One of the most courageous heroes in American history is Harriet Tubman, who used the Underground Railroad to bring free over 300 slaves. Today, Connor and Brittany share her story.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hey, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So history is filled with so many incredible people who’ve displayed acts of bravery that most of us could never even imagine doing. I mean, I hate to say that, I’d like to imagine that I’m a hero, but the truth is, I don’t know if I’d be able to be as brave as these heroes, but these are the ones, you know, who are willing to stand up for what is right in the face of risking everything. And sometimes that includes their life. And these are the people who inspire us to push ourselves to be better, to imagine ourselves as heroes, and encourage others to be courageous. You know, we’ve talked about a hero’s journey. We read those books sometimes to help us want to be better. And one of the heroes that I wanna talk about today is Harriet Tubman. And like Booker t Washington, who we’ve also talked about, Tubman was born into slavery. And some of her earliest memories are beaten so badly by her master or slave owner. I hate saying master, but that’s what they were called, that she woke up two days later on a bench bleeding from her head. And she was only a child. So I can’t even imagine what that would be like. But her experience made her so tough, and it made her passionate against slavery, and it gave her a reason to fight back against the horrors of slavery and in whatever way she could. So, Connor Tubman is one of the people written about in the Tuttletwins Guide to Courageous Heroes, isn’t she?
Connor: that’s right. So for those who haven’t read that book yet, this is for kind of preteens and teenagers, and adults, so you can head to Tuttletwins.com/products, and you can scroll down to find, that book among, some of the other new books that we’ve put out. And the story, Brittany, that you just mentioned, about her being beaten by her slave master. you know, it always gives me chills. I cannot imagine, what life would’ve been like under those circumstances. Yeah. But, as you said, her experience helped turn her into this kind of activist and, a hero who saved countless lives. But, so let’s back up a little bit. Harriet Tubman, she’s born in 1820 on a plantation in Maryland. A plantation is kind of like a farm, run by slaves is probably the easiest way. Yeah, yeah. To put it in context. which, so Maryland, that’s kind of close to where you live, I think Brittany and Houston.
Brittany: Yeah, It is yep.
Connor: and her, name actually wasn’t Harriet, it was, Aramenta, but her parents, Harriet “Rit” Green, and Benjamin Ross nicknamed her Minty. And, so to honor her mother, she later changed her name to Harriet. Brittany, remind me, how many siblings do you have again?
Brittany: I have nine.
Connor: Okay. So, the Rosses didn’t quite have as many as your family but they got kind of close. she had eight siblings. but you know, as a slave, in those days, black people were treated like property. And I guess not even like property, they were, considered property, not just, not just similar to property. They were literally, treated as property. And, you know, keeping families together, wasn’t really a priority. So families would often be separated as siblings were sold off to different plantations, to different, slave masters. And so Harriet was separated from her family when she was just five.
Brittany: I, can’t even imagine that. Sorry. You can go on. That just shocks me.
Connor: I as just only gonna add there that, as a parent of two kids thinking, you know, when my children were five, what a harrowing experience that would’ve been through. Like, I can’t even imagine.
Brittany: I mean, I remember leaving my family for kindergarten. It was only like three hours a day. And even being separated from my mom that long, you know, I was so excited to get home. But being separated from my family for years, I mean, that shows you how truly evil slavery was. And as a five-year-old, I could barely pick up my room, right? I couldn’t do much when Harry was five, she was in charge of taking care of her master’s baby. So imagine feeding, changing diapers, and rocking a baby when you are basically still a baby yourself.
Connor: So anyone who’s been around a baby knows that you know, sometimes they cry no matter what you do. But, for Harriet, if the baby cried or was cranky, she was beaten for it. many slaves, you know, they’d want to work in the big plantation homes because it freed them from the hard manual labor in the fields. Think of, you know, hunched over all day long, picking cotton and fingers bleeding, and, you know, just out in the sun. and so, you know, working in the home was often considered ideal, sheltered from the elements and not dirty all the time, not hunched over. But, you know, when Harriet was finally allowed to work outside, she never wanted to go back to indoor labor again. And, you can’t really blame her since from a young child. She was beaten just because, you know, the baby she was caring for was, was naturally, crying as babies do. And so working with her hands in the fields actually gave Harriet a sense of control. It made her strong, and she liked that.
Brittany: This part of the story really infuriates me. So after spending 20 years as a slave, her master died, and he freed both her and her mother. And that was actually, that was fairly common. If a slave owner felt, you know, so inclined if they liked their slaves, they would free their slaves and their will so that after they died, they, you know, they were free. But a freed slave didn’t really give you all the freedoms as like a white person, right? You were still, a black person in a world where slavery was, was very prominent. And so, even though her old owner freed her, the new plantation owner refused to acknowledge that freedom. so she went back into slavery. I mean, imagine being told you’re free. And then, ugh, that taken away. I can’t even imagine. So eventually her father was freed, but he didn’t wanna leave his family behind, he stayed with the family, which I mean, I, just, that, part always kind of makes me tear up because I can’t imagine being given that freedom and then saying like, no, I need to stick here, you know, and stay by my family.
Connor: Yeah, she, Harriet, she eventually married a freed, former slave. And, so that’s where the last name Tubman comes from. But, you know, he wasn’t that kind to her, just like her, you know, plantation owners had been. And so, you know, took out his anger on her physically. And so here she is between being a slave and being beaten when she steps outta line. And then she’s got a freed, you know, black former slave husband who’s abusive to her. So she decides, you know, she’s had enough. And so she’s 26 at this point, several, several, you know, years into, spending time as a slave, her whole childhood and, young adulthood, she decides to run away, leaving her old life behind. She flees north along a route called the Underground Railroad, where, you know, slaves would kind of help one another, and you’d be able to hide at various points and kind of try and work your way north towards freedom. And so after many days, she made it, and she got a job as a housekeeper. and so you like, try and put yourself in that mindset. You’ve been abused, you’ve been beaten, you’ve been mistreated, you haven’t enjoyed freedoms here. Finally, you have freedom. you’ve achieved it. You’ve escaped, you have a job. You’re earning money, you can rebuild your life. But, to her credit, Harriet was not content to just sit there and enjoy her life in freedom. She wanted to help others. And that’s where her, she kind of makes a name for herself.
Brittany: And this is, I mean, this is where the story gets so good. So risking her own life, Harriet travels back to Maryland where she’s, I mean, she could have been caught. And even though she was free, well, she wasn’t freed, right? She ran away, right? So she could have faced, you know, horrible consequences. But she went back to Maryland, rescued her niece and her niece’s daughter, and then once again, youth, the Underground Railroad to get back to Pennsylvania, where she had taken the job as a housekeeper, and she got them back to freedom. And this got more complicated to do once the Fugitive Slave Act became legal, and we’ve talked about this before. So that made it legal where if a slave had made it to the North to freedom, they had to be returned back to their slave owners in the South if they were caught. But that didn’t stopper.
Connor: Well. And she had actually been using this underground network of people, to help her. And she helped grow it. She helped, other people, develop this system of like this network of people helping one another to help more people escape. And so, you know, they’d have instructions on which routes to take, depending on the season, depending on the weather, you know, instructions on how to get, abolitionists, the, an abolitionist is a white person who was very opposed to slavery. And so, you know, there’d be instructions on how to, work with them and who they were and which houses would keep them safe. While these, you know, slaves were on their way towards freedom to escape. So by the time she’s 40, she’s helped bring over 300 slaves Wow. To freedom. And, what’s remarkable about that is that you know, anyone could have done this in the sense that, it was possible to run away and go north. It was very dangerous, but it was possible. But, the fear of the unknown would often keep people trapped in slavery. I mean, you know, they’d live in different homes than their, you know, masters and, they could escape in the night and try and run away. And you know, of course, the slave owners would wake up and get the dogs and go hunt them down and try and follow the scent and recapture them. There were a lot of dangers. And so people feared doing this once for themselves, right? They, would often just stay there in slavery rather than risk, you know, being, captured and, returned to slavery. And, so here’s Harriet, who doesn’t just do it once. she’s, doing this over and over and over and over again. At any point, she could have been caught both going back down south to, you know, rescue these people. And then once again, returning north. She doesn’t just do it once as, fearful of people were of doing this once. She does it so many times. and I just, I consider that amazing how many lives she rescued from slavery.
Brittany: And this is all before the Civil War broke out, keep in mind. So, then the Civil War breaks out, and Harriet helped the Union by showing them the secret routes that she had taken. And this is all while continuing to bring slaves to freedom. So she’s doing two, you know, two things at once. And another thing that is not often talked about that I love is she was pretty good with the gun. So this is not somebody, you who, was, you know, she was good with a gun. And as a female that wants to protect herself, that’s one of my favorite aspects of Harriet Tubman. Now, the problem was, even though the north is seen as this benevolent, you know, savior of slavery, there’s a lot of complications to that, we won’t get into this episode, but she was never justly compensated for her work, cuz she even like, helped spy for them and really helped them win in a lot of ways. And she gave everything she had. And she remember, she wasn’t justly compensated, so she didn’t have a lot of money, but she gave everything she had to help the less fortunate and even well into her old age. And after the war had ended, so at 75, the government’s finally like, oops, you know, we, probably should have paid you more for all this work. you know you did. So she finally begins receiving a pension, which is like money the government gives you after you’ve retired for doing your job, which that’s a whole other conversation. but she had earned that money. And, I mean, she was a soldier really in a spy. and she donated that money to start the Harriet Tubman home for the age where she still cared for the elderly, and they were able to receive care even if they weren’t able to pay. So, I mean, here’s a woman who had been through so much, who honestly, you know, deserved to live a well and a comfortable life with money. And, she chose to continue helping people till the end of her life.
Connor: Well, and, this is what I like about our TuttleTwins Guide to Courageous Heroes, because with each of these stories like Harriets, you, have to kind of put yourself in their shoes or try as best as you can and ponder whether you would have the strength and the courage to do the same thing. If you were in her shoes if you were in those circumstances, how would you have acted? And if the answer is, I don’t know, or if the answer is, I wouldn’t have done that, right? These stories then serve as an inspiration for us to figure out how we can change ourselves so that we can be more courageous so that we can be more heroic. And, you know, we’re not gonna be in the same situation as Harriet was. She was a product of her time and her circumstances and the unfortunate, environment that she grew up in. But I think the point is that we’re all gonna be placed in situations where we have to make a choice whether to stand up for what is right or, you know, to be scared, to put our heads down, go along with the flow, even when bad things are happening to, to us and to those who care about, you know, the choosing the right is not necessarily the easiest path. but you know, there’s different evils in our own day, and there will be in the future, like slavery, right? How we respond, how we stand up to these, wrongs, to this wrongdoing. That’s what makes someone a hero. And so, obviously, on this episode, we can’t get into the full rich story. You’re gonna want to get that guidebook, head to Tuttletwins.com/products, scroll down, and you’ll see this and the other guidebook that we just, put out not too long ago. these chapters, these stories are inspirational and they’re great for family discussion to try and think through, you know, what’s happening in our day? What, circumstances are happening today, that we should stand up against what might be happening in the future that I, as a parent maybe need to be preparing my children for? And instilling in them the character traits so that when they face, you know, challenges and evils in their own day, that they will be able to stand up. So that’s why working on this book was so exciting, Harriet’s story. Like all the other stories are so inspirational and I think great for a family discussion so that we can figure out how, how we might have acted and how we should act in the future. So, great topic, Britney. Good conversation. Guys head to Tuttletwins.com/guide. you can check out those guidebooks, make sure you grab ’em for your family. And until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.