Harriett Tubman

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 5

The slaves were told that their master’s will provided that none of them should be sold out of the State. This satisfied most of them, and they were very happy. But Harriet was not satisfied; she never closed her eyes that she did not imagine she saw the horsemen coming, and heard the screams of women and children, as they were being dragged away to a far worse slavery than that they were enduring there. Harriet was married at this time to a free negro, who not only did not trouble himself about her fears, but did his best to betray her, and bring her back after she escaped. She would start up at night with the cry, “Oh, dey’re comin’, dey’re comin’, I mus’ go!”

Her husband called her a fool, and said she was like old Cudjo, who when a joke went round, never laughed till half an hour after everybody else got through, and so just as all danger was past she began to be frightened. But still Harriet in fancy saw the horsemen coming, and heard the screams of terrified women and children. “And all that time, in my dreams and visions,” she said, “I seemed to see a line, and on the other side of that line were green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white ladies, who stretched out their arms to me over the line, but I couldn’t reach them no-how. I always fell before I got to the line.”

One Saturday it was whispered in the quarters that two of Harriet’s sisters had been sent off with the chain-gang. That morning she started, having persuaded three of her brothers to accompany her, but they had not gone far when the brothers, appalled by the dangers before and behind them, determined to go back, and in spite of her remonstrances dragged her with them.

In fear and terror, she remained over Sunday, and on Monday night a negro from another part of the plantation came privately to tell Harriet that herself and brothers were to be carried off that night. The poor old mother, who belonged to the same mistress, was just going to milk. Harriet wanted to get away without letting her know, because she knew that she would raise an uproar and prevent her going, or insist upon going with her, and the time for this was not yet. But she must give some intimation to those she was going to leave of her intention, and send such a farewell as she might to the friends and relations on the plantation. These communications were generally made by singing.

They sang as they walked along the country roads, and the chorus was taken up by others, and the uninitiated knew not the hidden meaning of the words–

 When dat ar ole chariot comes,
I’m gwine to lebe you;
I’m boun’ for de promised land,
I’m gwine to lebe you.

These words meant something more than a journey to the Heavenly Canaan. Harriet said, “Here, mother, go ‘long; I’ll do the milkin’ to-night and bring it in.” The old woman went to her cabin. Harriet took down her sun-bonnet, and went on to the “big house,” where some of her relatives lived as house servants.

She thought she could trust Mary, but there were others in the kitchen, and she could say nothing. Mary began to frolic with her. She threw her across the kitchen, and ran out, knowing that Mary would follow her. But just as they turned the corner of the house, the master to whom Harriet was now hired, came riding up on his horse.

Mary darted back, and Harriet thought there was no way now but to sing. But “the Doctor,” as the master was called, was regarded with special awe by his slaves; if they were singing or talking together in the field, or on the road, and “the Doctor” appeared, all was hushed till he passed. But Harriet had no time for ceremony; her friends must have a warning; and whether the Doctor thought her “imperent” or not, she must sing him farewell. So on she went to meet him, singing:

 I’m sorry I’m gwine to lebe you,
Farewell, oh farewell;
But I’ll meet you in the mornin’,
Farewell, oh farewell.

The Doctor passed, and she bowed as she went on, still singing:

I’ll meet you in the mornin’,
I’m boun’ for de promised land,
On the oder side of Jordan,
Boun’ for de promised land.

She reached the gate and looked round; the Doctor had stopped his horse, and had turned around in the saddle, and was looking at her as if there might be more in this than “met the ear.” Harriet closed the gate, went on a little way, came back, the Doctor still gazing at her. She lifted up the gate as if she had not latched it properly, waved her hand to him, and burst out again:

I’ll meet you in the mornin’,
Safe in de promised land,
On the oder side of Jordan,
Boun’ for de promised land.

And she started on her journey, “not knowing whither she went,” except that she was going to follow the north star, till it led her to liberty.

Cautiously and by night she traveled, cunningly feeling her way, and finding out who were friends; till after a long and painful journey she found, in answer to careful inquiries, that she had at last crossed that magic “line” which then separated the land of bondage from the land of freedom; for this was before we were commanded by law to take part in the iniquity of slavery, and aid in taking and sending back those poor hunted fugitives who had manhood and intelligence enough to enable them to make their way thus far towards freedom.

When I found I had crossed dat line,” she said, “I looked at my hands to see if I was de same pusson. There was such a glory ober ebery ting; de sun came like gold through the trees, and ober the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaben.”

But then came the bitter drop in the cup of joy. She said she felt like a man who was put in State Prison for twenty-five years. All these twenty five years he was thinking of his home, and longing for the time when he would see it again. At last the day comes–he leaves the prison gates–he makes his way to his old home, but his old home is not there. The house has been pulled down, and a new one has been put up in its place; his family and friends are gone nobody knows where; there is no one to take him by the hand, no one to welcome him.

So it was with me,” she said. “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free. I would make a home in the North and bring them there, God helping me. Oh, how I prayed then,” she said; “I said to de Lord, ‘I’m gwine to hole stiddy on to you, an’ I know you’ll see me through.'”

Previously: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 1
Next: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 3

This is part of a multi-part series published to celebrate Black History Month in 2012. The list of published posts can be found at Book Directory: Scenes In The Life Of Harriet Tubman. Use the Stay In Touch box below to recieve e-mail notifications about new posts.

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