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

    As a child, my teachers always read books to the class about Harriet Tubman. I think she is the most courageous woman in history. I believe she should be someone who is commonly talked about today since there is still a fight for equal rights, and social justice in general. Reading this story honestly didn’t give me a whole lot of new information, but it did help me understand a little bit more the WHOLE struggle Harriet went through. I have so much respect for women like her

  2. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is a hero to many African Americans. She is a role model and should definitely be more recognized for her actions. Risking her life to save others, to bring others to freedom is just amazing. Especially because everyone would mark you as escaped and you could face very intense punishment. Her legacy still lives long and will forever will.

  3. Avatar

    Although a story I have heard before I never get tired of reading it. Harriet Tubman was and is to this day an amazing woman who fought for the freedom of others as well as her own. Even with her own husband against her she didn’t care, she did the unthinkable and escaped her enslavement. I don’t understand why her husband would rat her out but regardless she was brave and strong.

  4. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman was such a brave woman, even from a young age. She risked her life so many times for what she believed in which is such a courageous thing to do. I wonder if she knew what kind of impact she would have on United States history before she did all that she did. She truly is inspirational for people everywhere.

  5. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is known to be one of the most heroic icons in the U.S. Many people only recognize her for the the operation she developed to help runaway slaves, known as The Underground Railroad. She helped many slaves escape but that isn’t even half of what she did. She advocated for these people and put her life at risk. The idea of putting her on the 20 dollar bill was something that I was excited about. Even though its delayed I have a great feeling she will be. Great Article!

  6. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is known for the Underground Railroad and everyone knows about her successful escape from slave life. But no one really knows beyond what is taught and this article really shows just what kind of challenges she faced other than getting caught, your article really put into perspective just how difficult her journey was. It is really well written article and well structured.

  7. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman is very well known, however, during my time at school I felt that her story was rarely told or was basically skimmed over. Most people do not know the story in which would drive Tubman to fight for the rights of her people. I had no clue that she never got married and how it affected her development as a person. I’m glad I chose to read your article as it provides an insight into her life.

  8. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman was an amazing role model for those who wanted freedom and to those later in the Civil Rights movement. I can’t believe she risked her life several times to save many people from slavery. Regardless of her situation she was always able to find hope and continue with her mission towards freedom. She overcame all her obstacles from her abusive master to her pwn husband.

  9. Avatar

    I never read into Harriet Tubman’s actions. I knew that she created and successfully carried out The Underground Railroad, but this article does a good job at presenting some new information that I haven’t heard much about. I think Harriet was a strong and fearless individual for doing such things at a young age. I’m glad she left a legacy for her name and helped others escape.

  10. Avatar

    Harriet Tubman was a woman of great determination. She did not let her husbands threat get in the way of her want to escape to freedom. I can’t imagine how much pain she experience as a slave, especially because she had to witness her family be torn apart. She was tough fighter who did not let her fear get in her way. Although she had already gained her freedom, she had the guts to go back and not only save her brothers and niece, but other slave as well. She was a phenomenal woman!

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