Moses of Her People: Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross a slave in Bucktown, Maryland. She married a free black man John Tubman in 1844 and escaped North to Philadelphia in 1849, fearing she would be sold South during the Domestic Slave Trade. While in Philadelphia, Harriet worked with abolitionists William Still and John Brown. Harriet Tubman is called “The Moses of Her People” because like Moses she helped people escape from slavery.

Harriet is well known as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Using a network of abolitionists and free people of color, she guided hundreds of slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. In 1862, Harriet arrived in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to aid Union troops during the Civil War. She carried a pass issued by Maj. Gen. David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South.

“Pass the bearer, Harriet Tubman. . . wherever she wishes to go; and give her free passage, at all times, on all government transports.”

He wrote a note, stating “To Whom It May Concern,” commending her for “kindness and attention to the sick and suffering.” Harriet traveled into Confederate territory with Union Col. James Montgomery during their raids. She provided information to the plantation slaves during these raids and many slaves were led to safety within the Union lines. 

“I wish to commend to your attention Mrs. Harriet Tubman, a most remarkable woman, and invaluable scout.” Col. Montgomery to Gen. Gillmore in 1863.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Runaway Slaves 

The Fugitive Slave Act was signed by President Millard Fillmore on September 18, 1850, as a supplementary amendment to the Slave Act of 1793. The law essentially allowed slave catchers to catch alleged fugitive slaves without due process of law. Once captured the alleged slave would be brought before a commissioner or federal judge who would conduct a summary hearing. If the evidence proved satisfactory to the commissioner or judge, they would issue a certificate of removal.

One of the earliest known kidnappers of free people of color and fugitive slaves was Patty Cannon. An illegal slave trader, she was the co-leader of the Cannon-Johnson Gang of Maryland-Delaware in the early 19th century. She sold free people of color and fugitive slaves to the South. This became known as the Reverse Underground Railroad. It is possible that Harriet Tubman knew of Patty Cannon and the Cannon-Johnson gang since she was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, which bordered Sussex County, Delaware, where Cannon lived. In 1829, when Tubman was about nine years old, Patty was indicted for four murders after the bodies of four blacks including three children were found on property she owned. She confessed to almost two dozen murders of black kidnap victims and died while awaiting trial in prison.

Charlotte Jenkins, like Harriet Tubman, was a runaway slave who later nursed the sick and wounded during the Civil War. She takes charge of the smallpox tent in a way that no one has seen before when the racist white man arrives. Charlotte establishes a firm stance with him that surprises Samuel and Belinda. Charlotte channels the strength and fortitude of Harriet Tubman and becomes a force of nature at the Contraband Camp.

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