Harriet Tubman was considered the bravest of
all the Underground Railroad workers. There were
many, both whites and blacks, who ran risk of fine
and imprisonment while helping escaping slaves or
taking them into their homes. But Harriet Tubman
faced death or worse than slavery, for she herself was
an escaped slave, who dared go back to the South
again and again to lead, her people out of bondage.
She was born in Maryland about 1821, and grew
to be a strong, sturdy woman who could plow, drive
oxen, and chop a half-cord of wood a day. One day
she and her two brothers learned that they had been
sold, and would be taken further south the next
morning. They decided to run away that very night,
and try to reach the free North.
Of course they dared tell nobody what they in-
tended to do, but Harriet wanted to say goodbye to
her friends in some way. So as she passed their cabin
doors, she sang an old spiritual:
"When that old chariot comes,
I'm going to leave you.
I'm bound for the promised land,
Friends, I'm going to leave you.
I'm sorry, friends, to leave you,
Farewell! Oh, farewell!
But I'll meet you in the morning,
Farewell! Oh, farewell!"
When the overseer was nowhere near, she would
revise the last lines and sing them significantly:
"I'm bound for the promised land,
Farewell! Oh, farewell!"
The next morning Harriet was gone, and her
friends knew that she had been saying a real fare-
well. She and her brothers started out together as
planned, but the brothers became afraid of the con-
sequences of recapture, so they turned back. Alone,
Harriet followed the North Star all night long. At
dawn she lay down in the tall grass of a swamp,
and at night went on again. So she traveled, walking
at night, hiding by day, begging food from Negroes,
or going hungry. At last she reached Philadelphia,
where she felt safe.
She found work, and saved every penny she could.
As long as her father and mother were still slaves,
she felt herself only half free. So, as soon as she had
a few dollars in her pocket she went back to Mary-
land, hiding by day in swamp or forest, as before,
and walking by night. Straight to the old plantation
she went, and was hidden in the cabin of one of her
old friends. How they listened as she told about the
free country where a black person could sell his
labor, just as if he were white!
Her parents were afraid to try to escape, but a
number of others followed her. They forded rivers,
climbed mountains, went through swamps, thickets,
forests, always hiding by day and walking by night,
often with, sore and bleeding feet. But they escaped
Harriet knew the way now, and knew some of the
stations of the Underground Railroad. She started in
again to earn money and prepare for another trip.
Again she reached her old home, and again she tried
to bring her father and mother away. But still they
refused, and she was obliged to go without them, al-
though another large party of slaves did go north
The third time she came back to the plantation,
she was so sure of taking them safely through all
the dangers, that the old people dared at last to come.
But, according to the story, her father insisted that
he must take his best hen-coop, while her mother
could not leave without her feather-bed.
"How can we travel with such big things as those?"
exclaimed Harriet. But the simple old people could
not be parted from them, and so Harriet found a
horse and a two-wheeled cart; loaded in father,
mother, feather-bed and chicken-coop, and started
In spite of a white patrol which guarded the roads
night and day, to catch runaway slaves, the party
managed to get through without event. They reached
Delaware, and went directly to the home of a Quaker,
who gave them food, shelter, shoes all around, and
money to get to Canada. However, no sooner were
the old people safe than Harriet was back on the trail
to lead more slaves northward.
For fifteen years she kept this up, and made nine-
teen trips into Maryland, leading over three hundred
slaves away. With every trip the danger became
greater, as her activities became more generally
known to the planters. The patrol was more vigilant
than ever, and the price on her head was steadily
increasing. Finally notices were posted throughout
the State, offering $40,000 for her, dead or alive. Any
slave who would betray her might have claimed free-
dom for himself and his family, besides more money
than he could imagine, but no slave ever dropped a
hint that might endanger their deliverer.
Again and again her parties escaped capture by
hairbreadths. Once they stood up to their necks in
water for hours. Once they dug holes for themselves
in a sweet potato field. Often there were women with
babies in the party. A crying baby might have be-
trayed the entire group. For safety, Harriet always
carried a bottle of paregoric, and drugged the babies
until they slept quietly without crying,
On one trip she came to the home of a Negro who
had helped her several times before. She left her
party behind, and gave the peculiar rap which was
her signal. But there was no answer until she had
knocked several times. Then a white man gruffly
asked what she wanted, then told her that her friend
had been obliged to leave town for assisting run-
Morning was near and there was great danger.
Harriet knew no one else in the town. She hurried
her party away, and they hid in a swamp nearby. All
day they lay there, cold and hungry and wet, Harriet
praying constantly for help.
It began to get dark, and then a man in Quaker
costume came walking slowly along the pathway on
the edge of the swamp. He seemed to be talking to,
himself, but Harriet was looking for deliverance, and
she listened keenly to his words.
"My wagon stands in the barnyard of the next
farm across the way," said the Quaker to himself.
"The horse is in the stable; the harness hangs on a
nail beside him." He went along the path and was
As soon as it was fully dark, Harriet slipped away
and went to the barnyard. There was no person near,
but there were the horse, the harness, and the wagon,
and the wagon was loaded with food. Soon the entire
party was on its way rejoicing, and no longer hungry.
They did not drive far, however. Harriet knew a
Quaker in the next town, and asked him to return the
horse and wagon to its owner. How he had learned
the party, was in the swamp, she never found out.
Perhaps he did not know certainly; he might have
made ready the horse and wagon, and talked to him-
self about them on the mere chance that there were
fugitives hiding by the pathway. Or possibly the gruff
man in her friend's house was more sympathetic than
Finally, not long before the Civil War, Harriet
bought a little house near Auburn, New York, and
settled there with her parents. One after another, old,
homeless Negroes came to her, and she took them in
until she was trying to support twenty old people.
There was a mortgage on the place, and she did
not have money to meet it. "Let me write the story
of your adventures," said a friend. So they set to
work. It took a long while, for each day Harriet
would think of some exciting incident that she had
forgotten. But the book was finished at last, and
enough copies were sold to pay the mortgage, and to
make sure that Harriet's house should be an Old
Folks Home, even after she could no longer work
Harriet Tubman died at the age of ninety-two.
The city of Auburn held a great memorial meeting
in her honor, and placed a bronze tablet in tribute
to her in the county courthouse. On this tablet is
written one of her sayings: "On my underground
railroad I never ran my train off the track, and I
never lost a passenger."
"I'M BOUND FOR THE PROMISED LAND.
FAREWELL! OH, FAREWELL!"