Harriet Tubman, Escaped Slave, Abolitionist, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman, Escaped Slave, Abolitionist, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman’s grandmother had been brought over from Ghana to the United States of America as a slave. She had her freedom stripped from her and her children and children’s children were condemned to a life of degradation and inhumanity. Harriet was born Araminta Ross and both of her parents were slaves. By virtue of her birth, she too was a slave. Her earliest job was that of a nursemaid for her owner’s baby. At the age of five, Harriet was tasked with taking care of the child and insuring that it did not cry. When the baby cried–as all babies do–young Harriet was beaten and whipped. She carried these scars all her life as a silent reminder of humanity’s brokenness and sinful ways. When she was only a child, her mother’s owner came to take Harriet’s brother–Moses–away and sell him to a slaveholder in Georgia. At first Harriet’s mother hid Moses so that he might not be sold and taken away. When it was found out, though, that Moses was at home the men came with their whips and clubs to take him by force. Harriet’s mother called out from her quarters, “You can surely come and take the boy–I don’t doubt that–but the first one of you through the door will get his skull split in two.” The men backed down and decided not to tempt Harriet’s mother to follow through with her threat. In this moment, Harriet learned a lesson: even those who had been labeled things and not people could resist evil. This lesson served her well for years to come.

As Harriet grew in years and wisdom she became more and more connected to the Faith she had learned at her mother’s knee. Harriet couldn’t read and neither could her mother but the Biblical stories were told with regularity when the family would gather together. These stories informed her faith and she found great comfort in the stories of deliverance and liberation.She knew that her deliverer was with her even in the midst of slavery. As she grew yet more she began experiencing visions–perhaps partially linked to a traumatic head injury–that she insisted were a way that God communicated with her (even if they were a form of epilepsy, she was certain that God was speaking through them anyway).The stories she had heard as a child and adolescent continued to brew within her and began to form the way she thought about herself and the plight of her fellow slaves. When her owner began trying to sell her she started praying that God would convert the man and lead him to understand the error of his ways. She prayed with confidence that God could change the man but soon her confidence turned to frustration and she began praying that if God would not change the man then God should remove him as an obstacle. Shortly thereafter her owner died and Harriet felt great regret fearing that she had prayed for the man’s death. Soon, Harriet escaped slavery under the cover of night (after one failed attempt) by following the north star and alluding men hired to catch escaped slaves by any means necessary. Eventually, she arrived in Pennsylvania and was free.

Escaping wasn’t enough for Harriet because she was convinced that God was calling her to more than simple liberation. Rather, she felt God’s will leading her back into slave holding territory to bring others out of slavery. She utilized the extensive Underground Railroad network that Christians abolitionists had developed and became a “conductor” along the railroad.Enveloped in the stories of the Faith that gave meaning to her life and work, she was known as “Moses” because she returned to “Egypt” to lead her people out of slavery and death. She liberated her family and extended family first but then kept returning to free yet more slaves. She was continually risking her own life and freedom because she knew that God was directing her to do so. At one point, there was a sizable bounty on her head but she continued to risk her life for others. She was hated by those who loved slavery but loved by those who sought freedom and peace. She would later describe her astonishing success by writing, “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” For the rest of her life she fought against slavery and oppression of a variety of types. She campaigned for women’s suffrage and took an active role as a spy in the American Civil War. She died on March 10, 1913, after uttering her final words to those around her death bed: “I go to prepare a place for you.”

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