Like many women, Harriet Tubman chose to 'go around' the men to achieve her 'success.' Nicknamed 'Moses,' for liberating seventy slaves in what is believed to have been thirteen trips and many more with specific instructions she provided for many. Believed to be of Ghanaian heritage and born Araminta Ross, her lifetime is marked by her many innovative solutions that would impact thousands of people in her lifetime, and millions more since.
Like many women, 'Miss' Harriet's hair plays a part in her story. She credits it with having saved her life. It "had never been combed," she said, and "stood out like a bushel basket." Cushioning the blow of a two pound weight that hit her after it was thrown at a fleeing slave by his overseer. Still the impact, in her words,"broke her skull," and, though debilitating her with headaches, seizures and bouts of spontaneous semi-conscious sleep for the rest of her life, may in fact have contributed to the vivid dreams and phenomena that drove her, later, to escape herself and so many others.
The wound occurred just as she was becoming more spiritual. Raised by a devout Christian mother, Harriet was especially inspired by Old Testament stories of Hebrew slaves escaping Egypt, following the lead of her (nick-) namesake, the Biblical Moses.
She believed it was Divine intervention when after several nights of her praying for the death of her owner who had been trying to sell her after her injury left her less productive, the owner did in fact die. The year was 1949. Shortly after, she escaped with her brothers, only to return after her brothers had a change of heart.
Undeterred, Tubman escaped again. "(T)here was one of two things I had a right to liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other." This time, after sending a coded message to her mother through a slave friend named Mary, to whom she said, "I'm bound for the promised land," Harriet headed off again.
Traveling at night by the light of the North Star, she was given safe haven and support by an informal but well organized Underground Railroad, a system of free or enslaved blacks and white abolitionists. Many from the Religious Society of Friends (#Quakers).
Arriving in Pennsylvania, she realized "I was a stranger in a strange land. (M)y father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were (still enslaved). But I was free, and they should be free." By late 1850 she set about freeing them, too. She returned to the South in 1851 for the first time since becoming free, to fetch her husband, John. Only to find he'd remarried. After briefly considering storming his home, Harriet decided he wasn't worth the effort and found other slaves to take instead.
By late 1851 the 'Fugitive Slave Law' made escape ever more dangerous. Harriet responded by transporting slaves even further North, into Canada. Its believed one group of eleven stayed with Frederick Douglass, the largest group he'd hosted.
So awed by her efforts, the famous freed slave and abolitionist wrote of her:
"The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. (...) The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have."
When the #CivilWar broke out in 1861 around differences related to property ownership, Harriet, who was active in the Union efforts, chided PresidentAbraham LincolnLincoln that the Union would lose -- until, she said, he agreed to "do the right thing," by enforcing emancipation on the South.
"Master Lincoln, he's a great man, and I am a poor negro," she said. "(B)ut the negro can tell master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the negro free."
She served as a nurse, scout and spy for the Union--as well as the first woman to lead an armed strike in US military history. When she advised and guided a trio of soldier-filled steamboats around undetectable Confederate mines in South Carolina's Combahee River, in a daring and dangerous mission. Upon landing the soldiers spread out to conquer plantations, while slaves, with Confederate soldiers hot on their heels, flooded onto the ships. 750 were transported safely to freedom.
Despite all her work, Harriet Tubman never received regular wages. Nor a pension for her pivotal military service. She remained in poverty, even into her later years when she and her efforts were widely heralded.
Her later years found her heavily involved in her church, while she also was working with women suffragists. She died at the height of the movement, in 1913.