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Harriet Tubman And The Underground Railroad

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We are experiencing a landmark in history globally with the sudden uprise of the COVID-19 pandemic spanning across the world. Without making this written work analysis on the topic, rather, use this time of social distancing and isolation to reveal the heroes who have pulled this country out of much worse situations. Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist, and political activist, was originally born into slavery, only to escape and made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman had grown to withstand being beaten and whipped by a fair share of slave masters. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when a slave owner threw a heavy metal object intending to hit another slave but hit her instead. The injury caused symptoms such as dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life. After her injury, Tubman began experiencing strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God. These experiences, combined with her Methodist upbringing, led her to become devoutly religious and sparked her trials to bring multiple endangered lives through the Underground Railroad. On her first trial in 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia but immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to their freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman was known amongst many slaves under the moniker “Moses” for her being responsible for never losing a life along the way.

In 1849, Tubman became ill enough to endanger her life, which diminished her value as a slave. Because of this, her then-current slave master identified this and began the process of selling off Tubman to a new owner, ultimately splitting up her birth family. This feat later proved to be unsuccessful, allowing for a larger window of opportunity for Tubman. Tubman and her brothers, Ben and Henry, escaped from slavery on September 17, 1849. Tubman had been hired out to Anthony Thompson (the son of her father's former owner), who owned a large plantation in an area called Poplar Neck in the neighboring county of Caroline County; it is likely her brothers labored for Thompson as well. Because the slaves were hired out to another household, Eliza Brodess probably did not recognize their absence as an escape attempt for some time, until two weeks later when she put a bounty on their head. Tubman escaped the grips of slavery once again, but this time without her brothers. She tried to send word of her plans beforehand to her mother. She sang a coded song to her friend Mary, a trusted fellow slave, that was a farewell. 'I'll meet you in the morning', she sang, 'I'm bound for the promised land.'

While her exact route is unknown, Tubman made use of the Underground Railroad. This was extremely informal but was a well-organized system composed of free and enslaved blacks, white abolitionists, and other activists. Most prominent among the latter in Maryland at the time were members of the Religious Society of Friends, often called Quakers. The Preston area near Poplar Neck contained a substantial Quaker community and was presumably an important first stop during Tubman's escapes. From there, she most likely took a common route for fleeing slaves – northeast along the Choptank River, through Delaware, and then north into Pennsylvania, a journey of nearly 90 miles. By foot, this would have taken between five days and three weeks. The typical journey may have gone similar to this- Tubman found it to be mandatory to travel by night, guided by the North Star. Almost every night was spent trying to avoid slave catchers eager to collect rewards for fugitive slaves. The 'conductors' (abolitionists, politicians, etc.) in the Underground Railroad used deception for protection, universally lying to keep slave catchers off the trail of Tubman and her convoy of soon freed slaves. At an early stop, the lady of the house would instruct Tubman to sweep the yard so as to seem to be working for the family. When night fell, the family hid her in a cart and took her to the next friendly house. Given her familiarity with the woods and marshes of the region, Tubman likely hid in these locales during the day. Particulars of her first journey remain shrouded in secrecy; because other fugitive slaves used the routes, Tubman did not discuss them until later in life, when their safety was guaranteed. Tubman's dangerous work required tremendous ingenuity and unwavering courage to succeed; she usually worked during winter months, to minimize the likelihood that the group would be found out. She was also no stranger to disguises and manipulating them in broad daylight to pass time and avoid detection. An example of this would come from what is believed to be an eye-witness account, “She always came in the winter, when the nights are long and dark, and people who have homes stay in them. Once she had made contact with escaping slaves, they left town on Saturday evenings, since newspapers would not print runaway notices until Monday morning. Tubman once disguised herself with a bonnet and carried two live chickens to give the appearance of running errands. Suddenly finding herself walking toward a former owner in Dorchester County, she yanked the strings holding the birds' legs, and their agitation allowed her to avoid eye contact.”

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While being interviewed by, at the time, famous author Wilbur Siebert in 1897, Tubman named some of the people who assisted her and the places that she would reside in while traversing the Underground Railroad. She stayed with Sam Green, a free black minister living in East New Market, Maryland; she also hid near her parents' home at Poplar Neck. She would travel from there northeast to Sandtown and Willow Grove, Delaware, and to the Camden area where free black activists, William and Nat Brinkley and Abraham Gibbs, guided her north past Dover, Smyrna, and Blackbird, where other agents would take her across the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to New Castle and Wilmington. In Wilmington, Quaker Thomas Garrett would secure transportation to William Still's office or the homes of other Underground Railroad operators in the greater Philadelphia area. Still is credited with aiding hundreds of freedom seekers to escape to safer places farther north in New York, New England, and present-day Southern Ontario.

Tubman's religious faith was another important resource to her and her lively cargo as she ventured repeatedly into Maryland. The visions from her childhood head injury continued, and she saw them as divine premonitions. She spoke of 'consulting with God' and trusted that He would keep her safe. Her faith in the divine provided immediate assistance. She used spirituals as coded messages, warning following travelers to potential dangers or to signal a clear path. She sang versions of 'Go Down Moses,' famously how she came by the nickname “Moses” and changed her lyrics to indicate whether it was either safe or too dangerous to continue. As she led fugitives across the border, she would call out, 'Glory to God and Jesus, too. One more soul is safe!' Her people truly were her most precious cargo.

In her later years, Tubman worked to promote the cause of women's suffrage. A woman once asked Tubman whether she believed women should have the right to vote and received the reply: 'I suffered enough to believe it.' Tubman began attending meetings of suffragist organizations and was soon working alongside legendary women such as Susan B. Anthony.

After reaching Philadelphia for the first time, Tubman thought of her family. 'I was a stranger in a strange land,' she said later in documents. 'My father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were in Maryland. But I was free, and they should be free.' This is the realization that sparked an underground uprising and would prove to be a form of salvation for not just hundreds of slave families, but for the progression and betterment of this country. Ultimately striking the likes of Frederick Douglass and many other notable abolitionists, Harriet Tubman became a superpower to everyone, doing the unforeseen work that no man would have the courage to do.

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Harriet Tubman And The Underground Railroad. (2022, February 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Harriet Tubman And The Underground Railroad.” Edubirdie, 26 Feb. 2022,
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Harriet Tubman And The Underground Railroad [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 26 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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