By CHARITY CHUKWU
The Dallas Examiner
Harriet Tubman was the first woman to serve as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. She not only helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom garnering her the nickname the “Moses of her people,” but she was also the first woman to lead a military assault all while making trips undetected in and out of the slavery-stricken South.
Tubman was born into slavery around 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Named Araminta Ross at birth, she was the daughter of Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross, and had eight siblings. She began working at age 5 for the slave master’s neighbors.
She showed her defiance from a young age when at 12 years old she stopped an escaping slave from being beaten by an overseer. Instead of helping tie up the man as instructed, she refused. When the overseer hurled a two-pound weight at him, it inadvertently hit her head instead, knocking her unconscious. This would later lead to a history of severe headaches and eventually narcolepsy. Nevertheless, she persisted.
“They carried me to the house all bleeding an’ fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they lay me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all that day and next… [I was forced] to work again and there I worked with the blood and sweat rolling down my face till I couldn’t see,” Tubman said.
Although not legal at the time, in 1844 Araminta married, John Tubman, a free Black man. She took his last name and changed her first than to that of her mother, Harriet. Five years later, she feared that she and other slaves on the plantation would be sold and devised a plan to leave.
“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,” Tubman exclaimed.
Tubman was not the creator of the Underground Railroad. She simply served as a conductor of the system that laid out a network of escape routes established by a group of Black and White abolitionist in the late 18th century.
With Tubman’s knowledge of the Railroad, she helped two of her brothers and her 70-year-old parents escape north. However, her husband refused to join her. He chose to stay and later remarried another free Black woman in 1851.
Tubman traveled several times into slave-holding states where she was never caught and never lost a “passenger.”
In fact, whenever anyone tried to change their mind on the road to freedom and attempted to turn back, Tubman would point a gun at them and say, “You’ll be free or die a slave!” She knew that if anyone retuned, their return would put her and other slave at risk of discovery, capture and even death.
Tubman was so gifted in her knowledge of the route that she made over a dozen trips and guided approximately 300 people to freedom in her lifetime. Her disruption was so impactful that at one point, slaveowners posted a reward of $40,000 for her immediate capture or death. That comes out to about $1.5 million when adjusted for inflation today.
Historians believe the Negro spiritual, Go Down, Moses, was written about her – as slaves would sing the song in hopes of being delivered from slavery by Tubman, just like Moses delivered the Israelites from slavery.
On top of that, Tubman went from “conductor” to “general” as she supported John Brown in his failed 1859 anti-slavery raid on the Harpers Ferry, Virginia arsenal, becoming the first woman to participate in such a feat.
Remaining dedicated to her cause, Tubman continued fighting against slavery as a nurse and then later spy for the Union Army during the civil war. Loaded with the vast information of southern routes she gained while working for the Underground Railroad, Tubman gave Northern troops incredibly accurate data that no other forces were able to obtain at the time.
Her familiarity with herbal remedies helped her nurse Black and White soldiers suffering from disease and infections. And with her knowledge and her ability to blend by pretending to be an aging slave woman, she became a spy, seeking and delivering intelligence from behind enemy lines. She could sneak past Confederate controlled areas and learn secrets from the enslaved populations there to exchange with the Union. By the time the war ended, she proved to be so vital to the military that they gave her a $20 per month pension, making her the first African American woman to be granted one.
Tubman’s legacy lives on as many monuments, museums and statues have been built in her honor. Her name can be found on many streets, schools, churches and organizations across the country. A commemorative postage stamp with her image on it is available. Soon she will become the first woman on paper currency, replacing former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
Sources: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/harriet-tubman, https://www.womenshistory.org/exhibits/harriet-tubman, https://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/tubman/aa_tubman_rail_2.html