Part 2 out of 2
"I came on here the day after you left Rochester. I am succeeding
to all appearance beyond my expectations. Harriet Tubman _hooked
on her whole team at once_. He (Harriet) is the most of a man
naturally that I ever met with. There is abundant material here
and of the right quality." She suggested the 4th of July to him as
the time to begin operations. And Mr. Sanborn adds: "It was about
the 4th of July, as Harriet, the African sybil, had suggested,
that Brown first showed himself in the counties of Washington and
Jefferson, on opposite sides of the lordly Potomac."
I find among her papers, many of which are defaced by being
carried about with her for years, portions of these letters
addressed to myself, by persons at the South, and speaking of the
valuable assistance Harriet was rendering our soldiers in the
hospital, and our armies in the field. At this time her manner of
life, as related by herself, was this:
"Well, missus, I'd go to de hospital, I would, early eb'ry
mornin'. I'd get a big chunk of ice, I would, and put it in a
basin, and fill it with water; den I'd take a sponge and begin.
Fust man I'd come to, I'd thrash away de flies, and dey'd rise,
dey would, like bees roun' a hive. Den I'd begin to bathe der
wounds, an' by de time I'd bathed off three or four, de fire and
heat would have melted de ice and made de water warm, an' it would
be as red as clar blood. Den I'd go an' git more ice, I would, an'
by de time I got to de nex' ones, de flies would be roun' de fust
ones black an' thick as eber." In this way she worked, day after
day, till late at night; then she went home to her little cabin,
and made about fifty pies, a great quantity of ginger-bread, and
two casks of root beer. These she would hire some contraband to
sell for her through the camps, and thus she would provide her
support for another day; for this woman never received pay or
pension, and never drew for herself but twenty days' rations
during the four years of her labors. At one time she was called
away from Hilton Head, by one of our officers, to come to
Fernandina, where the men were "dying off like sheep," from
dysentery. Harriet had acquired quite a reputation for her skill
in curing this disease, by a medicine which she prepared from
roots which grew near the waters which gave the disease. Here she
found thousands of sick soldiers and contrabands, and immediately
gave up her time and attention to them. At another time, we find
her nursing those who were down by hundreds with small-pox and
malignant fevers. She had never had these diseases, but she seems
to have no more fear of death in one form than another. "De Lord
would take keer of her till her time came, an' den she was ready
When our armies and gun-boats first appeared in any part of the
South, many of the poor negroes were as much afraid of "de Yankee
Buckra" as of their own masters. It was almost impossible to win
their confidence, or to get information from them. But to Harriet
they would tell anything; and so it became quite important that
she should accompany expeditions going up the rivers, or into
unexplored parts of the country, to control and get information
from those whom they took with them as guides.
General Hunter asked her at one time if she would go with several
gun-boats up the Combahee River, the object of the expedition
being to take up the torpedoes placed by the rebels in the river,
to destroy railroads and bridges, and to cut off supplies from the
rebel troops. She said she would go if Colonel Montgomery was to
be appointed commander of the expedition. Colonel Montgomery was
one of John Brown's men, and was well known to Harriet.
Accordingly, Colonel Montgomery was appointed to the command, and
Harriet, with several men under her, the principal of whom was J.
Plowden, whose pass I have, accompanied the expedition. Harriet
describes in the most graphic manner the appearance of the
plantations as they passed up the river; the frightened negroes
leaving their work and taking to the woods, at sight of the gun-boats;
then coming to peer out like startled deer, and scudding
away like the wind at the sound of the steam-whistle. "Well," said
one old negro, "Mas'r said de Yankees had horns and tails, but I
nebber beliebed it till now." But the word was passed along by the
mysterious telegraphic communication existing among these simple
people, that these were "Lincoln's gun-boats come to set them
free." In vain, then, the drivers used their whips in their
efforts to hurry the poor creatures back to their quarters; they
all turned and ran for the gun-boats. They came down every road,
across every field, just as they had left their work and their
cabins; women with children clinging around their necks, hanging
to their dresses, running behind, all making at full speed for
"Lincoln's gun-boats." Eight hundred poor wretches at one time
crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their
deliverers, and they were all taken off upon the gun-boats, and
carried down to Beaufort.
"I nebber see such a sight," said Harriet; "we laughed, an'
laughed, an' laughed. Here you'd see a woman wid a pail on her
head, rice a smokin' in it jus' as she'd taken it from de fire,
young one hangin' on behind, one han' roun' her forehead to hold
on, 'tother han' diggin' into de rice-pot, eatin' wid all its
might; hold of her dress two or three more; down her back a bag
wid a pig in it. One woman brought two pigs, a white one an' a
black one; we took 'em all on board; named de white pig
Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis. Sometimes de women would
come wid twins hangin' roun' der necks; 'pears like I nebber see
so many twins in my life; bags on der shoulders, baskets on der
heads, and young ones taggin' behin', all loaded; pigs squealin',
chickens screamin', young ones squallin'." And so they came
pouring down to the gun-boats. When they stood on the shore, and
the small boats put out to take them off, they all wanted to get
in at once. After the boats were crowded, they would hold on to
them so that they could not leave the shore. The oarsmen would
beat them on their hands, but they would not let go; they were
afraid the gun-boats would go off and leave them, and all wanted
to make sure of one of these arks of refuge. At length Colonel
Montgomery shouted from the upper deck, above the clamor of
appealing tones, "Moses, you'll have to give em a song." Then
Harriet lifted up her voice, and sang:
"Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West,
The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best.
Come along! Come along! don't be alarmed,
Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm."
At the end of every verse, the negroes in their enthusiasm would
throw up their hands and shout "Glory," and the row-boats would
take that opportunity to push off; and so at last they were all
brought on board. The masters fled; houses and barns and railroad
bridges were burned, tracks torn up, torpedoes destroyed, and the
object of the expedition was fully accomplished.
This fearless woman was often sent into the rebel lines as a spy,
and brought back valuable information as to the position of armies
and batteries; she has been in battle when the shot was falling
like hail, and the bodies of dead and wounded men were dropping
around her like leaves in autumn; but the thought of fear never
seems to have had place for a moment in her mind. She had her duty
to perform, and she expected to be taken care of till it was done.
Would that, instead of taking them in this poor way at second-hand,
my readers could hear this woman's graphic accounts of
scenes she herself witnessed, could listen to her imitations of
negro preachers in their own very peculiar dialect, her singing of
camp-meeting hymns, her account of "experience meetings," her
imitations of the dances, and the funeral ceremonies of these
simple people. "Why, der language down dar in de far South is jus'
as different from ours in Maryland as you can tink," said she.
"Dey laughed when dey heard me talk, an' I could not understand
dem, no how." She described a midnight funeral which she attended;
for the slaves, never having been allowed to bury their dead in
the day-time, continued the custom of night funerals from habit.
The corpse was laid upon the ground, and the people all sat round,
the group being lighted up by pine torches.
The old negro preacher began by giving out a hymn, which was sung
by all. "An' oh! I wish you could hear 'em sing, Missus," said
Harriet. "Der voices is so sweet, and dey can sing eberyting we
sing, an' den dey can sing a great many hymns dat we can't nebber
catch at all."
The old preacher began his sermon by pointing to the dead man, who
lay in a rude box on the ground before him.
"_Shum_? Ded-a-de-dah! _Shum, David_? Ded-a-de-dah! Now I want you
all to _flec_' for moment. Who ob all dis congregation is gwine
next to lie ded-e-de-dah? You can't go nowhere's, my frien's and
bredren, but Deff 'll fin' you. You can't dig no hole so deep an'
bury yourself dar, but God A'mighty's far-seein' eye'll fin' you,
an' Deff 'll come arter you. You can't go into that big fort
(pointing to Hilton Head), an' shut yourself up dar; dat fort dat
Sesh Buckra said the debil couldn't take, but Deff 'll fin' you
dar. All your frien's may forget you, but Deff 'll nebber forget
you. Now, my bredren, prepare to lie ded-a-de-dah!"
This was the burden of a very long sermon, after which the whole
congregation went round in a sort of solemn dance, called the
"spiritual shuffle," shaking hands with each other, and calling
each other by name as they sang:
"My sis'r Mary's boun' to go;
My sis'r Nanny's boun' to go;
My brudder Tony's boun' to go;
My brudder July's boun' to go."
This to the same tune, till every hand had been shaken by every
one of the company. When they came to Harriet, who was a stranger,
Eberybody's boun' to go!
The body was then placed in a Government wagon, and by the light
of the pine torches, the strange, dark procession moved along,
singing a rude funeral hymn, till they reached the place of
Harriet's account of her interview with an old negro she met at
Hilton Head, is amusing and interesting. He said, "I'd been yere
seventy-three years, workin' for my master widout even a dime
wages. I'd worked rain-wet sun-dry. I'd worked wid my mouf full of
dust, but could not stop to get a drink of water. I'd been
whipped, an' starved, an' I was always prayin', 'Oh! Lord, come
an' delibber us!' All dat time de birds had been flyin', an' de
rabens had been cryin', and de fish had been swimmin' in de
waters. One day I look up, an' I see a big cloud; it didn't come
up like as de clouds come out far yonder, but it 'peared to be
right ober head. Der was thunders out of dat, an' der was
lightnin's. Den I looked down on de water, an' I see, 'peared to
me a big house in de water, an' out of de big house came great big
eggs, and de good eggs went on trou' de air, an' fell into de
fort; an' de bad eggs burst before dey got dar. Den de Sesh Buckra
begin to run, an' de neber stop running till de git to de swamp,
an' de stick dar an' de die dar. Den I heard 'twas de Yankee
ship[D] firin' out de big eggs, an dey had come to set us free.
Den I praise de Lord. He come an' put he little finger in de work,
an de Sesh Buckra all go; and de birds stop flyin', and de rabens
stop cryin', an' when I go to catch a fish to eat wid my rice,
dey's no fish dar. De Lord A'mighty 'd come and frightened 'em all
out of de waters. Oh! Praise de Lord! I'd prayed seventy-three
years, an' now he's come an' we's all free."
[Footnote D: The _Wabash_.]
The following account of the subject of this memoir is cut from
the _Boston Commonwealth_ of 1863, kindly sent the writer by Mr.
"It was said long ago that the true romance of America was not in
the fortunes of the Indian, where Cooper sought it, nor in New
England character, where Judd found it, nor in the social
contrasts of Virginia planters, as Thackeray imagined, but in the
story of the fugitive slaves. The observation is as true now as it
was before War, with swift, gigantic hand, sketched the vast
shadows, and dashed in the high lights in which romance loves to
lurk and flash forth. But the stage is enlarged on which these
dramas are played, the whole world now sit as spectators, and the
desperation or the magnanimity of a poor black woman has power to
shake the nation that so long was deaf to her cries. We write of
one of these heroines, of whom our slave annals are full--a woman
whose career is as extraordinary as the most famous of her sex can
"Araminta Ross, now known by her married name of Tubman, with her
sounding Christian name changed to Harriet, is the grand-daughter
of a slave imported from Africa, and has not a drop of white blood
in her veins. Her parents were Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene,
both slaves, but married and faithful to each other. They still
live in old age and poverty,[E] but free, on a little property at
Auburn, N.Y., which their daughter purchased for them from Mr.
Seward, the Secretary of State. She was born, as near as she can
remember, in 1820 or in 1821, in Dorchester County, on the Eastern
shore of Maryland, and not far from the town of Cambridge. She had
ten brothers and sisters, of whom three are now living, all at the
North, and all rescued from slavery by Harriet, before the War.
She went back just as the South was preparing to secede, to bring
away a fourth, but before she could reach her, she was dead. Three
years before, she had brought away her old father and mother, at
great risk to herself.
[Footnote E: Both dead for some years.]
"When Harriet was six years old, she was taken from her mother and
carried ten miles to live with James Cook, whose wife was a
weaver, to learn the trade of weaving. While still a mere child,
Cook set her to watching his musk-rat traps, which compelled her
to wade through the water. It happened that she was once sent when
she was ill with the measles, and, taking cold from wading in the
water in this condition, she grew very sick, and her mother
persuaded her master to take her away from Cook's until she could
"Another attempt was made to teach her weaving, but she would not
learn, for she hated her mistress, and did not want to live at
home, as she would have done as a weaver, for it was the custom
then to weave the cloth for the family, or a part of it, in the
"Soon after she entered her teens she was hired out as a field
hand, and it was while thus employed that she received a wound,
which nearly proved fatal, from the effects of which she still
suffers. In the fall of the year, the slaves there work in the
evening, cleaning up wheat, husking corn, etc. On this occasion,
one of the slaves of a farmer named Barrett, left his work, and
went to the village store in the evening. The overseer followed
him, and so did Harriet. When the slave was found, the overseer
swore he should be whipped, and called on Harriet, among others,
to help tie him. She refused, and as the man ran away, she placed
herself in the door to stop pursuit. The overseer caught up a
two-pound weight from the counter and threw it at the fugitive, but it
fell short and struck Harriet a stunning blow on the head. It was
long before she recovered from this, and it has left her subject
to a sort of stupor or lethargy at times; coming upon her in the
midst of conversation, or whatever she may be doing, and throwing
her into a deep slumber, from which she will presently rouse
herself, and go on with her conversation or work.
"After this she lived for five or six years with John Stewart,
where at first she worked in the house, but afterward 'hired her
time,' and Dr. Thompson, son of her master's guardian, 'stood for
her,' that is, was her surety for the payment of what she owed.
She employed the time thus hired in the rudest labors,--drove
oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man,--sometimes
earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master,
'to buy a pair of steers,' worth forty dollars. The amount exacted
of a woman for her time was fifty or sixty dollars--of a man, one
hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars. Frequently Harriet
worked for her father, who was a timber inspector, and
superintended the cutting and hauling of great quantities of
timber for the Baltimore ship-yards. Stewart, his temporary
master, was a builder, and for the work of Ross used to receive as
much as five dollars a day sometimes, he being a superior workman.
While engaged with her father, she would cut wood, haul logs, etc.
Her usual 'stint' was half a cord of wood in a day.
"Harriet was married somewhere about 1844, to a free colored man
named John Tubman, but she had no children. For the last two years
of slavery she lived with Dr. Thompson, before mentioned, her own
master not being yet of age, and Dr. T.'s father being his
guardian, as well as the owner of her own father. In 1849 the
young man died, and the slaves were to be sold, though previously
set free by an old will. Harriet resolved not to be sold, and so,
with no knowledge of the North--having only heard of Pennsylvania
and New Jersey--she walked away one night alone. She found a
friend in a white lady, who knew her story and helped her on her
way. After many adventures, she reached Philadelphia, where she
found work and earned a small stock of money. With this money in
her purse, she traveled back to Maryland for her husband, but she
found him married to another woman, and no longer caring to live
with her. This, however, was not until two years after her escape,
for she does not seem to have reached her old home in the first
two expeditions. In December, 1850, she had visited Baltimore and
brought away her sister and two children, who had come up from
Cambridge in a boat, under charge of her sister's husband, a free
black. A few months after she had brought away her brother and two
other men, but it was not till the fall of 1851, that she found
her husband and learned of his infidelity. She did not give way to
rage or grief, but collected a party of fugitives and brought them
safely to Philadelphia. In December of the same year, she
returned, and led out a party of eleven, among them her brother
and his wife. With these she journeyed to Canada, and there spent
the winter, for this was after the enforcement of Mason's Fugitive
Slave Bill in Philadelphia and Boston, and there was no safety
except 'under the paw of the British Lion,' as she quaintly said.
But the first winter was terribly severe for these poor runaways.
They earned their bread by chopping wood in the snows of a
Canadian forest; they were frost-bitten, hungry, and naked.
Harriet was their good angel. She kept house for her brother, and
the poor creatures boarded with her. She worked for them, begged
for them, prayed for them, with the strange familiarity of
communion with God which seems natural to these people, and
carried them by the help of God through the hard winter.
"In the spring she returned to the States, and as usual earned
money by working in hotels and families as a cook. From Cape May,
in the fall of 1852, she went back once more to Maryland, and
brought away nine more fugitives.
"Up to this time she had expended chiefly her own money in these
expeditions--money which she had earned by hard work in the
drudgery of the kitchen. Never did any one more exactly fulfill
the sense of George Herbert--
"'A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine.'
"But it was not possible for such virtues long to remain hidden
from the keen eyes of the Abolitionists. She became known to
Thomas Garrett, the large-hearted Quaker of Wilmington, who has
aided the escape of three thousand fugitives; she found warm
friends in Philadelphia and New York, and wherever she went. These
gave her money, which he never spent for her own use, but laid up
for the help of her people, and especially for her journeys back
to the 'land of Egypt,' as she called her old home. By reason of
her frequent visits there, always carrying away some of the
oppressed, she got among her people the name of 'Moses,' which it
seems she still retains.
"Between 1852 and 1857, she made but two of these journeys, in
consequence partly of the increased vigilance of the slave-holders,
who had suffered so much by the loss of their property. A
great reward was offered for her capture and she several times was
on the point of being taken, but always escaped by her quick wit,
or by 'warnings' from Heaven--for it is time to notice one
singular trait in her character. She is the most shrewd and
practical person in the world, yet she is a firm believer in
omens, dreams, and warnings. She declares that before her escape
from slavery, she used to dream of flying over fields and towns,
and rivers and mountains, looking down upon them 'like a bird,'
and reaching at last a great fence, or sometimes a river, over
which she would try to fly, 'but it 'peared like I wouldn't hab de
strength, and jes as I was sinkin' down, dere would be ladies all
drest in white ober dere, and dey would put out dere arms and pull
me 'cross.' There is nothing strange in this, perhaps, but she
declares that when she came North she remembered these very places
as those she had seen in her dreams, and many of the ladies who
befriended her were those she had been helped by in her vision.
"Then she says she always knows when there is danger near her--she
does not know how, exactly, but ''pears like my heart go flutter,
flutter, and den dey may say "Peace, Peace," as much as dey likes,
_I know its gwine to be war_!' She is very firm on this point, and
ascribes to this her great impunity, in spite of the lethargy
before mentioned, which would seem likely to throw her into the
hands of her enemies. She says she inherited this power, that her
father could always predict the weather, and that he foretold the
"In 1857 she made her most venturesome journey, for she brought
with her to the North her old parents, who were no longer able to
walk such distances as she must go by night. Consequently she must
hire a wagon for them, and it required all her ingenuity to get
them through Maryland and Delaware safe. She accomplished it,
however, and by the aid of her friends she brought them safe to
Canada, where they spent the winter. Her account of their
sufferings there--of her mother's complaining and her own
philosophy about it--is a lesson of trust in Providence better
than many sermons. But she decided to bring them to a more
comfortable place, and so she negotiated with Mr. Seward--then in
the Senate--for a little patch of ground. To the credit of the
Secretary of State it should be said, that he sold her the
property on very favorable terms, and gave her some time for
payment. To this house she removed her parents, and set herself to
work to pay for the purchase. It was on this errand that she first
visited Boston--we believe in the winter of 1858-59. She brought a
few letters from her friends in New York, but she could herself
neither read nor write, and she was obliged to trust to her wits
that they were delivered to the right persons. One of them, as it
happened, was to the present writer, who received it by another
hand, and called to see her at her boarding-house. It was curious
to see the caution with which she received her visitor until she
felt assured that there was no mistake. One of her means of
security was to carry with her the daguerreotypes of her friends,
and show them to each new person. If they recognized the likeness,
then it was all right.
"Pains were taken to secure her the attention to which her great
services of humanity entitled her, and she left New England with a
handsome sum of money toward the payment of her debt to Mr.
Seward. Before she left, however, she had several interviews with
Captain Brown, then in Boston. He is supposed to have communicated
his plans to her, and to have been aided by her in obtaining
recruits and money among her people. At any rate, he always spoke
of her with the greatest respect, and declared that 'General
Tubman,' as he styled her, was a better officer than most whom he
had seen, and could command an army as successfully as she had led
her small parties of fugitives.
"Her own veneration for Captain Brown has always been profound,
and since his murder, has taken the form of a religion. She had
often risked her own life for her people, and she thought nothing
of that; but that a white man, and a man so noble and strong,
should so take upon himself the burden of a despised race, she
could not understand, and she took refuge from her perplexity in
the mysteries of her fervid religion.
"Again, she laid great stress on a dream which she had just before
she met Captain Brown in Canada. She thought she was in 'a
wilderness sort of place, all full of rocks, and bushes,' when she
saw a serpent raise its head among the rocks, and as it did so, it
became the head of an old man with a long white beard, gazing at
her, 'wishful like, jes as ef he war gwine to speak to me,' and
then two other heads rose up beside him, younger than he,--and as
she stood looking at them, and wondering what they could want with
her, a great crowd of men rushed in and struck down the younger
heads, and then the head of the old man, still looking at her so
'wishful.' This dream she had again and again, and could not
interpret it; but when she met Captain Brown, shortly after,
behold, he was the very image of the head she had seen. But still
she could not make out what her dream signified, till the news
came to her of the tragedy of Harper's Ferry, and then she knew
the two other heads were his two sons. She was in New York at that
time, and on the day of the affair at Harper's Ferry she felt her
usual warning that something was wrong--she could not tell what.
Finally she told her hostess that it must be Captain Brown who was
in trouble, and that they should soon hear bad news from him. The
next day's newspaper brought tidings of what had happened.
"Her last visit to Maryland was made after this, in December,
1860; and in spite of the agitated condition of the country, and
the greater watchfulness of the slave-holders, she brought away
seven fugitives, one of them an infant, which must be drugged with
opium to keep it from crying on the way, and so revealing the
hiding-place of the party."
In the spring of 1860, Harriet Tubman was requested by Mr. Gerrit
Smith to go to Boston to attend a large Anti-Slavery meeting. On
her way, she stopped at Troy to visit a cousin, and while there
the colored people were one day startled with the intelligence
that a fugitive slave, by the name of Charles Nalle, had been
followed by his master (who was his younger brother, and not one
grain whiter than he), and that he was already in the hands of the
officers, and was to be taken back to the South. The instant
Harriet heard the news, she started for the office of the United
States Commissioner, scattering the tidings as she went. An
excited crowd was gathered about the office, through which Harriet
forced her way, and rushed up stairs to the door of the room where
the fugitive was detained. A wagon was already waiting before the
door to carry off the man, but the crowd was even then so great,
and in such a state of excitement, that the officers did not dare
to bring the man down. On the opposite side of the street stood
the colored people, watching the window where they could see
Harriet's sun-bonnet, and feeling assured that so long as she
stood there, the fugitive was still in the office. Time passed on,
and he did not appear. "They've taken him out another way, depend
upon that," said some of the colored people. "No," replied others,
"there stands 'Moses' yet, and as long as she is there, he is
safe." Harriet, now seeing the necessity for a tremendous effort
for his rescue, sent out some little boys to cry _fire_. The bells
rang, the crowd increased, till the whole street was a dense mass
of people. Again and again the officers came out to try and clear
the stairs, and make a way to take their captive down; others were
driven down, but Harriet stood her ground, her head bent and her
arms folded. "Come, old woman, you must get out of this," said one
of the officers; "I must have the way cleared; if you can't get
down alone, some one will help you." Harriet, still putting on a
greater appearance of decrepitude, twitched away from him, and
kept her place. Offers were made to buy Charles from his master,
who at first agreed to take twelve hundred dollars for him; but
when this was subscribed, he immediately raised the price to
fifteen hundred. The crowd grew more excited. A gentleman raised a
window and called out, "Two hundred dollars for his rescue, but
not one cent to his master!" This was responded to by a roar of
satisfaction from the crowd below. At length the officers
appeared, and announced to the crowd, that if they would open a
lane to the wagon, they would promise to bring the man down the
The lane was opened, and the man was brought out--a tall,
handsome, intelligent _white_ man, with his wrists manacled
together, walking between the U.S. Marshal and another officer,
and behind him his brother and his master, so like him that one
could hardly be told from the other. The moment they appeared,
Harriet roused from her stooping posture, threw up a window, and
cried to her friends: "Here he comes--take him!" and then darted
down the stairs like a wild-cat. She seized one officer and pulled
him down, then another, and tore him away from the man; and
keeping her arms about the slave, she cried to her friends: "Drag
us out! Drag him to the river! Drown him! but don't let them have
him!" They were knocked down together, and while down, she tore
off her sun-bonnet and tied it on the head of the fugitive. When
he rose, only his head could be seen, and amid the surging mass of
people the slave was no longer recognized, while the master
appeared like the slave. Again and again they were knocked down,
the poor slave utterly helpless, with his manacled wrists,
streaming with blood. Harriet's outer clothes were torn from her,
and even her stout shoes were pulled from her feet, yet she never
relinquished her hold of the man, till she had dragged him to the
river, where he was tumbled into a boat, Harriet following in a
ferry-boat to the other side. But the telegraph was ahead of them,
and as soon as they landed he was seized and hurried from her
sight. After a time, some school children came hurrying along, and
to her anxious inquiries they answered, "He is up in that house,
in the third story." Harriet rushed up to the place. Some men were
attempting to make their way up the stairs. The officers were
firing down, and two men were lying on the stairs, who had been
shot. Over their bodies our heroine rushed, and with the help of
others burst open the door of the room, and dragged out the
fugitive, whom Harriet carried down stairs in her arms. A
gentleman who was riding by with a fine horse, stopped to ask what
the disturbance meant; and on hearing the story, his sympathies
seemed to be thoroughly aroused; he sprang from his wagon, calling
out, "That is a blood-horse, drive him till he drops." The poor
man was hurried in; some of his friends jumped in after him, and
drove at the most rapid rate to Schenectady.
This is the story Harriet told to the writer. By some persons it
seemed too wonderful for belief, and an attempt was made to
corroborate it. Rev. Henry Fowler, who was at the time at
Saratoga, kindly volunteered to go to Troy and ascertain the
facts. His report was, that he had had a long interview with Mr.
Townsend, who acted during the trial as counsel for the slave,
that he had given him a "rich narration," which he would write out
the next week for this little book. But before he was to begin his
generous labor, and while engaged in some kind efforts for the
prisoners at Auburn, he was stricken down by the heat of the sun,
and was for a long time debarred from labor.
This good man died not long after and the promised narration was
never written, but a statement by Mr. Townsend was sent me, which
I copy here:
_Statements made by Martin I. Townsend, Esq., of Troy, who was
counsel for the fugitive, Charles Nalle._
Nalle is an octoroon; his wife has the same infusion of Caucasian
blood. She was the daughter of her master, and had, with her
sister, been bred by him in his family, as his own child. When the
father died, both of these daughters were married and had large
families of children. Under the highly Christian national laws of
"Old Virginny," these children were the slaves of their
grandfather. The old man died, leaving a will, whereby he
manumitted his daughters and their children, and provided for the
purchase of the freedom of their husbands. The manumission of the
children and grandchildren took effect; but the estate was
insufficient to purchase the husbands of his daughters, and the
fathers of his grandchildren. The manumitted, by another
Christian, "conservative," and "national" provision of law, were
forced to leave the State, while the slave husbands remained in
slavery. Nalle, and his brother-in-law, were allowed for a while
to visit their families outside Virginia about once a year, but
were at length ordered to provide themselves with new wives, as
they would be allowed to visit their former ones no more. It was
after this that Nalle and his brother-in-law started for the land
of freedom, guided by the steady light of the north star. Thank
God, neither family now need fear any earthly master or the bay of
the blood-hound dogging their fugitive steps.
Nalle returned to Troy with his family about July, 1860, and
resided with them there for more than seven years. They are all
now residents of the city of Washington, D.C. Nalle and his family
are persons of refined manners, and of the highest respectability.
Several of his children are red-haired, and a stranger would
discover no trace of African blood in their complexions or
features. It was the head of this family whom H.F. Averill
proposed to doom to returnless exile and life-long slavery.
When Nalle was brought from Commissioner Beach's office into the
street, Harriet Tubman, who had been standing with the excited
crowd, rushed amongst the foremost to Nalle, and running one of
her arms around his manacled arm, held on to him without ever
loosening her hold through the more than half-hour's struggle to
Judge Gould's office, and from Judge Gould's office to the dock,
where Nalle's liberation was accomplished. In the _mêelée_ she was
repeatedly beaten over the head with policemen's clubs, but she
never for a moment released her hold, but cheered Nalle and his
friends with her voice, and struggled with the officers until they
were literally worn out with their exertions, and Nalle was
separated from them.
True, she had strong and earnest helpers in her struggle, some of
whom had white faces as well as human hearts, and are now in
Heaven. But she exposed herself to the fury of the sympathizers
with slavery, without fear, and suffered their blows without
flinching. Harriet crossed the river with the crowd, in the ferry-boat,
and when the men who led the assault upon the door of Judge
Stewart's office were stricken down, Harriet and a number of other
colored women rushed over their bodies, brought Nalle out, and
putting him in the first wagon passing, started him for the West.
A lively team, driven by a colored man, was immediately sent on to
relieve the other, and Nalle was seen about Troy no more until he
returned a free man by purchase from his master. Harriet also
disappeared, and the crowd dispersed. How she came to be in Troy
that day, is entirely unknown to our citizens; and where she hid
herself after the rescue, is equally a mystery. But her struggle
was in the sight of a thousand, perhaps of five thousand
On asking Harriet particularly, as to the age of her mother, she
answered, "Well, I'll tell you, Missus. Twenty-three years ago, in
Maryland, I paid a lawyer five dollars to look up the will of my
mother's first master. He looked back sixty years, and said it was
time to give up. I told him to go back furder. He went back sixty-five
years, and there he found the will--giving the girl Ritty to
his grand-daughter (Mary Patterson), to serve her and her
offspring till she was forty-five years of age." This grand-daughter
died soon after, unmarried; and as there was no provision
for Ritty, in case of her death, she was actually emancipated at
that time. But no one informed her of the fact, and she and her
dear children remained in bondage till emancipated by the courage
and determination of this heroic daughter and sister. The old
woman must then, it seems, be ninety-eight years of age,[F] and
the old man has probably numbered as many years. And yet these old
people, living out beyond the toll-gate, on the South Street road,
Auburn, come in every Sunday--more than a mile--to the Central
Church. To be sure, deep slumbers settle down upon them as soon as
they are seated, which continue undisturbed till the congregation
is dismissed; but they have done their best, and who can doubt
that they receive a blessing. Immediately after this they go to
class-meeting at the Methodist Church. Then they wait for a third
service, and after that start out home again.
[Footnote F: This was written in the year '68, and the old people
both lived several years after that time.]
Harriet supposes that the whole family were actually free, and
were kept wrongfully in a state of slavery all those long years;
but she simply states the fact, without any mourning or lamenting
over the wrong and the misery of it all, accepting it as the will
of God, and, therefore, not to be rebelled against.
This woman, of whom you have been reading, is now old and feeble,
suffering from the effects of her life of unusual labor and
hardship, as well as from repeated injuries; but she is still at
work for her people. For many years, even long before the war, her
little home has been the refuge of the hunted and the homeless,
for whom she had provided; and I have seen as many as eight or ten
dependents upon her care at one time living there.
It has always been a hospital, but she feels the need of a large
one, and only prays to see this, "her last work," completed ere
she goes hence.
Without claiming any of my dear old Harriet's prophetic vision, I
seem to see a future day when the wrongs of earth will be righted,
and justice, long delayed, will assert itself. I seem to see that
our poor Harriet has passed within "one of dem gates," and has
received the welcome, "Come, thou blessed of my Father; for I was
hungry and you gave me meat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me,
sick and in prison and you visited me."
And when she asks, "Lord, when did I do all this?" He answers:
"Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, _my
brethren_, you did it unto me."
And as she stands in her modest way just within the celestial
gate, I seem to see a kind hand laid upon her dark head, and to
hear a gentle voice saying in her ear, "Friend, come up higher!"
SOME ADDITIONAL INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF "HARRIET."
The story of this remarkable black woman has been attracting
renewed interest of late, and I have often been asked to publish
another edition of the book, and to add some interesting and
amusing incidents which I have related to my friends.
Harriet is very old and feeble now; she does not know how old, but
probably between eighty and ninety. Her years of toil and
adventure have told upon her, and she may not last much longer. If
she does, she will still need help which she would never ask for
herself, but which this little book may give her; when she dies,
it may aid in putting up a fitting monument to her memory, which
should always be "kept green."
As time goes on, the horrors of the days of slavery are by many
forgotten, and the children who have been born since the War of
the Rebellion know of that fearful straggle, and of the causes
that led to it, only as a tradition of long ago.
Even in the city where Harriet has so long lived her quiet and
unobtrusive life, it is not an uncommon thing to meet a young
person who has never even heard her name.
Those who know the principal facts of her eventful history may be
interested to read these few added incidents, which she has
related to me from time to time.
A year or two ago, as I was staying at the summer home of my
brother, Professor Hopkins, on Owasco Lake, Harriet came up to see
us; it was after lunch, and my brother ordered a table to be set
for her on the broad shaded piazza and waited on her himself,
bringing her cups of tea and other good things, as if it were a
pleasure and an honor to serve her.
There is a quiet dignity about Harriet that makes her superior or
indifferent to all surrounding circumstances; whether seated at
the hospitable board of Gerrit Smith or any other white gentleman,
as she often was, or sent to the kitchen, where the white
domestics refused to eat with a "nigger," it was all the same to
Harriet; she was never elated, or humiliated; she took everything
as it came, making no comments or complaints.
And so she sat quietly eating her lunch, and talking with us.
After the lunch was over, as we sat on the piazza waiting for the
steamboat to take her back to Auburn, she said:
"I often think, Missus, of things I wish I had told you before you
wrote de book. Now, as I come up on de boat I thought of one thing
thet happened to me when I was very little.
"I was only seven years old when I was sent away to take car' of a
baby. I was so little dat I had to sit down on de flo' and hev de
baby put in my lap. An' dat baby was allus in my lap 'cept when it
was asleep, or its mother was feedin' it.
"One mornin' after breakfast she had de baby, an' I stood by de
table waitin' till I was to take it; just by me was a bowl of
lumps of white sugar. My Missus got into a great quarrel wid her
husband; she had an awful temper, an' she would scole an' storm,
an' call him all sorts of names. Now you know, Missus, I never had
nothing good; no sweet, no sugar, an' dat sugar, right by me, did
look so nice, an' my Missus's back was turned to me while she was
fightin' wid her husband, so I jes' put my fingers in de sugar
bowl to take one lump, an' maybe she heard me, an' she turned an'
saw me. De nex' minute she had de raw hide down; I give one jump
out of de do', an' I saw dey came after me, but I jes' flew, and
dey didn't catch me. I ran, an' I ran, an' I run, I passed many a
house, but I didn't dar' to stop, for dey all knew my Missus an'
dey would send me back. By an' by, when I was clar tuckered out, I
come to a great big pig-pen. Dar was an ole sow dar, an' perhaps
eight or ten little pigs. I was too little to climb into it, but I
tumbled ober de high board, an' fell in on de ground; I was so
beat out I couldn't stir.
"An' dere, Missus, I stayed from Friday till de nex' Chuesday,
fightin' wid dose little pigs for de potato peelin's an" oder
scraps dat came down in de trough. De ole sow would push me away
when I tried to git her chillen's food, an' I was awful afeard of
her. By Chuesday I was so starved I knowed I'd got to go back to
my Missus, I hadn't got no whar else to go, but I knowed what was
comin.' So I went back."
"And she gave you an awful flogging, I suppose, Harriet?"
"No, Missus, but _he_ did."
This was all that was said, but probably that flogging left some
of those scars which cover her neck and back to this day.
Think of a poor little helpless thing seven years old enduring all
this terror and suffering, and yet few people are as charitable to
the slave-holders as Harriet. "Dey don' know no better, Missus;
it's de way dey was brought up. 'Make de little nigs min' you, or
flog 'em,' was what was said to de chillen, and dey was brought up
wid de whip in der hand. Now, min' you, Missus, dat wasn't de way
on all de plantations; dere was good Marsters an' Missuses, as
I've heard tell, but I didn't happen to come across 'em."
There is frequent mention made in the Memoir of Harriet's firm and
unwavering trust in God in times of great perplexity or deadly
peril, when she often had occasion to say, "Vain is the help of
man, but in God is my help." I have never known another instance
of such implicit trust and confidence.
Very soon after the Civil War her house was turned into a
hospital, and no poor helpless creature of her race was ever
turned from her door. Indeed, all through the war, and through the
cruel reign of the fugitive slave law, her house was one of the
depots of the "Underground Railway," as that secret and unseen
mode of conveying the hunted fugitives was called, and when the
war was over she established a hospital, which for many years,
indeed till she was too ill herself to take charge of it, has been
the refuge of the sufferers of her race who had no earthly
dependence but Harriet.
Very often this woman, except for her trust in "de Lawd," had had
no idea where the next meal was to come from, but she troubled
herself no more about it than if she had been a Vanderbilt or an
Astor. "De Lawd will provide" was her motto, and He never failed
One day, in passing through Auburn, I was impelled to stop over a
train, and drive out to see what were the needs of my colored
friend, and to take her some supplies.
Her little house was always neat and comfortable, and the small
parlor was nicely and rather prettily furnished. The lame, the
halt, and the blind, the bruised and crippled little children, and
one crazy woman, were all brought in to see me, and "the blind
woman" (she seemed to have no other name), a very old woman who
had been Harriet's care for eighteen years, was led into the room--an
interesting and pathetic group.
On leaving, I said to her: "If you will come out to the carriage,
Harriet, there are some provisions there for you."
She turned to one of her poor dependents and said: "What did you
say to me dis mornin'? You said, 'We hadn't got nothin' to eat in
de house,' and what did I say to you? I said, 'I've got a rich
Nothing that comes to this remarkable woman ever surprises her.
She says very little in the way of thanks, except to the Giver of
all good. How the knowledge comes to her no one can tell, but she
seems always to know when help is coming, and she is generally on
hand to receive it, though it is never for herself she wants it,
but only for those under her care.
I must not forget to mention the Indian girls of the Fort Wrangel
School, who, having read a little notice of Harriet in the
"Evangelist," went to work, and by their daily labor raised
thirty-seven dollars which they sent to me for Harriet--and this
school has been disbanded, and these educated girls have been sent
back to their wretched homes, because our Government could not
afford to support it any longer!
Pundita Ramabai went about this time to see Harriet and they had
an interesting talk together. Here was a remarkable trio taking
hold of hands--the woman from East India, the Indian girl from the
far West, and the black woman from the Southern States only two
removes from an African savage!
Once when she came to New York, where she had not been in twenty
years, and was starting off alone to find some friends miles away
in a part of the city which she had never seen, we remonstrated
with her, telling her she would surely be lost.
"Now, Missus," she said, "don't you t'ink dis ole head dat done de
navigatin' down in Egypt can do de navigatin' up here in New
And she walked many miles, scorning a "cyar," and found all the
people she wished to see.
Harriet was known by various names among her Southern friends. One
of these was "Ole Chariot," perhaps as a rhyme to the name by
which they called her.
And so, often when she went to bring away a band of refugees, she
would sing as she walked the dark country roads by night:
"When dat ar' ole chariot comes,
Who's gwine wid me?"
And from some unseen singer would come the response:
"When dat ar' ole chariot comes,
I'se gwine wid you."
And by some wireless telegraphy known only to the initiated it
would be made known in one cabin or another where their deliverer
was waiting concealed, and when she would be ready to pilot them
on their long journey to freedom.
A Woman's Suffrage Meeting was held in Rochester a year or two
ago, and Harriet came to attend it. She generally attended every
meeting of women, on whatever subject, if possible to do so.
She was led into the church by an adopted daughter, whom she had
rescued from death when a baby, and had brought up as her own.
The church was warm and Harriet was tired, and soon after she
entered deep sleep fell upon her.
Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton were on the platform, and after
speeches had been made and business accomplished, one of these
"Friends, we have in the audience that wonderful woman, Harriet
Tubman, from whom we should like to hear, if she will kindly come
to the platform."
People looked around at Harriet, but Harriet was fast asleep.
"Mother! mother!" said the young girl; "they are calling for you,"
but it was some time before Harriet could be made to understand
where she was, or what was wanted of her. At length, she was led
out into the aisle and was assisted by one of these kind ladies on
to the platform.
Harriet looked around, wondering why so many white ladies were
gathered there. I think it was Miss Anthony who led her forward,
"Ladies, I am glad to present to you Harriet Tubman, 'the
conductor of the Underground Railroad.'"
"Yes, ladies," said Harriet, "I was de conductor ob de Underground
Railroad for eight years, an' I can say what mos' conductors can't
say--I nebber run my train off de track an' I nebber los' a
passenger." The audience laughed and applauded, and Harriet was
emboldened to go on and relate portions of her interesting
history, which were most kindly received by the assembled ladies.
After the passage of the iniquitous fugitive slave law, Harriet
removed all her dependents to Canada, and here John Brown and some
of his followers took refuge with her, and she was his helper and
adviser in many of his schemes. The papers of that time tell of
her helping him with his plans and of his dependence upon her
judgment. In one of his letters he says: "Harriet has hitched on,
and with all her might; she is a whole team."
For this large party added to her own family of several persons,
she worked day and night in her usual self-forgetting manner. Her
old father and mother were with her, and the mother, nearly a
hundred years old and enfeebled in mind, was querulous and
exacting, and most unreasonable in her temper, often reproaching
this faithful daughter as the Israelites did Moses of old, for
"bringing them up into the wilderness to die there of hunger."
There came a day when everything eatable was exhausted, and the
prospect was dark, indeed. The old mother had no tobacco and no
tea--and these were more essential to her comfort than food or
clothing; then reproaches thick and fast fell upon Harriet. She
made no reply, but "went into her closet and shut the door"; when
she came out she had a large basket on her arm.
"Catharine," she said, "take off dat small pot an' put on a large
"But, Harriet, der ain't not'ing in de house to eat."
"Put on de large pot, Catharine; we're gwine to have soup to-day"--and
Harriet started for the market. The day was nearly over, and
the market-men were anxious to be rid of their wares, and were
offering them very cheap. Harriet walked along with the basket on
her arm. "Old woman, don't you want a nice piece of meat?" called
out one; and another, "Here's a nice piece; only ten cents. Take
this soup-bone, you can have it for five cents." But Harriet had
not five cents. At length a kind-hearted butcher, judging of the
trouble from her face, said: "Look here, old woman, you look like
an honest woman; take this soup-bone, and pay me when you get some
money"; then another said, "Take this," and others piled on pieces
of meat till the basket was full. Harriet passed on, and when she
came to the vegetables she exchanged some of the meat for
potatoes, cabbage, and onions, and the big pot was in requisition
when she reached home. Harriet had not "gone into her closet and
shut the door" for nothing.
I hope I may be excused for sometimes telling my story in the
first person, as I cannot conveniently do it in any other way. In
getting ready a Thanksgiving box to send to Harriet, a few years
ago, I had ordered a turkey to be sent for it, but as the weather
grew quite warm, I was advised to send a ham instead. That box was
lost for three weeks, and when I saw Harriet again and told her
that I had intended to send a turkey in it, she said, "Wal, dere
was a clar Providence in dat, wa'n't dere, Missus?"
A friend, hearing that I was preparing a Christmas box in New York
for this needy household, sent me a quantity of clothing and ten
dollars for them. As my box was not quite full, I expended three
dollars of that money in groceries, and sent seven dollars to a
lady in Auburn who acted as treasurer for Harriet, giving her
money as it was needed; for Harriet's heart is so large, and her
feelings are so easily wrought upon, that it was never wise to
give her more than enough for present needs.
Not long after, I received a letter from a well-known physician--a
woman--in Auburn, in which she said:
"I want to tell you something about Harriet. She came to me last
Friday, and said, 'Doctah, I have got my taxes and insurance to
pay to-morrow, and I haven't a cent. Would you lend me seven
dollars till next Chuesday?' More to try her than anything else, I
said, 'Why, Harriet, I'm a poor, hard-working woman myself; how do
you know you'll pay me seven dollars next Tuesday?' 'Well, Doctah,
I can't jes' tell you how, but I'll pay you next Chuesday.'" On
Tuesday my letter with seven dollars enclosed arrived in Auburn,
and Harriet took the money to the friend who had lent it to her.
Others thought this strange, but there was nothing strange about
it to her.
A few years ago, when Harriet called on the writer, she was
introduced to the husband of one of her daughters lately married.
He told her how glad he was to see her, as he had heard so much
about her. She made one of her humble courtesies, and said: "I'm
pleased to see you, sir; it's de first time I've hed de pleasure
makin' yo' 'quaintance since you was 'dopted into my fam'bly."
When the turns of somnolence come upon Harriet, her "sperrit," as
she says, goes away from her body, and visits other scenes and
places, and if she ever really sees them afterwards they are
perfectly familiar to her and she can find her way about alone.
Instances of this kind have lately been mentioned in some of the
magazines, but Harriet had never heard of them.
Sitting in her house one day, deep sleep fell upon her, and in a
dream or vision she saw a chariot in the air, going south, and
empty, but soon it returned, and lying in it, cold and stiff, was
the body of a young lady of whom Harriet was very fond, whose home
was in Auburn, but who had gone to Washington with her father, a
distinguished officer of the Government there.[G]
[Footnote G: William H. Seward.]
The shock roused Harriet from her sleep, and she ran into Auburn,
to the house of her minister, crying out: "Oh, Miss Fanny is
dead!" and the news had just been received.
She woke from a sleep one day in great agitation, and ran to the
houses of her colored neighbors, exclaiming that "a drefful t'ing
was happenin' somewha', de ground was openin', an' de houses were
fallin' in, and de people bein' killed faster 'n dey was in de
wah--faster 'n dey was in de wah."
At that very time, or near it, an earthquake was occurring in the
northern part of South America, for the telegram came that day,
though why a vision of it should be sent to Harriet no one can
Her expressions are often very peculiar; some ladies of a certain
church who had become interested in her wished to see her, and she
was invited to come to their city, and attended the sewing circle,
where twenty or thirty of them were gathered together. They asked
her many questions, and she told stories, sang songs, danced, and
imitated the talk of the Southern negroes; and went away loaded
with many tokens of the kind interest of these ladies. On the way
home she said:
"What nice, kind-lookin' ladies dem was, Missus. I looked in all
dere faces, an' I didn't see nothin' venomous in one of 'em!"
As has been said, Harriet can neither read nor write; her letters
are all written by an amanuensis, and she seems to have an idea
that by laying her hand on this person, her feelings may be
transmitted to the one to whom she is writing. These feelings are
sometimes very poetically expressed. I have by me some of those
letters; in one of them she says: "I lay my hand on the shoulder
of the writer of this letter, and I wish for you, and all your
offsprings, a through ticket in the Gospel train to Glory."
In another letter she has dictated this sentence:
"I ask of my Heavenly Father, that when the last trump sounds, and
my name is called, I may stand close by your side, to answer to
the call." Probably many of her friends and correspondents might
contribute facts and incidents in Harriet's life quite as
interesting as any I have mentioned, but I have no way of getting
Harriet had long cherished the idea of having her hospital
incorporated, and placed in charge of the Zion African Methodist
Church of Auburn, and she was particularly anxious to come into
possession of a lot of twenty-five acres of land, near her own
home, to present to it as a little farm. This lot was to be sold
at auction, and on the day of the sale Harriet appeared with a
very little money, and a determination to have the land, cost what
"Dey was all white folks but me dere, Missus, and dere I was like
a blackberry in a pail ob milk, but I hid down in a corner, and no
one know'd who was biddin'. De man began down pretty low, and I
kept goin' up by fifties; he got up to twelve hundred, thirteen
hundred, fourteen hundred, and still dat voice in the corner kept
goin' up by fifties. At last it got up to fourteen hundred and
fifty, an' den oders stopped biddin', an' de man said, 'All done!
who is de buyer?' 'Harriet Tubman,' I shouted. 'What! dat ole
nigger?' dey said. 'Old woman, how you ebber gwine to pay fer dat
lot ob land?' 'I'm gwine home to tell de Lawd Jesus all about it,'
After telling the Lord Jesus all about it, Harriet went down to a
bank, obtained the money by mortgaging the land, and then
requested to have a deed made out, making the land over to the
Zion African Methodist Church. And her mind is easy about her
hospital, though with many persons the trouble would be but just
beginning, as there is interest on the mortgage to be paid.
Though the hospital is no longer on her hands, you will never find
her without several poor creatures under her care. When I last saw
her she was providing for five sick and injured ones. A blind
woman came one day to her door, led by four little children--her
husband had turned her out of his house, and like all other poor
distressed black people, who could get there, she made her way to
Harriet. Before the next morning a fifth was added to the group.
As soon as it was possible Harriet dressed the whole six in white
and took them to a Methodist church and had them baptized.
A little account of this was sent to the "Evangelist," and the
almost immediate response was seventy-five dollars, which was of
great benefit in providing for the needs of the growing family.
This faithful creature will probably not live much longer, and her
like will not be seen again. But through the sale of the last
edition of her "Memoir," and some other sources of income, her
wants will be abundantly supplied.
Harriet's friends will be glad to learn that she has lately been
for some time in Boston, where a surgical operation was performed
upon her head, the skull (which was crushed by a weight thrown by
her master more than seventy years before) being successfully
raised. Harriet's account of this operation is rather amusing.
"Harriet," said Professor Hopkins, "what is the matter with your
head? Your hair is all gone!"
"Why, dat's where dey shaved it off befo' dey cut my head open."
"Cut your head open, Harriet? What do you mean?"
"Wal, sir, when I was in Boston I walked out one day, an' I saw a
great big buildin', an' I asked a man what it was, an' he said it
was a hospital. So I went right in, an' I saw a young man dere,
an' I said, 'Sir, are you a doctah?' an' he said he was; den I
said, 'Sir, do you t'ink you could cut my head open?'
"'What do you want your head cut open fer?' he said.
"Den I tol' him de whole story, an' how my head was givin' me a
powerful sight of trouble lately, with achin' an' buzzin', so I
couldn' get no sleep at night.
"An' he said, 'Lay right down on dis yer table,' an' I lay down."
"Didn't he give you anything to deaden the pain, Harriet?"
"No, sir; I jes' lay down like a lamb fo' de slaughter, an' he
sawed open my skull, an' raised it up, an' now it feels more
comfortable." "Did you suffer very much?"
"Yes, sir, it hurt, ob cose; but I got up an' put on my bonnet an'
started to walk home, but my legs kin' o' gin out under me, an'
dey sont fer a ambulance an' sont me home."
It has been hoped that this remarkable experience might result in
giving Harriet a new lease of life, but I am sorry to say she is
very feeble, and I fear will not be with us much longer.
Her "through ticket" has long been ready for her, and when her
last journey is accomplished can we doubt that she will be
welcomed to one of those many mansions prepared for those who have
spent their lives in the Master's service?
The following letters to the writer from those well-known and
distinguished philanthropists, Hon. Gerrit Smith and Wendell
Phillips, and one from Frederick Douglass, addressed to Harriet,
will serve as the best introduction that can be given of the
subject of this memoir to its readers:
_Letter from Hon. Gerrit Smith_.
PETERBORO, _June_ 13, 1868.
MY DEAR MADAME: I am happy to learn that you are to speak to the
public of Mrs. Harriet Tubman. Of the remarkable events of her
life I have no _personal_ knowledge, but of the truth of them as
she describes them I have no doubt.
I have often listened to her, in her visits to my family, and I am
confident that she is not only truthful, but that she has a rare
discernment, and a deep and sublime philanthropy.
With great respect your friend,
* * * * *
_Letter from Wendell Phillips_.
_June_ 16, 1868.
DEAR MADAME: The last time I ever saw John Brown was under my own
roof, as he brought Harriet Tubman to me, saying: "Mr. Phillips, I
bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent--
_General_ Tubman, as we call her."
He then went on to recount her labors and sacrifices in behalf of
her race. After that, Harriet spent some time in Boston, earning
the confidence and admiration of all those who were working for
freedom. With their aid she went to the South more than once,
returning always with a squad of self-emancipated men, women, and
children, for whom her marvelous skill had opened the way of
escape. After the war broke out, she was sent with indorsements
from Governor Andrew and his friends to South Carolina, where in
the service of the Nation she rendered most important and
efficient aid to our army.
In my opinion there are few captains, perhaps few colonels, who
have done more for the loyal cause since the war began, and few
men who did before that time more for the colored race, than our
fearless and most sagacious friend, Harriet.
* * * * *
_Letter from Frederick Douglass_.
ROCHESTER, _August_ 29, 1868.
DEAR HARRIET: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful
life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to
be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon
me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more
than you can need them from me, especially where your superior
labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our
land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very
marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our
cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement
at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in
a private way. I have wrought in the day--you in the night. I have
had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of
being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done
has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore
bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage,
and whose heartfelt "_God bless you_" has been your only reward.
The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of
your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John
Brown--of sacred memory--I know of no one who has willingly
encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people
than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to
those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great
pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character
and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I
regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
* * * * *
_Extracts from a Letter written by Mr. Sanborn, Secretary of the
Massachusetts Board of State Charities._
MY DEAR MADAME: Mr. Phillips has sent me your note, asking for
reminiscences of Harriet Tubman, and testimonials to her
extraordinary story, which all her New England friends will, I am
sure, be glad to furnish.
I never had reason to doubt the truth of what Harriet said in
regard to her own career, for I found her singularly truthful. Her
imagination is warm and rich, and there is a whole region of the
marvelous in her nature, which has manifested itself at times
remarkably. Her dreams and visions, misgivings and forewarnings,
ought not to be omitted in any life of her, particularly those
relating to John Brown.
She was in his confidence in 1858-9, and he had a great regard for
her, which he often expressed to me. She aided him in his plans,
and expected to do so still further, when his career was closed by
that wonderful campaign in Virginia. The first time she came to my
house, in Concord, after that tragedy, she was shown into a room
in the evening, where Brackett's bust of John Brown was standing.
The sight of it, which was new to her, threw her into a sort of
ecstacy of sorrow and admiration, and she went on in her
rhapsodical way to pronounce his apotheosis.
She has often been in Concord, where she resided at the houses of
Emerson, Alcott, the Whitneys, the Brooks family, Mrs. Horace
Mann, and other well-known persons. They all admired and respected
her, and nobody doubted the reality of her adventures. She was too
_real_ a person to be suspected. In 1862, I think it was, she went
from Boston to Port Royal, under the advice and encouragement of
Mr. Garrison, Governor Andrew, Dr. Howe, and other leading people.
Her career in South Carolina is well known to some of our
officers, and I think to Colonel Higginson, now of Newport, R.I.,
and Colonel James Montgomery, of Kansas, to both of whom she was
useful as a spy and guide, if I mistake not. I regard her as, on
the whole, the most extraordinary person of her race I have ever
met. She is a negro of pure, or almost pure blood, can neither
read nor write, and has the characteristics of her race and
condition. But she has done what can scarcely be credited on the
best authority, and she has accomplished her purposes with a
coolness, foresight, patience and wisdom, which in a _white man_
would have raised him to the highest pitch of reputation.
I am, dear Madame, very truly your servant,
* * * * *
_Letter from Hon. Wm.H. Seward_.
WASHINGTON, _July_ 25, 1868.
MY DEAR SIR: Harriet Tubman, a colored woman, has been nursing our
soldiers during nearly all the war. She believes she has a claim
for faithful services to the command in South Carolina with which
you are connected, and she thinks that you would be disposed to
see her claim justly settled.
I have known her long, and a nobler, higher spirit, or a truer,
seldom dwells in the human form. I commend her, therefore, to your
kind and best attentions.
Faithfully your friend,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
* * * * *
_Letter from Col. James Montgomery_.
ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C., _July_ 6, 1863.
HEADQUARTERS COLORED BRIGADE.
BRIG.-GEN. GILMORE, Commanding Department of the South--
GENERAL: I wish to commend to your attention, Mrs. Harriet Tubman,
a most remarkable woman, and invaluable as a scout. I have been
acquainted with her character and actions for several years.
I am, General, your most ob't servant,
JAMES MONTGOMERY, Col. Com. Brigade.
* * * * *
_Letter from Mrs. Gen. A. Baird_.
PETERBORO, _Nov_. 24, 1864.
The bearer of this, Harriet Tubman, a most excellent woman, who
has rendered faithful and good services to our Union army, not
only in the hospital, but in various capacities, having been
employed under Government at Hilton Head, and in Florida; and I
commend her to the protection of all officers in whose department
she may happen to be.
She has been known and esteemed for years by the family of my
uncle, Hon. Gerrit Smith, as a person of great rectitude and
MRS. GEN. A. BAIRD.
* * * * *
_Letter from Hon. Gerrit Smith_.
PETERBORO, N.Y., _Nov_. 4, 1867.
I have known Mrs. Harriet Tubman for many years. Seldom, if ever,
have I met with a person more philanthropic, more self-denying,
and of more bravery. Nor must I omit to say that she combines with
her sublime spirit, remarkable discernment and judgment.
During the late war, Mrs. Tubman was eminently faithful and useful
to the cause of our country. She is poor and has poor parents.
Such a servant of the country should be well paid by the country.
I hope that the Government will look into her case.
* * * * *
_Testimonial from Gerrit Smith_.
PETERBORO, _Nov._ 22, 1864.
The bearer, Harriet Tubman, needs not any recommendation. Nearly
all the nation over, she has been heard of for her wisdom,
integrity, patriotism, and bravery. The cause of freedom owes her
much. The country owes her much.
I have known Harriet for many years, and I hold her in my high
* * * * *
_Certificate from Henry K. Durrant, Acting Asst. Surgeon, U.S.A._
I certify that I have been acquainted with Harriet Tubman for
nearly two years; and my position as Medical Officer in charge of
"contrabands" in this town and in hospital, has given me frequent
and ample opportunities to observe her general deportment;
particularly her kindness and attention to the sick and suffering
of her own race. I take much pleasure in testifying to the esteem
in which she is generally held.
HENRY K. DURRANT,
Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A.
In charge "Contraband" Hospital.
Dated at Beaufort, S.C., the 3d day of May, 1864.
I concur fully in the above.
R. SAXTON, Brig.-Gen. Vol.
* * * * *
The following are a few of the passes used by Harriet throughout
the war. Many others are so defaced that it is impossible to
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,
HILTON HEAD, PORT ROYAL, S.C., _Feb_. 19, 1863.
Pass the bearer, Harriet Tubman, to Beaufort and back to this
place, and wherever she wishes to go; and give her free passage at
all times, on all Government transports. Harriet was sent to me
from Boston by Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, and is a
valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the
Government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she
D. HUNTER, Maj.-Gen. Com.
* * * * *
General Gilmore, who succeeded General Hunter in command of the
Department of the South, appends his signature to the same pass.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,
_July_ 1, 1863.
Continued in force.
Q.A. GILMORE, Brig.-Gen. Com.
* * * * *
BEAUFORT, _Aug_. 28, 1862.
Will Capt. Warfield please let "Moses" have a little Bourbon
whiskey for medicinal purposes.
HENRY K. DURANT, Act. Ass. Surgeon.
* * * * *
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D. C,
_March_ 20, 1865.
Pass Mrs. Harriet Tubman (colored) to Hilton Head and Charleston,
S.C., with free transportation on a Government transport,
By order of the Sec. of War.
Louis H., Asst. Adj.-Gen., U.S.A.
To Bvt. Brig.-Gen. Van Vliet, U.S.Q.M., N.Y.
* * * * *
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C.,
_July_ 22, 1865.
Permit Harriet Tubman to proceed to Fortress Monroe, Va., on a
Government transport. Transportation will be furnished free of
By order of the Secretary of War.
L.H., Asst. Adj.-Gen.
* * * * *
_Appointment as Nurse_.
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the Medical Director
Department of Virginia has been instructed to appoint Harriet
Tubman nurse or matron at the Colored Hospital, Fort Monroe, Va.
Very respectfully, your obdt. servant,
V.K. BARNES, Surgeon-General.
Hon. WM.H. SEWARD,
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
Of the many letters, testimonials, and passes, placed in the hands
of the writer by Harriet, the following are selected for insertion
in this book, and are quite sufficient to verify her statements.
_A Letter from Gen. Saxton to a lady of Auburn_.
ATLANTA, GA., _March_ 21, 1868.
MY DEAR MADAME: I have just received your letter informing me that
Hon. Wm.H. Seward, Secretary of State, would present a petition to
Congress for a pension to Harriet Tubman, for services rendered in
the Union Army during the late war. I can bear witness to the
value of her services in South Carolina and Florida. She was
employed in the hospitals and as a spy. She made many a raid
inside the enemy's lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal, and
fidelity. She was employed by General Hunter, and I think by
Generals Stevens and Sherman, and is as deserving of a pension
from the Government for her services as any other of its faithful
I am very truly yours,
RUFUS SAXTON, Bvt. Brig.-Gen., U.S.A.
Rev. Samuel I. May, in his recollections of the anti-slavery
conflict, after mentioning the case of an old slave mother, whom
he vainly endeavored to assist her son in buying from her master,
"I did not until four years after know that remarkable woman
Harriet, or I might have engaged her services, in the assurance
that she would have bought off the old woman without _paying_ for
her inalienable right--her liberty."
Mr. May in another place says of Harriet, that she deserves to be
placed _first_ on the list of American heroines, and then proceeds
to give a short account of her labors, varying very little from
that given in this book.
FUGITIVE SLAVE RESCUE IN TROY.
From the _Troy Whig_, April 28, 1859.
Yesterday afternoon, the streets of this city and West Troy were
made the scenes of unexampled excitement. For the first time since
the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, an attempt was made here to
carry its provisions into execution, and the result was a terrific
encounter between the officers and the prisoner's friends, the
triumph of mob law, and the final rescue of the fugitive. Our city
was thrown into a grand state of turmoil, and for a time every
other topic was forgotten, to give place to this new excitement.
People did not think last evening to ask who was nominated at
Charleston, or whether the news of the Heenan and Sayers battle
had arrived--everything was merged into the fugitive slave case,
of which it seems the end is not yet.
Charles Nalle, the fugitive, who was the cause of all this
excitement, was a slave on the plantation of B.W. Hansborough, in
Culpepper County, Virginia, till the 19th of October, 1858, when
he made his escape, and went to live in Columbia, Pennsylvania. A
wife and five children are residing there now. Not long since he
came to Sandlake, in this county, and resided in the family of Mr.
Crosby until about three weeks ago. Since that time, he has been
employed as coachman by Uri Gilbert, Esq., of this city. He is
about thirty years of age, tall, quite light-complexioned, and
good-looking. He is said to have been an excellent and faithful
At Sandlake, we understand that Nalle was often seen by one H.F.
Averill, formerly connected with one of the papers of this city,
who communicated with his reputed owner in Virginia, and gave the
information that led to a knowledge of the whereabouts of the
fugitive. Averill wrote letters for him, and thus obtained an
acquaintance with his history. Mr. Hansborough sent on an agent,
Henry J. Wall, by whom the necessary papers were got out to arrest
Yesterday morning about 11 o'clock, Charles Nalle was sent to
procure some bread for the family by whom he was employed. He
failed to return. At the baker's he was arrested by Deputy United
States Marshal J.W. Holmes, and immediately taken before United
States Commissioner Miles Beach. The son of Mr. Gilbert, thinking
it strange that he did not come back, sent to the house of William
Henry, on Division Street, where he boarded, and his whereabouts
The examination before Commissioner Beach was quite brief. The
evidence of Averill and the agent was taken, and the Commissioner
decided to remand Nalle to Virginia. The necessary papers were
made out and given to the Marshal.
By this time it was two o'clock, and the fact began to be noised
abroad that there was a fugitive slave in Mr. Beach's office,
corner of State and First Streets. People in knots of ten or
twelve collected near the entrance, looking at Nalle, who could be
seen at an upper window. William Henry, a colored man, with whom
Nalle boarded, commenced talking from the curb-stone in a loud
voice to the crowd. He uttered such sentences as, "There is a
fugitive slave in that office--pretty soon you will see him come
forth. He is going to be taken down South, and you will have a
chance to see him. He is to be taken to the depot, to go to
Virginia in the first train. Keep watch of those stairs, and you
will have a sight." A number of women kept shouting, crying, and
by loud appeals excited the colored persons assembled.
Still the crowd grew in numbers. Wagons halted in front of the
locality, and were soon piled with spectators. An alarm of fire
was sounded, and hose carriages dashed through the ranks of men,
women, and boys; but they closed again, and kept looking with
expectant eyes at the window where the negro was visible.
Meanwhile, angry discussions commenced. Some persons agitated a
rescue, and others favored law and order. Mr. Brockway, a lawyer,
had his coat torn for expressing his sentiments, and other
_mêlées_ kept the interest alive.
All at once there was a wild halloo, and every eye was turned up
to see the legs and part of the body of the prisoner protruding
from the second story window, at which he was endeavoring to
escape. Then arose a shout! "Drop him!" "Catch him!" "Hurrah!" But
the attempt was a fruitless one, for somebody in the office pulled
Nalle back again, amid the shouts of a hundred pairs of lungs. The
crowd at this time numbered nearly a thousand persons. Many of
them were black, and a good share were of the female sex. They
blocked up State Street from First Street to the alley, and kept
surging to and fro.
Martin I. Townsend, Esq., who acted as counsel for the fugitive,
did not arrive in the Commissioner's office until a decision had
been rendered. He immediately went before Judge Gould, of the
Supreme Court, and procured a writ of habeas corpus in the usual
form, _returnable_ immediately. This was given Deputy-Sheriff
Nathaniel Upham, who at once proceeded to Commissioner Beach's
office, and served it on Holmes. Very injudiciously, the officers
proceeded at once to Judge Gould's office, although it was evident
they would have to pass through an excited, unreasonable crowd. As
soon as the officers and their prisoner emerged from the door, an
old negro, who had been standing at the bottom of the stairs,
shouted, "Here they come," and the crowd made a terrific rush at
From the office of Commissioner Beach, in the Mutual Building, to
that of Judge Gould, in Congress Street, is less than two blocks,
but it was made a regular battlefield. The moment the prisoner
emerged from the doorway, in custody of Deputy-Sheriff Upham,
Chief of Police Quin, Officers Cleveland and Holmes, the crowd
made one grand charge, and those nearest the prisoner seized him
violently, with the intention of pulling him away from the
officers, but they were foiled; and down First to Congress Street,
and up the latter in front of Judge Gould's chambers, went the
surging mass. Exactly what did go on in the crowd, it is
impossible to say, but the pulling, hauling, mauling, and
shouting, gave evidences of frantic efforts on the part of the
rescuers, and a stern resistance from the conservators of the law.
In front of Judge Gould's office the combat was at its height. No
stones or other missiles were used; the battle was fist to fist.
We believe an order was given to take the prisoner the other way,
and there was a grand rush towards the West, past First and River
Streets, as far as Dock Street. All this time there was a
continual _mêlée_. Many of the officers were hurt--among them Mr.
Upham, whose object was solely to do his duty by taking Nalle
before Judge Gould in accordance with the writ of habeas corpus. A
number in the crowd were more or less hurt, and it is a wonder
that these were not badly injured, as pistols were drawn and
The battle had raged as far as the corner of Dock and Congress
Streets, and the victory remained with the rescuers at last. The
officers were completely worn out with their exertions, and it was
impossible to continue their hold upon him any longer. Nalle was
at liberty. His friends rushed him down Dock Street to the lower
ferry, where there was a skiff lying ready to start. The fugitive
was put in, the ferryman rowed off, and amid the shouts of
hundreds who lined the banks of the river, Nalle was carried into
As the skiff landed in West Troy, a negro sympathizer waded up to
the waist, and pulled Nalle out of the boat. He went up the hill
alone, however, and there who should he meet but Constable Becker!
The latter official seeing a man with manacles on, considered it
his duty to arrest him. He did so, and took him in a wagon to the
office of Justice Stewart, on the second floor of the corner
building near the ferry. The justice was absent.
When the crowd on the Troy bank had seen Nalle safely landed, it
was suggested that he might be recaptured. Then there was another
rush made for the steam ferry-boat, which carried over about 400
persons, and left as many more--a few of the latter being soused
in their efforts to get on the boat. On landing in West Troy,
there, sure enough, was the prisoner, locked up in a strong
office, protected by Officers Becker, Brown and Morrison, and the
Not a moment was lost. Up stairs went a score or more of resolute
men--the rest "piling in" promiscuously, shouting and execrating
the officers. Soon a stone flew against the door--then another--
and bang, bang! went off a couple of pistols, but the officers who
fired them took good care to aim pretty high. The assailants were
forced to retreat for a moment. "They've got pistols," said one.
"Who cares?" was the reply; "they can only kill a dozen of us--
come on." More stones and more pistol-shots ensued. At last the
door was pulled open by an immense negro, and in a moment he was
felled by a hatchet in the hands of Deputy-Sheriff Morrison; but
the body of the fallen man blocked up the door so that it could
not be shut, and a friend of the prisoner pulled him out. Poor
fellow! he might well say, "Save me from my friends." Amid the
pulling and hauling, the iron had cut his arms, which were
bleeding profusely, and he could hardly walk, owing to fatigue.
He has since arrived safely in Canada.