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

    Harriet Tubman was a very inspirational person. The fact that she did whatever it took to escape slavery and to at least taste the freedom just shows the type of person she is. As a kid we learned about the civil rights movement and about slavery, we barely touched base about Harriet Tubman, but I am glad that I learned more about her today. I admire her determination to escape slavery and she didn’t let the consequences of getting caught escaping stop her from reaching her dream goal.

  2. Isabella Torres

    The fact that Harriet Tubman not only had the courage to escape slavery, but to return multiple times to help others escape is incredible. I remember learning about her in middle and high school and always being so inspired by her brave actions and sheer determination to obtain freedom. Despite her lack of power in slavery as she was growing up, she became one of the most powerful figures in the Underground Railroad, selflessly risking her life to help others like her.

  3. Avatar

    To be quite honest I’ve always felt that middle school and high school curriculums have always glossed over the person that was Harriet Tubman, only speaking about how she guided people on the Underground Railroad. I like how detailed and informative this article was on not only that portion of her life but her life in general and how she overcame many hardships.

  4. Avatar

    I think everyone has heard of the famous Harriet Tubman. She was a woman that was filled with courage and bravery, she most definitely deserves the recognition of everyone for her actions. I love that this article mentions how Harriet Tubman even faced problems with her husband when deciding she wanted to escape, making her story even more powerful. An African American woman who persevered even when all odds were against her.

  5. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is an inspirational woman to everyone. Her courage and strength led her to escape the slave life and find her freedom. Despite her husband’s threats, she knew what she wanted and would do anything to get it–freedom. Her selflessness caused her to not only want freedom for herself but also for anyone else that she could help.

  6. Avatar

    I never knew that Harriet Tubman went through such physical trauma when she was younger, and I never knew about the tension between her and her husband. It is interesting how although she was delayed in her escape, that motivated her to continue on with her journey to freedom. She is a very courageous woman for not giving up on her journey even when her brothers did, and continuing alone despite how much more dangerous it was.

  7. Avatar

    This article was so interesting! I already knew some information about Harriet Tubman and her life, especially the hardships she faced before, during, and after her escape, but this article told the main points of her story very well. It’s so sad that she had to leave her brothers when she first escaped, and it warms my heart that she was so selfless to go back and save all the enslaved people that desperately needed her help.

  8. Avatar

    The bravery and courage that this woman had is admirable. To not only escape on her own knowing the terrible consequences she would face if caught, she went back plenty more times to help others. Tubman is selfless, and she deserves to be known in history. Seeing a powerful woman of color is amazing to see these days let alone to see one during the 1800s. She didn’t let any man stop her, not her brothers, not her husband. She was threatened and had been hurt by her slave owner and she still did what she did.

  9. Avatar

    It was nice reading more about Harriet Tubman’s background story. I never knew that she was given a head fracture from her owner or that she had a husband that was a free man. I admire Tubman’s bravery to try to escape while knowing the consequences if she’s caught, but I admire her courage to do it nineteen more times even more. This article does a great job at showing this.

  10. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is such an inspiration to so many. Her courage and selfless action has inspired many people to stand up against oppression. I love that there is a light shed on the fact that Tubman not only fought against slavery and oppression from her master. But also the tension that was made from her husband. It shows how strong Tubman was to have the ability to overcome not just one but two fights in her life.

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