Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman – Part 7

At one time she collected and sent on a gang of thirty-nine fugitives in the care of others, as from some cause she was prevented from accompanying them. Sometimes, when she and her party were concealed in the woods, they saw their pursuers pass, on their horses, down the high road, tacking up the advertisements for them on the fences and trees.

And den how we laughed,” said she. “We was de fools, and dey was de wise men; but we wasn’t fools enough to go down de high road in de broad daylight.”

At one time she left her party in the woods, and went by a long and roundabout way to one of the “stations of the Underground Railway,” as she called them. Here she procured food for her famished party, often paying out of her hardly-gained earnings, five dollars a day for food for them. But she dared not go back to them till night, for fear of being watched, and thus revealing their hiding-place.

After nightfall, the sound of a hymn sung at a distance comes upon the ears of the concealed and famished fugitives in the woods, and they know that their deliverer is at hand. They listen eagerly for the words she sings, for by them they are to be warned of danger, or informed of safety. Nearer and nearer comes the unseen singer, and the words are wafted to their ears:

Hail, oh hail ye happy spirits,
Death no more shall make you fear,
No grief nor sorrow, pain nor anger (anguish)
Shall no more distress you there.

Around him are ten thousan’ angels,
Always ready to ‘bey comman’.
Dey are always hobring round you,
Till you reach the hebbenly lan’.

Jesus, Jesus will go wid you;
He will lead you to his throne;
He who died has gone before you,
Trod de wine-press all alone.

He whose thunders shake creation;
He who bids the planets roll;
He who rides upon the temple, (tempest)
An’ his scepter sways de whole.

Dark and thorny is de desert,
Through de pilgrim makes his ways,
Yet beyon’ dis vale of sorrow,
Lies de fiel’s of endless days.

I give these words exactly as Harriet sang them to me to a sweet and simple Methodist air. “De first time I go by singing dis hymn, dey don’t come out to me,” she said, “till I listen if de coast is clar; den when I go back and sing it again, dey come out. But if I sing:

Moses go down in Egypt,
Till ole Pharo’ let me go;
Hadn’t been for Adam’s fall,
Shouldn’t hab to died at all,

den dey don’t come out, for dere’s danger in de way.”

And so by night travel, by hiding, by signals, by threatening, she brought the people safely to the land of liberty. But after the passage of the Fugitive Slave law, she said, “I wouldn’t trust Uncle Sam wid my people no longer; I brought ’em all clar off to Canada.”

Previously: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 3
Next: Some Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman — Part 5

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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