterson Bordes. She began each day with a lashing from her master.The beatings were a horror to Tubman, and she learned to shield the blows herself as much as possible. Even as a little girl, Tubman longed to be free (Janney page 27). She dreamed of her people’s liberation (27.)
Her parents got nervous everytime Tubman would speak about being free. They told her that mentioning this and even running away was very dangerous. They told her that a fugitive slave had slim chances of living if they tried escaping. Her dad taught her to “trust her future entirely to the good lord” (Jenney page 26). Ben, her father, instilled in her hope about life with religious faith (Jenney page 28). She always spoke to god before she did something. Because of her intense faith, she had some prophecies that would help her rescue slaves(Jenney page 28). She would be warned about trouble through visionlike dreams and omens.
During her youth, she had a recurring dream that she could see a line that divided slavery from freedom, the Mason and Dixon border, which she didn’t know about at the time (28). During her youth, a slave owner threw an iron weight on her head, which broke her skull.Tubman’s great niece, Mariline Wilkins, believed that the two- pound weight, was a big cause to Harriet’s desire to end slavery (Cordell 52). She was not able to fully recover from this head wound, and suffered terribly from crippling headaches and sleeping spells. Harriet believed that freedom was worth paying any price, bearing any burden. She wouldn’t wait for someone to grant freedom to her, and didn’t want to be deceived by her master, like her mother (52).
Tubman made her own escape from slavery in 1849 in order to make a better life in the North, not only for herself, but for all oppressed blacks in the South (52).She then returned to free many of her enslaved family members and friend.After her escape, she became a leader in the Abolitionist Movement. She led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their journey North to freedom (57). She was determined that God will help her rescue as many people as possible. Her admirers called her General Tubman, but many more people called her Moses(57). Tubman, like Moses, led many of her people out of slavery and into the promised land.
Before God used Moses and Harriet, he took them away from all that they loved and knew (Janney 14). “Years before the Civil War, Tubman returned to that “Egypt” nineteen times, rescuing some three hundred slaves right out from under the noses of their masters” (14). Tubman would save more blacks from slavery than any other abolitionist (14). She also was dedicated to saving every last slave that she rescued (Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad). She said “On my Underground Railroad I [never] run my train off [the] track [and] I never [lost] a passenger”(Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad).
Tubman never failed to get her passengers to safety, which was a miracle. She was the most praised figure of the secret network that freed slaves to the North. She became an almost mythical figure in American history (45). She was very courageous and completely devoted to her people’s rescue, even at the cost of her safety and her life (Clinton 25). Whenever Tubman led a group of slaves to freedom, she endangered herself(Cordell 59). If any slave had second thoughts on escaping during the journey, Tubman would pull a gun out and say “You’ll be free or die a slave(59).” She knew that if anyone turned back it would increase the risk of her capture, or death (59).
During this time there were positive and negative changes in the U.S. The acqisition of land and the maifest destiny were some positive changes. And the question of slavery was a negative change in the U.S at the time. In 1861, Tubman returned to the U.S., after living in Canada. During this time the Civil war had begun, and she served with the Union Army(harriettubman03.weebly.com). Harriet Tubman helped in every way she was able to by cooking food, working as a spy, nursing soldiers and fugitives, and an advocate for women’s suffrage (weebly .com /shortlong-term-impact.html). After the war she became a community activist and humanitarian.Although Harriet Tubman was very successful, she experienced many challenges throughout her journey.
Unlike most women born into slavery, Tubman took action and freed herself, and many others. Because of her courageous behavior, Tubman earned herself a prestige reputation. Tubman was wanted by slave owners, and had a bounty on her head. Because slavery was made legal by the government, Tubman became one of its greatest enemies (Clinton Page 28). Tubman was seen as a criminal in the state’s eyes. Government officials endorsed a $40,000 bounty for her capture, dead or alive. “She was considered a nuisance and dangerous to law and order” (Campbell).
In 1850 Congress passed an updated Fugitive Slave Act, written by Henry Clay, the great statesman from Kentucky (Janney page 44). It was part of the Compromise of 1850, when there were tensions between the North and South, whether slavery should be allowed in new western territories. Under the new law, “persons who impeded the retrieval of a slave, or who helped one escape, would be subject to a maximum fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison” (Janney, page 49). As seen in the primary source, the Fugitive Slave Law expanded the rights of southern bounty hunters to go north, capture slaves, and bring them back south (www.loc.gov). Everyone needed to help enforce this act, and whoever was caught helping fugitives would be fined or imprisoned.
The law also allowed that a federal commissioner could gather men and send them to recover a runaway slave, and could impress anyone. If someone resented, they were to face fines or imprisonment. There was also no recourse to trial by jury for the fugitive slave. Descriptions of fugitive slaves tended to be very general, and any black who resembled and fit into the category described, found himself in serious jeopardy. This time was called “the years of the Fugitive Slave Law”(Janney page 49).
Runaway slave ads were put up as long as slavery existed. The ads described the fugitive slave and rewarded anyone that found the runaway slave. It stated “Negro Man Named George, said negro is five feet ten inches high…If said negro is taken and confined in St. Louis Jail, or brought to this county so that I get him, the above reward of $1,000 will be promptly paid” (runaway-slave-reward-poster-1852). The Fugitive Slave Law and the runaway slave ads made it even harder for Tubman to continue rescuing slaves, but she continued and succeeded.Although some Northerners before 1850 viewed most abolitionists as dangerous extremists, afterward many agreed that the country should get rid of slavery.
Most Northerners came to admire the courage of runaways and those who endangered themselves by assisting them (Janney, page 50). A Quaker named Miss Parsons met Tubman on a farm one day, and said that if she ever needs any help, she should come to her. Tubman went to Parsons farm and encountered the Underground Railroad for the first time (Janney page 53). Parsons told her about two other stops on the railroad and named her people who would help her, and Tubman left to make her way north. She started working with Quaker abolitionist Thomas Garrett and Frederick Douglass.
Tubman met John Brown, and helped recruit supporters for the Harper’s Ferry attack. Brown called her “General Tubman”. (Timeline of the Life of Harriet Tubman) Tubman was part of the anti slavery meetings because she was friends with the abolitionists of the day. In a primary source, there was an ad that showed where anti slavery meetings were happening, explained why people should attend the meetings, and what they were doing there. It said “ Anti slavery meetings will be held in this place…To be addressed by agents of the western anti- slavery society. Three millions…in chains– the church and government sustains the horrible system of oppression” (“Primary Sources for African American History LibGuides) .
Her friends and allies from the Abolitionist movement raised funds to help her. Susan H Bradford wrote a biography in 1869 and gave the money from the sales of the book to Tubman. There were also many fundraisers to help her. Tubman would want the U.S. to be free of slaves. She said to Sarah Bradford “I had reasoned this out in my mind, 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.” (Bradford) She never approved of slavery, and did anything to get away from it. She would either be free or die. Tubman believed in the equality of everyone, male or female, black or white. She was sympathetic and a supporter of the women’s rights movement. She would want the U.S. to be free of slavery.
Tubman would want the U.S. to give equal opportunities to everyone, men, women,blacks,or whites. She improved many lives through her actions and words. She left a legacy as someone who fought for her people, and sacrificed many parts of her life for others. She changed people’s perspective on slaves and women.