Wednesday, July 1, 2015
On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1822, not far from where famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, Tubman had a rough childhood. Her mother "Rit" struggled to keep the family together, especially since she worked as a house servant on a large plantation while Harriet (and her brothers) frequently worked in the fields. Having been "hired out" to other plantation owners of numerous occasions, even after contracting the measles and suffering a serious head injury, Tubman vowed either to become free or die trying. Thus, on a September night in 1849, she embarked on a 90-mile journey northward along the Choptank River through Delaware and into Pennsylvania. The following year, Congress passed an infamous Fugitive Slave Law (as part of the 1850 Compromise), which allowed slave-owners to search for and forcibly retrieve their "runaway slaves" (stolen property) in any part of the country. Brushing aside the implicit danger of this new law to her freedom, Tubman sought to expand usage of the Underground Railroad (UR) for Southern slaves who wished to escape to the North. Although not literally an "Underground Railroad," the term referred to a network of safe houses or "stations" that harbored runaway slaves on their journey northward. In fact, slaves would often use the North Star as a navigational guide during their trips.