Harriet, in her costume as scout, was furnished by the kindness of Mr. J. C. Darby.

Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 6

She came to Philadelphia, and worked in hotels, in club houses, and afterwards at Cape May. Whenever she had raised money enough to pay expenses, she would make her way back, hide herself, and in various ways give notice to those who were ready to strike for freedom. When her party was made up, they would start always on Saturday night, because advertisements could not be sent out on Sunday, which gave them one day in advance.

Then the pursuers would start after them. Advertisements would be posted everywhere. There was one reward of $12,000 offered for the head of the woman who was constantly appearing and enticing away parties of slaves from their master.

She had traveled in the cars when these posters were put up over her head, and she heard them read by those about her–for she could not read herself. Fearlessly she went on, trusting in the Lord. She said, “I started with this idea in my head, ‘Dere’s two things I’ve got a right to, and dese are, Death or Liberty–one or tother I mean to have. No one will take me back alive; I shall fight for my liberty, and when de time has come for me to go, de Lord will let dem kill me.” And acting upon this simple creed, and firm in this trusting faith, she went back and forth nineteen times, according to the reckoning of her friends. She remembers that she went eleven times from Canada, but of the other journeys she kept no reckoning.

While Harriet was working as cook in one of the large hotels in Philadelphia, the play of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was being performed for many weeks every night. Some of her fellow-servants wanted her to go and see it. “No,” said Harriet, “I haint got no heart to go and see the sufferings of my people played on de stage. I’ve heard ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ read, and I tell you Mrs Stowe’s pen hasn’t begun to paint what slavery is as I have seen it at the far South. I’ve seen de real ting, and I don’t want to see it on no stage or in no teater.”

I will give here an article from a paper published nearly a year ago, which mentions that the price set upon the head of Harriet was much higher than I have stated it to be. When asked about this, Harriet said she did not know whether it was so, but she heard them read from one paper that the reward offered was $12,000.

Among American women,” says the article referred to, “who has shown a courage and self-devotion to the welfare of others, equal to Harriet Tubman? Hear her story of going down again and again into the very jaws of slavery, to rescue her suffering people, bringing them off through perils and dangers enough to appall the stoutest heart, till she was known among them as ‘Moses.’

“Forty thousand dollars was not too great a reward for the Maryland slaveholders to offer for her.

“Think of her brave spirit, as strong as Daniel’s of old, in its fearless purpose to serve God, even though the fiery furnace should be her portion. I have looked into her dark face, and wondered and admired as I listened to the thrilling deeds her lion heart had prompted her to dare. ‘I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them, ‘she said.

“The other day, at Gerrit Smith’s, I saw this heroic woman, whom the pen of genius will yet make famous, as one of the noblest Christian hearts ever inspired to lift the burdens of the wronged and oppressed, and what do you think she said to me?

She had been tending and caring for our Union black (and white) soldiers in hospital during the war, and at the end of her labors was on her way home, coming in a car through New Jersey. A white man, the conductor, thrust her out of the car with such violence that she has not been able to work scarcely any since; and as she told me of the pain she had and still suffered, she said she did not know what she should have done for herself, and the old father and mother she takes care of, if Mr. Wendell Phillips had not sent her $60, that kept them warm through the winter.

She had a letter from W. H. Seward to Maj.-Gen. Hunter, in which he says, ‘I have known her long, and a nobler, higher spirit, or truer, seldom dwells in the human form.‘”

It will be impossible to give any connected account of the different journeys taken by Harriet for the rescue of her people, as she herself has no idea of the dates connected with them, or of the order in which they were made. She thinks she was about 25 when she made her own escape, and this was in the last year of James K. Polk’s administration.

From that time till the beginning of the war, her years were spent in these journeyings back and forth, with intervals between, in which she worked only to spend the avails of her labor in providing for the wants of her next party of fugitives. By night she traveled, many times on foot, over mountains, through forests, across rivers, mid perils by land, perils by water, perils from enemies, “perils among false brethren.”

Sometimes members of her party would become exhausted, foot-sore, and bleeding, and declare they could not go on, they must stay where they dropped down, and die; others would think a voluntary return to slavery better than being overtaken and carried back, and would insist upon returning; then there was no remedy but force; the revolver carried by this bold and daring pioneer would be pointed at their heads. “Dead niggers tell no tales,” said Harriet; “Go on or die;” and so she compelled them to drag their weary limbs on their northward journey.

Previously: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 2
Next: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 4

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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