Harriet Tubman: Her Journey to Freedom

Harriet Tubman with family members and other rescued slaves. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It was night, and Harriet Tubman and her brothers began their journey to freedom. But when she looked back, she saw that her brothers were not following behind her. They were frozen in fear, thinking about the fact that they could get caught and face awful consequences. With their fear increasing, they said their goodbyes and headed back to their owners’ house.1 Saddened and alone, Harriet began walking north; nothing was going to stop her from getting what she always wanted, and that was her freedom.  

One day, around the age twelve, Harriet Tubman’s owner threw a heavy weight at her after a fit of rage came over him. This fractured her skull, which applied pressure to her brain, and it made her have disabilities while growing up. This wasn’t the only pain Tubman had throughout her childhood. She also saw her sister being sold and taken away from them. Afterward, her parents were saddened and asked themselves why life was the way it was for them.2 Harriet Tubman didn’t know it then, but the struggles she faced when she was a child were only preparing her for the greater things she was going to achieve much later.  

By the time Harriet Tubman had grown older and wedded, not many changes had been made in regards to the treatment of African-American slaves. In the 1840s, Tubman, along with her husband, John Tubman, a free man, worked with her brothers as cotton field slaves. During this period, it had become known to her that their master had made plans to sell her and her brothers, leading the family to be separated once again. If the idea of being separated from her family had not been fearful enough for Tubman, the unspoken horrors of being sent further South added to the horror of being torn away from what she already knew.3 

Harriet Tubman photographed in 1880 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Within her, the desire to be free became stronger and stronger. It had grown so much within her that she spoke to her husband John about it, to which he responded that he would tell her master if she ever attempted to run away. John being a free man held a certain power over his wife that she was not capable of fighting. Since her husband had made his opinion known to her what he would do if she were to try and escape, their last known moments together were filled with tension, and Harriet was on edge constantly.4 However, even with the threats coming from John, this did not fully keep Harriet from planning her escape; it had just delayed it. More than ever, she was determined to become free and leave her condition of dependence on not only her master, but also on her husband. She was very careful in discussing her plans to run away and when she would do it.5

On the night of her escape, she gathered her brothers and began singing a song to the other slaves, telling them that they were leaving. She led the way north, but when she turned around, she saw that her brothers were not following. They were afraid that they would get caught and face horrible consequences. They said their goodbyes to their sister and headed back to their master’s house. Even though Harriet was now alone, and much more vulnerable than before, she headed North towards her freedom.6 Tubman would travel during the night, because it made it harder for people to see her, and she would hide out during the day with people she could trust. After long days of traveling, she finally reached a Northern state, where she could be a free woman.

Yet even gaining her freedom, she could not stop thinking about her brothers and how they were still living as slaves. She decided to create a plan to go back and rescue her brothers. She knew that it would be extremely dangerous to return to the southern states because of the Fugitive Slave Act, which stated that it made it illegal for slaves to escape and illegal for anyone to help them. It also made it easier for slave owner to reclaim their slaves after they escaped.7  

Harriet Tubman in her later years | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With the help of the Quakers, she was able to help her brothers and niece to escape.8 She did not want to stop there, so she returned to the South nineteen more times to help rescue more people. They called it the Underground Railroad, which is what Harriet Tubman is famously known for. The courage she showed, to be able to escape and then go back to help others also escape, has been greatly valued ever since. She helped others find the courage within them to fight for the abolition of slavery.

  1. Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman The Moses of Her People (New York: Corinth Books Inc., 1961), 29.
  2. Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman The Moses of Her People (New York: Corinth Books Inc., 1961), 14-15.
  3. James McGowan, Harriet Tubman: A Biography (Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood. 2011), 4-6.
  4. Rosemary Sadlier, Harriet Tubman Freedom Seeker, Freedom Leader (Dundurn, 2012), 48-49.
  5. Rosemary Sadlier, Harriet Tubman Freedom Seeker, Freedom Leader (Dundurn, 2012), 48.
  6. Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman The Moses of Her People (New York: Corinth Books Inc., 1961), 29.
  7.  Encyclopedia of African American History, 2010, s.v. “Fugitive Slave Act of 1850,” by Alfred L. Brophy.
  8. Rosemary Sadlier, Harriet Tubman Freedom Seeker, Freedom Leader (Dundurn, 2012), 50.

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This Post Has 80 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I found the story of Harriet Tubman and her journey to freedom extremely interesting as a kid. The journey that she took required a lot of courage to go against the system and to fight for others’ freedom. She was an exceptional leader and paved the way for many African Americans to obtain their freedom. It’s crazy to think how one person created so much change. It actually gives me hope that I could change the world, too, someday.

  2. Avatar

    I remember learning about her. I remember admiring her strength, especially as woman during the time of The Underground Railroad. It amazes me how someone could have so much courage. Harriet Tubman was a strong woman, indeed. This arresting. I learned even more about her and her journey through this article.

  3. Avatar

    I am surprised by how she stood up for herself and was willing to still escape even though her brothers were not behind her. She was a strong woman that she was not only determined to help rescue her family but other people as well. Harriet Tubman simply wanted what slaves wanted and that was freedom. I am glad she is an important role model in history because that shows us that we can be capable of having our freedom. We can represent ourselves and know why freedom is a thing we should value.

  4. Avatar

    I loved learning about her in history class. She had courage to escape slavery and help others. I was surprised to hear that she got hit in the head with a weight. I wonder what kind of song Harriet sang to her brothers that temporarily calmed them down even though they ran back to their masters since they were afraid of getting caught. At least in the end, she managed to escape. I learned more about her through this article.

  5. Avatar

    I love reading about Harriet Tubman, she was such a determined and selfless woman during the time of slavery. It takes so much out of someone to escape the cruel world they’re living in, and Harriet Tubman managed to escape and do it over again 19 times to help save others. She put herself in so much danger especially after the Fugitive Slave Act was put into place, making it easier for slaves to get in trouble and get claimed by their previous owners. She’s such an inspiration for going back to help her family along with others after she saved herself. It’s hard to believe what kind of danger she was willing to put herself through as long as it meant getting to freedom.

  6. Avatar

    I had always heard of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the underground railroad, but I had never heard of Harriet Tubman’s daring escape from her own slavery. It is very inspiring to see her brave rush for freedom and the origins of the underground railroad. This article truly shows the reality of the fear that slaves faced when escaping.

  7. Avatar

    This story is impressive in how one person created so much change. I like the point of view that was taken on the Underground Railroad and it shows how there was human people sacrificing things in order to achieve freedom. I had hear of the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman but I had never hear the story in such detail that it showed how with her brothers they were going to scape. It bothers me that people didn’t supported the slaves and when they ran away there was different laws that didn’t protect them. While reading the article it made me realize how lucky we are for those people that have fought for freedom over the years.

  8. Avatar

    I think one of the most horrifying things that man has done was the way white people used to treat people of color, sadly some of them have the same absurd idea today. Harriett Tubman was a strong, selfless and woman who fought for what she wanted, that thing was her freedom and she earned it even with having the most difficult obstacles. Even after gaining her freedom she still went back for her family risking everything and then helping people like her because she believes no one should be treated with that kind of aggression and that they deserved better.

  9. Avatar

    I always loved the story of The Underground Railroad and how Harriett Tubman was such an exceptional leader. I did not however, know that he was married to a free man. I also did not know that she worked with the help of the Quakers. I loved how she went back for her family but didn’t want to stop there. She wanted to help as many people as she could knowing how dangerous it would be. She was a strong and brave woman and women and girls everywhere should look to her as an example just as I’d like to.

  10. Avatar

    Harriett Tubman is a very selfless, strong, determined hero. I did not know about some of the details of her life that you discussed like her brothers not following her the first time, her husband threatening her, and her skull being fractured by her slave owner so this was very informative and I am glad to have heard more about her story.

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