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Biography of Harriet Tubman (Davis)

There is hardly a more picturesque character among I the workers and traffic managers of the "Underground Railroad'' than Harriet Tubman, who was born in Maryland, when men and women were slave property. In 1848, when she was between twenty and twenty five years of age she made her escape from the house of bondage. The thing that strengthened her will and aroused her determination to make a break for freedom, was the thought of herself and brothers being "sold South." As she said, guided only by the North Star, she and her brothers started out for freedom. But after they had gone some distance, through fear that they would not succeed, like Lot's wife, her brothers turned back. Harriet, however, continued her journey alone, and reached the Promised Land. But, so intense was her love for her people that she determined to become a "Moses," in the work of the great Underground Railroad. She made nineteen different trips in the South and safely conducted more than three hundred persons to freedom in the Northern States, and Canada. A most remarkable thing it is that not a single fugitive under her direction, was ever captured. During the Civil War she was employed in the secret service of the United States Army, and, during the last year of the war, she was armed with papers which admitted her through the lines of the army in any part of the country. In the history, by Prof. Albert Bushnell Hart, is given a unique description of the battle of Gettysburg, from the lips of Harriet Tubman, to the historian. A sentence from that description is as follows: "And then we saw the lightning, and that was the guns; and, then we heard the rainfall, and that was the drops of blood falling: and when we came to get in the crops it was dead men that we reaped."

Mr. William Still, in his invaluable work, describes the subject of our sketch, as follows:

"Harriet was a woman of no pretensions, indeed, a more ordinary specimen of humanity could hardly be found among the most unfortunate looking farm hands of the South. Yet in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellowmen, by making personal visits to Maryland among the slaves, she was without equal.

Her success was wonderful. Time and again she made successful visits to Maryland on the Underground Railroad, and would be absent for weeks, at a time, running risks while making preparations for herself and passengers. Great fears were entertained for her safety, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear. The idea of being captured by slave-hunters or slave-holders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries. While she thus manifested such utter personal indifference, she was much more watchful with regard to those she was piloting. Half of her time, she had the appearance of one asleep, and would actually sit down by the road side and go fast asleep, when on her errands of mercy through the South, yet, she would not suffer one of her party to whimper once, about giving out or going back," however wearied they might be from hard travel day and night. She had a very short and pointed rule of law of her own, which implied death to any who talked of giving out and going back. Thus, in an emergency she would give all to understand that ''times were very critical and therefore no foolishness would be indulged in on the road." That several who were rather week-kneed and faint-hearted were greatly invigorated by Harriet's blunt and positive manner and threat of extreme measures, there could be no doubt. After having once enlisted, "they had I to go through or die.'' Of course Harriet was supreme, and her followers generally had full faith in her, and would back up any word she might utter. So when she said to them that ''a live runaway could do great harm by going back, but that a dead one could tell no secrets," she I was sure to have obedience. Her like it is probable was I never known before or since."

Harriet Tubman's last trip into Maryland is graphically given in Mr. Still's 'Underground Railroad." It was in the year 1860, and she led five passengers, of Dorchester County, out of bondage into freedom; a man, his wife, and three children, one of the children being a babe in the arms of her mother. The following note from the great Thomas Garrett, whose name was enrolled in the Lamb's Book of Life, long ago, will throw light upon these last arrivals. Mr. Garrett says:

"I write to let thee know that Harriet Tubman is again in these parts. She arrived last evening from one of her trips of mercy to God's poor, bringing two men with her as far as New Castle. I agreed to pay a man last evening to pilot them on their way to Chester County; the wife of one of the men, with two or three children, was left some thirty miles below, and I gave Harriet ten dollars, to hire a man with a carriage, to take them to Chester County. She said a man had offered for that sum to bring them on. I shall be very uneasy about them till I hear they are safe. There is now much more risk on the road, till they arrive here, than there has been for several months past, as we find that some poor, worthless wretches are constantly on the lookout on two roads, that they cannot well avoid, more especially with carriage, yet, as it is Harriet who seems to have had a special angel to guard her on her journey of mercy, I have hope.

Thy Friend, Thomas Garrett, Wilmington, Del."

These slaves from Maryland, were the last that Harriet Tubman piloted out of the prison-house of bondage, and these "came through great tribulation."

Stephen, the husband, had been a slave of John Kaiger, who would not allow him to live with his wife. She lived eight miles distant, hired her time, maintained herself, and took care of her little children (until they became of service to their owner) and paid ten dollars a year for her hire. She was owned by Algier Pearcy. Both mother and father desired to deliver their children from his grasp. They had too much intelligence to bear the heavy burdens thus imposed without feeling the pressure a grevious one. Harriet Tubman being well acquainted in the neighborhood, and knowing of their situation, and having confidence that they would prove true, as passengers on the Underground Railroad, engaged to pilot them within reach of Wilmington, at least to Thomas Garrett's. Thus the father and mother, with their children, and a young man named John, found aid and comfort on their way with Harriet for their Moses." A poor woman escaping from Baltimore in a delicate state, happened to meet Harriett's party at the station and was forwarded on with them. They were cheered with clothing, food and material aid, and sped on to Canada.

This great Moses, Mrs. Tubman Davis, after the Civil War, made Auburn, N. Y., her home, and established there a home for aged colored people. She entered into rest eternal on the tenth of March, 1913. On Friday, June 12, 1914, at the Auditorium, in Auburn, was unveiled a tablet in honor of this great and good woman. It was provided by the Cayuga County Historical Society, and Dr. Booker T. Washington was the chief speaker on the occasion. The ceremonies were attended by great crowds, both colored and white citizens, to do honor to the memory of such a unique and interesting character.

 Maryland Biographies | Maryland AHGP

Source: Gazetteer of Maryland, by Henry Gannett, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904.

 

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