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By Kathy Barr



Harriet Tubman’s desire for freedom started at a young age. As a young slave on Maryland’s eastern shore, her first task was checking the muskrat traps in the cold waters near her slave masters’ home. This task quickly sickened five-year-old Harriet, and so she was given work inside the house. Harriet was charged with the task of caring for the infant of the family so the child’s mother could sleep. If the child cried and woke up his mother, Harriet was beaten. By the age of 12, she was laboring as a field hand, plowing and hauling wood. {{more}} In addition to suffering because of her lack of freedom, Harriet had to deal with severe headaches and blackouts because of an incident that occurred when she was thirteen years old. She was defending a fellow slave who had tried to run away, and her overseer struck her in the head with a two-pound weight. Harriet dealt with the results of this injury the rest of her life, but this did not stop her from making approximately 20 trips and assisting more than 300 slaves in securing their freedom. As a result of this brutal treatment as a child, Harriet strongly desired freedom. She married John Tubman, a freeman, and expressed her desire to be a free woman. Tubman told her if she ever left, he would turn her in. However, this did not dissuade her from leaving him and escaping to Pennsylvania. She had been told that she was soon going to be sold to slave owners in the deep south, and she knew if this happened, her chances of ever living a free life would be over. So, one evening, she left after her husband had gone to sleep, accompanied by her brothers. Although her brothers changed their minds, Harriet, led by the North Star, continued her trip. She found work in Philadelphia as a household servant and saved up her money so she could return to the south and help others escape. Harriet also became involved in the abolitionist movement in Philadelphia. Although Harriet obviously had a heart for helping people, she was also tough when she needed to be. She knew that if any of the slaves she was assisting changed their minds and headed back to their plantations, she and the other slaves she was helping could easily be caught. As a result, she carried a rifle with her and threatened the lives of anyone who changed their minds and turned back. As a result, she never lost a “passenger” on the Underground Railroad. Not only was Harriet instrumental in helping to free numerous slaves, she also assisted the Union Army by working as a nurse, cook and spy. She recruited a group of former slaves to look for rebel camps and report on the movement of Confederate troops. After the war, she became the matron of the Colored Hospital at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, raised money for freedmen’s schools, helped children and continued caring for her parents. In 1868, she transformed her home into the Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People and lobbied for educational opportunities for freedmen. What was Harriet’s motivation? Her strong faith in God and her desire to live for Him caused her to see her life as having a mission. “Now do you suppose He wanted me to do this just for a day, or a week? No. The Lord who told me to take care of my people meant me to do it just so long as I live, and so I do what He told me to do,” she said. Harriet realized that having the right to vote was extremely important in assisting freed slaves in securing their rights. Because of this, in 1896, Harriet was a delegate to the National Assn. of Colored Women’s first annual convention. One of the last tasks Harriet assumed in her 90-plus year life was buying 25 acres of land near her home and giving it to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Harriet had been connected to this church since the 1850s. In 1911, Harriet became a resident of the home. Because she was destitute, many women that had worked with her at the National Assn. of Colored Women decided to provide her a lifelong monthly pension of $25.00. Harriet died on March 10, 1913 and was given a full military funeral.

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