by Clare W., age 13
“Get back here!” the overseer bellowed, quickly dashing through the crowded aisles of the village store, chasing after a runaway slave. Minty stood very still, scared of what might happen. She had followed the overseer, who had been running after a fellow slave, and now she was regretting her decision. Grabbing the runaway’s tattered shirt, the overseer yelled to Minty, “Hold him down while I ready my whip!” Shocked, Minty refused. She would not participate in such unfairness. In the confusion, the runaway slave ran out the shop’s door, dashing past Minty. Frustrated, the overseer grabbed a heavy weight and threw it at the runaway. It hit Minty. She fell down, bleeding. She had a severe concussion. Minty Ross was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, around the year 1822. Her parents named her Araminta, or “Minty” for short. Later she would become known as Harriet Tubman. When she was six, Harriet began working as a slave in the fields. In 1849 Harriet ran away, searching for freedom. Several years later she returned to Maryland and rescued her family. During her lifetime Harriet Tubman helped to free over seven hundred slaves.
Although most slaves began work at the age of six, Harriet took care of her siblings from the age of four. She would play games with them, feed them, and sometimes even put them to bed if their mother wasn’t home. When Harriet was six, her master hired her out to various families, far away from her home. Homesick and hungry, Harriet worked as a weaver’s assistant, a farmhand, and a house servant. Having never worked as a servant before, Harriet did not know how to sweep or dust. Her mistress loved her whip, and whenever Harriet made a mistake, she would receive a whipping. One day Harriet was cleaning the parlor, and she noticed a bowl of sugar cubes. Overcome with temptation, she ate a cube. Later she reflected, “Now you know, I had never had anything good, no sweet, no sugar, and that sugar right by me did look so nice” (Adler 6). Unbeknownst to Harriet, her mistress had come into the room. Witnessing Harriet’s transgression, her mistress scolded her and reached for her whip. Harriet ran outside, fleeing into the pigpen. She stayed there for five days. Eventually Harriet came back and received her whipping. As she grew older, the injustice all around her became more apparent, and Harriet longed for freedom.
When Harriet was twenty, she began planning to run away. Harriet had married a free man named John Tubman, who lived near the plantation on which she worked, and she hated the fact that her owners could sell her at any time, separating her from John. One night Harriet explained her plan for the both of them to leave. John refused. Sadly packing her possessions, Harriet left a few nights later, heading north. Using the North Star as a guide, she made her way along a path called the Underground Railroad. Harriet traveled by night and slept in safe houses, or “stations,” during the day. After weeks of travel Harriet reached Pennsylvania. She was free! Harriet happily made a home in Philadelphia and found a job working in a boarding house. Although she was no longer a slave, Harriet often worried about her family still living in slavery. She explained later, “My home, after all, was with the old folks, my brothers, and sisters … I was free and they should be free also” (Kramer 19).
Eventually, Harriet decided to return to Maryland to help her family and other slaves escape. Once she had made her way back, Harriet located her brothers, Ben, Robert, and Harry, and presented her plan. They agreed to it, but Robert’s wife went into labor, and he could not leave. Sorrowfully bidding him farewell, Harriet, Ben, and Harry left that evening. Robert escaped with his wife and their child a few weeks later and caught up with the others hiding in an old, abandoned corncrib near their parents’ home. Several years later Harriet returned for her parents. On her many expeditions Harriet narrowly escaped capture again and again. Once, to avoid being caught, Harriet and her group of runaways boldly walked up to a large group of whites and began to talk to them. Assuming that only free blacks would do this, the slave catchers passed on by. Another time Harriet overheard slave catchers talking about her, so she quickly picked up a newspaper and pretended to read. Since slaves could not read, the slavers once again passed her by. From 1850 to 1860 Harriet made nineteen trips back to Maryland and liberated over seventy slaves. Later on, Harriet would work for the Union during the Civil War to help free over seven hundred additional slaves. Harriet’s expeditions were dangerous. Slavers carried guns. They offered rewards. The reward for her own capture eventually totaled forty thousand dollars. Because she evaded these obstacles and led many slaves to freedom, Harriet became known as the “Moses of her people.”
Harriet, a slave since birth, considered slavery to be an injustice. Forced to perform many difficult tasks, Harriet was often lent out to cruel people. She was whipped and scolded almost every day. She ran away in 1849. Returning to the plantation several years later, Harriet freed her family and many other slaves. Although her numerous trips along the Underground Railroad were full of hardships and close calls, Harriet never lost a passenger. She also helped to free many slaves during the Civil War. Why do we remember Harriet so extraordinarily today? Because of her work against injustice, leading slaves to freedom, Harriet Tubman was truly the “Moses of her people.”
Adler, David A. The Picture Book of Harriet Tubman. Holiday House, 1992. Print.
Kramer, Barbara. “Harriet Tubman.” National Geographic, 2020. Print.