Harriet Tubman (Miller, 1913)

Anne Fitzhugh Miller, "Harriet Tubman," The Magazine of History 16 (1913): 169-171.

No one knows exactly when Harriet Tubman was born, but it was on the eastern shore of Maryland and not much less than a hundred years ago. She knows that her mother’s mother was brought in a slave ship from Africa, that her mother was the daughter of a white man, an American, and her father a full-blooded Negro.

Harriet was not large, but she was very strong. The most strenuous slave labor was demanded of her; summer and winter she drove oxcarts; she ploughed; with her father she cut timber and drew heavy logs like a patient mule. About 1844 she was married to a freedman named Tubman. He proved unworthy and deserted her. She determined to try to escape from slavery, and induced her two brothers to go with her. The three started together, but the brothers soon became frightened and turned back. Harriet went on alone. All through the night she walked and ran alone. When she reached a place of safety it was morning. She says: “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free – there was such glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven!” Not one to enjoy heaven alone was that generous heart. Nineteen times did she return to the land of slavery, and each time brought away to Canada groups of men, women, and children, her parents and brothers among them, about three hundred in all. A prize of $40,000 was offered for her capture, but Harriet was never caught. She delights to recall the fact that on all those long and perilous journeys on the “Underground Railroad” she never lost a passenger! Her belief that she was and is sustained and guided by “de sperit of de Lord” is absolute. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts appointed her scout and nurse during the war. She is now receiving a pension.

One of the most important episodes in which Harriet took a leading part and proved the saving factor was Colonel Montgomerie’s exploit on the Combahee River. General Hunter secured Harriet's assistance for the great undertaking. The plan was to send several gunboats and a few men up the river, in an attempt to collect the slaves living near the shores and carry them down to Beaufort, within the Union lines. It is worth a day’s journey to hear Harriet herself describe the vivid scene—throngs of hesitating refugees, a motley crowd, men, women, children, babies—(“Pears like I nebber see so many twins in my life”)— and pigs and chickens, and such domestic necessities as could be “toted” along. The slave-drivers had used their whips in vain to get the poor refugees back to their quarters, and yet the blacks were almost as much in dread of the stranger soldiers. How deal with this turbulent mass of humanity? The colonel realized the danger of delay, and calling Harriet to the upper deck in a voice of command said: “Moses, you’ll have to give ‘em a song!” Then the power of the woman poured forth— Harriet lifted up a voice full of emotional fervor in verse after verse of prophetic promise. She improvised both words and melody:

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 alarm,
Uncle Sam's rich enough to give us all a farm!

Come along! Come along! Don't be a fool,
Uncle Sam's rich enough to send us all to school! etc., etc.

As she chanted to refrain “Come along! Come along!” she raised her long arms with an imperious gesture impossible to resist. The crowd responded with shouts of “Glory! Glory!” The victory was won— about eight hundred souls eagerly scrambled on board the gunboats and were transported to freedom.
Among the many men of note who trusted and encouraged the intrepid little woman were Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Garrett, William H. Seward, Emerson, Alcott, Dr. Howe and Gerrit Smith. Frederick Douglass wrote of her, “Excepting John Brown, I know no one who has encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people.” John Brown said, “Mr. Phillips, I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent, ‘General Tubman,’ as we call her.” He also said, “She is the most of a man, naturally, that I ever met with.” This war-time general now speaks with tender reverence—“John Brown, my dearest friend”—and she whom he called “the most of a man” is also more of a mother than most women. She founded and maintains a home for colored men and women. She “dwells in the midst of them, singing.”

Anne Fitzhugh Miller
How to Cite This Page: "Harriet Tubman (Miller, 1913)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/14332.