The Dallas Examiner
Many people have heard stories about the legendary Harriet Tubman as the conductor of the Underground Railroad, but they may not know the tumultuous history that inspired her leadership.
The anti-slavery advocate, known as Black history’s “Moses,” faced many trials and played a key part in many of the historical events we know today. This founding mother of the Underground Railroad is more than just the face of freedom, but she is also the epitome of a Black woman’s strength.
Tubman was born around 1820 as Araminta “Minty” Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland. She grew up with her mother, father and eight siblings. Her mother taught her and her siblings stories from the Bible. Ross was most inspired by Moses and the book of Exodus.
Ross’ childhood became one of the most brutal periods of her life. By age 5, she was forced to work as a house servant and caretaker for her master’s children. Part of her responsibilities included making sure the infant didn’t cry at night. She was often whipped around the neck when the infant did cry. Those scars never went away. At a time when she was severely ill, she pushed to collect muskrats from traps.
When she was 8, the she took a lump of sugar and ran away for three days in fear of punishment. She sought shelter in a pigpen, where she competed with pigs for scrapes of food.
Later in life, she described that she felt severely neglected during this time.
By age 12, Ross was working in the fields, which she stated she preferred over domestic work and being subjected to a White woman. Her pre-teen years became a turning point in her life as she became physically stronger and grew deeper into her Christian faith.
However, the changes in her life presented some negatives. While in the grocery store, Ross witnessed a fugitive slave attempting to escape the store after spotting his overseer. She blocked the doorway hoping that would give the slave enough time to escape.
During the conflict, the overseer picked up a heavy metal weight from the counter and aimed it at the slave but hit Ross in the head instead. Ultimately, Ross never fully recovered and developed seizures – which she knew as sleeping spells – that plagued her without warning. During these spells, she recalled having vivid dreams relating to her religion.
As she got older, Ross’ mind became resilient. She was hired, along with her father and some of her siblings, to chop timber and ship it for a shipbuilding industry.
In 1844, she married John Tubman, a free man.
In 1849, fear grew throughout the plantation of the possibility of more slaves being sold. After rumors spread that Ross would be sold, she fled to Philadelphia for freedom, leaving behind her parents, siblings and husband.
Once she settled in Pennsylvania, she found work, saved money and changed her first name to “Harriet,” which was her mother’s name. The following year, she went back to Baltimore, Maryland, to lead her sister and two children to freedom. She also went back for her two brothers and her husband, who she later found out was married to another woman.
Tubman would consistently return to Maryland 19 times to free up to 300 slaves through the famed Underground Railroad. Her strategy was well thought out, as she had slaves flee the plantation on Saturday nights because runaway notices weren’t placed in newspapers until that Monday. She also carried a drug to stop babies from crying.
She was known to have never left a slave behind.
“I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger,” she once stated. Tubman kept a small pistol every journey for self-defense and to ensure no slave turns back around, stating, “Dead Negros tell no tales.”
By 1856, Tubman’s reward for her capture was up to $40,000. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the freedom conductor’s job was harder. Slaves that ran away to the North were still being captured and taken back to the South, so she, with the help of fellow abolitionists, led them to Canada.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, the Black history foremother was involved in various historical events, such as the planning of John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry, the women’s suffrage movement and the Civil War.
Tubman served as a scout, nurse and laundress for Union Forces in South Carolina. Under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, she spied on Confederate territories and launched successful attacks such as the Combahee River Raid, which freed 700 slaves.
Unfortunately, Tubman was only paid $200 over a three-year period and had to sell pies to support herself. She claimed that the government owed her $966 for her scout services, and it took 34 years for her to receive a veteran’s pension.
After the war, the freedom pioneer settled in Auburn, New York, with her new husband, Nelson Davis, and began adopting orphans and the elderly, which would lead to the creation of the Harriet Tubman Home for Indigent Aged Negroes.
Tubman passed away from pneumonia in 1913 and is currently buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
Sources: Britannica.com; History.com; PBS.org; Harriet-Tubman.org.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center
Special to The Dallas Examiner
The National Park Service and the Maryland Park Service commemorated the work for the fearless freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, offering free family-friendly activities to showcase the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center during its grand opening March 11 and 12.
Located at 4068 Golden Hill Road, Church Creek, Maryland, the center is the premier feature of the national and state park and includes state-of-the-art green elements such as bio-retention ponds, rain barrels and vegetative roofs.
The center features a simulated Underground Railroad that journeys around the legacy garden to reveal escape secrets used by Tubman and other freedom seekers.
It houses an exhibit hall, museum store, information desk, research library and restrooms. The exhibit features information about Harriet Tubman’s role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and her work as a freedom fighter, humanitarian, leader and liberator.
“The story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is one that captivates people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Josie Fernandez, acting superintendent of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.
During the grand opening, park rangers provided talks on topics such as why Araminta Ross changed her name to Harriet Tubman, what skills made her a successful Underground Railroad conductor and the importance of community to enslaved people.
Children’s activities included “Games Enslaved Children Played,” about the significance and history of games that enslaved children played, as well as the opportunity to create their own piece of art to remember the park’s inaugural weekend.
Architect Chris Elcock, of GWWO Inc. Architects, presented a talk about the hidden symbolism in the visitor center building and surrounding landscape.
“Harriet Tubman is a true Maryland treasure and who remains relevant to this very day,” said Maryland Park Service Manager Dana Paterra. “Her path to freedom was wrought with peril but she persevered and overcame many struggles to become an American icon.”
More information is available at http://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/pages/eastern/tubman.aspx