While preparing this second edition of Harriet's story, I have been much pleased to find that that good man, Oliver Johnson, is still living and in New York City. And I have just returned from a very pleasant interview with him. He remembers Harriet with great pleasure, though he has not seen her for many years. He speaks, as all who knew her do, of his entire confidence in her truthfulness and in the perfect integrity of her character.
He remembered her coming into his office with Joe, as I have stated it, and said he wished he could recall to me other incidents connected with her. But during those years, there were such numbers of fugitive slaves coming into the Anti-Slavery Office, that he might not tell the incidents of any one group correctly. No records were kept, as that would be so unsafe for the poor creatures, and those who aided them. He said, "You know Harriet never spoke of anything she had done, as if it was at all remarkable, or as if it deserved any commendation, but I remember one day, when she came into the office there was a Boston lady there, a warm-hearted, impulsive woman, who was engaged heart and hand in the Anti-Slavery cause.
"Harriet was telling, in her simple way, the story of her last journey. A party of fugitives were to meet her in a wood, that she might conduct them North. For some unexplained reason they did not come. Night came on and with it a blinding snow storm and a raging wind. She protected herself behind a tree as well as she could, and remained all night alone exposed to the fury of the storm."
"'Why, Harriet!' said this lady, 'didn't you almost feel when you were lying alone, as if there was no God?' 'Oh, no! missus,' said Harriet, looking up in her child-like, simple way, 'I jest asked Jesus to take keer of me, an' He never let me git frost-bitten one bit.'"
In 1860 the first gun was fired from Fort Sumter; and this was the signal for a rush to arms at the North and the South, and the war of the rebellion was begun. Troops were hurried off from the North to the West and the South, and battles raged in every part of the Southern States. By land and by sea, and on the Southern rivers, the conflict raged, and thousands and thousands of brave men shed their blood for what was maintained by each side to be the true principle.
This war our brave heroine had expected, and its result, the emancipation of the slaves. Three years before, while staying with the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet in New York, a vision came to her in the night of the emancipation of her people. Whether a dream, or one of those glimpses into the future, which sometimes seem to have been granted to her, no one can say, but the effect upon her was very remarkable.
She rose singing, "My people are free!" "My people are free!" She came down to breakfast singing the words in a sort of ecstasy. She could not eat. The dream or vision filled her whole soul, and physical needs were forgotten.
Mr. Garnet said to her:
"Oh, Harriet! Harriet! You've come to torment us before the time; do cease this noise! My grandchildren may see the day of the emancipation of our people, but you and I will never see it."
"I tell you, sir, you'll see it, and you'll see it soon. My people are free! My people are free."
When, three years later, President Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation was given forth, and there was a great jubilee among the friends of the slaves, Harriet was continually asked, "Why do you not join with the rest in their rejoicing!" "Oh," she answered, "I had my jubilee three years ago. I rejoiced all I could den; I can't rejoice no more."
In some of the Southern States, spies and scouts were needed to lead our armies into the interior. The ignorant and degraded slaves feared the "Yankee Buckra" more than they did their own masters, and after the proclamation of President Lincoln, giving freedom to the slaves, a person in whom these poor creatures could trust, was needed to assure them that these white Northern men were friends, and that they would be safe, trusting themselves in their hands.
In the early days of the war, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, knowing well the brave and sagacious character of Harriet, sent for her, and asked her if she could go at a moment's notice, to act as spy and scout for our armies, and, if need be, to act as hospital nurse, in short, to be ready to give any required service to the Union cause.
There was much to be thought of; there were the old folks in the little home up in Auburn, there was the little farm of which she had taken the sole care; there were many dependents for whom she had provided by her daily toil. What was to become of them all if she deserted them? But the cause of the Union seemed to need her services, and after a few moments of reflection, she determined to leave all else, and go where it seemed that duty called her.
During those few years, the wants of the old people and of Harriet's other dependents were attended to by the kind people of Auburn. At that time, I often saw the old people, and wrote letters for them to officers at the South, asking from them tidings of Harriet. I received many letters in reply, all testifying to her faithfulness and bravery, and her untiring zeal for the welfare of our soldiers, black and white. She was often under fire from both armies; she led our forces through the jungle and the swamp, guided by an unseen hand. She gained the confidence of the slaves by her cheery words, and songs, and sacred hymns, and obtained from them much valuable information. She nursed our soldiers in the hospitals, and knew how, when they were dying by numbers of some malignant disease, with cunning skill to extract from roots and herbs, which grew near the source of the disease, the healing draught, which allayed the fever and restored numbers to health.
It is a shame to our government that such a valuable helper as this woman was not allowed pay or pension; but even was obliged to support herself during those days of incessant toil. Officers and men were paid. Indeed many enlisted from no patriotic motive, but because they were insured a support which they could not procure for themselves at home. But this woman sacrificed everything, and left her nearest and dearest, and risked her life hundreds of times for the cause of the Union, without one cent of recompense. She returned at last to her little home, to find it a scene of desolation. Her little place about to be sold to satisfy a mortgage, and herself without the means to redeem it.
Harriet was one of John Brown's "men." His brave and daring spirit found ready sympathy in her courageous heart; she sheltered him in her home in Canada, and helped him to plan his campaigns. I find in the life and letters of this remarkable man, written by Mr. F. B. Sanborn, occasional mention of Harriet, and her deep interest in Captain Brown's enterprises.
At one time he writes to his son from St. Catherine's, Canada:
"I came on here the day after you left Rochester. I am succeeding to all appearance beyond my expectations. Harriet Tubman hooked on her whole team at once. He (Harriet) is the most of a man naturally that I ever met with. There is abundant material here and of the right quality." She suggested the 4th of July to him as the time to begin operations. And Mr. Sanborn adds: "It was about the 4th of July, as Harriet, the African sybil, had suggested, that Brown first showed himself in the counties of Washington and Jefferson, on opposite sides of the lordly Potomac."
I find among her papers, many of which are defaced by being carried about with her for years, portions of these letters addressed to myself, by persons at the South, and speaking of the valuable assistance Harriet was rendering our soldiers in the hospital, and our armies in the field. At this time her manner of life, as related by herself, was this:
"Well, missus, I'd go to de hospital, I would, early eb'ry mornin'. I'd get a big chunk of ice, I would, and put it in a basin, and fill it with water; den I'd take a sponge and begin. Fust man I'd come to, I'd thrash away de flies, and dey'd rise, dey would, like bees roun' a hive. Den I'd begin to bathe der wounds, an' by de time I'd bathed off three or four, de fire and heat would have melted de ice and made de water warm, an' it would be as red as clar blood. Den I'd go an' git more ice, I would, an' by de time I got to de nex' ones, de flies would be roun' de fust ones black an' thick as eber." In this way she worked, day after day, till late at night; then she went home to her little cabin, and made about fifty pies, a great quantity of ginger-bread, and two casks of root beer. These she would hire some contraband to sell for her through the camps, and thus she would provide her support for another day; for this woman never received pay or pension, and never drew for herself but twenty days' rations during the four years of her labors. At one time she was called away from Hilton Head, by one of our officers, to come to Fernandina, where the men were "dying off like sheep," from dysentery. Harriet had acquired quite a reputation for her skill in curing this disease, by a medicine which she prepared from roots which grew near the waters which gave the disease. Here she found thousands of sick soldiers and contrabands, and immediately gave up her time and attention to them. At another time, we find her nursing those who were down by hundreds with small-pox and malignant fevers. She had never had these diseases, but she seems to have no more fear of death in one form than another. "De Lord would take keer of her till her time came, an' den she was ready to go."
When our armies and gun-boats first appeared in any part of the South, many of the poor negroes were as much afraid of "de Yankee Buckra" as of their own masters. It was almost impossible to win their confidence, or to get information from them. But to Harriet they would tell anything; and so it became quite important that she should accompany expeditions going up the rivers, or into unexplored parts of the country, to control and get information from those whom they took with them as guides.
General Hunter asked her at one time if she would go with several gun-boats up the Combahee River, the object of the expedition being to take up the torpedoes placed by the rebels in the river, to destroy railroads and bridges, and to cut off supplies from the rebel troops. She said she would go if Colonel Montgomery was to be appointed commander of the expedition. Colonel Montgomery was one of John Brown's men, and was well known to Harriet. Accordingly, Colonel Montgomery was appointed to the command, and Harriet, with several men under her, the principal of whom was J. Plowden, whose pass I have, accompanied the expedition. Harriet describes in the most graphic manner the appearance of the plantations as they passed up the river; the frightened negroes leaving their work and taking to the woods, at sight of the gun-boats; then coming to peer out like startled deer, and scudding away like the wind at the sound of the steam-whistle. "Well," said one old negro, "Mas'r said de Yankees had horns and tails, but I nebber beliebed it till now." But the word was passed along by the mysterious telegraphic communication existing among these simple people, that these were "Lincoln's gun-boats come to set them free." In vain, then, the drivers used their whips in their efforts to hurry the poor creatures back to their quarters; they all turned and ran for the gun-boats. They came down every road, across every field, just as they had left their work and their cabins; women with children clinging around their necks, hanging to their dresses, running behind, all making at full speed for "Lincoln's gun-boats." Eight hundred poor wretches at one time crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their deliverers, and they were all taken off upon the gun-boats, and carried down to Beaufort.
"I nebber see such a sight," said Harriet; "we laughed, an' laughed, an' laughed. Here you'd see a woman wid a pail on her head, rice a smokin' in it jus' as she'd taken it from de fire, young one hangin' on behind, one han' roun' her forehead to hold on, 'tother han' diggin' into de rice-pot, eatin' wid all its might; hold of her dress two or three more; down her back a bag wid a pig in it. One woman brought two pigs, a white one an' a black one; we took 'em all on board; named de white pig Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis. Sometimes de women would come wid twins hangin' roun' der necks; 'pears like I nebber see so many twins in my life; bags on der shoulders, baskets on der heads, and young ones taggin' behin', all loaded; pigs squealin', chickens screamin', young ones squallin'." And so they came pouring down to the gun-boats. When they stood on the shore, and the small boats put out to take them off, they all wanted to get in at once. After the boats were crowded, they would hold on to them so that they could not leave the shore. The oarsmen would beat them on their hands, but they would not let go; they were afraid the gun-boats would go off and leave them, and all wanted to make sure of one of these arks of refuge. At length Colonel Montgomery shouted from the upper deck, above the clamor of appealing tones, "Moses, you'll have to give em a song." Then Harriet lifted up her voice, and sang:
"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 alarmed, Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm."
At the end of every verse, the negroes in their enthusiasm would throw up their hands and shout "Glory," and the row-boats would take that opportunity to push off; and so at last they were all brought on board. The masters fled; houses and barns and railroad bridges were burned, tracks torn up, torpedoes destroyed, and the object of the expedition was fully accomplished.
This fearless woman was often sent into the rebel lines as a spy, and brought back valuable information as to the position of armies and batteries; she has been in battle when the shot was falling like hail, and the bodies of dead and wounded men were dropping around her like leaves in autumn; but the thought of fear never seems to have had place for a moment in her mind. She had her duty to perform, and she expected to be taken care of till it was done.
Would that, instead of taking them in this poor way at second-hand, my readers could hear this woman's graphic accounts of scenes she herself witnessed, could listen to her imitations of negro preachers in their own very peculiar dialect, her singing of camp-meeting hymns, her account of "experience meetings," her imitations of the dances, and the funeral ceremonies of these simple people. "Why, der language down dar in de far South is jus' as different from ours in Maryland as you can tink," said she. "Dey laughed when dey heard me talk, an' I could not understand dem, no how." She described a midnight funeral which she attended; for the slaves, never having been allowed to bury their dead in the day-time, continued the custom of night funerals from habit.
The corpse was laid upon the ground, and the people all sat round, the group being lighted up by pine torches.
The old negro preacher began by giving out a hymn, which was sung by all. "An' oh! I wish you could hear 'em sing, Missus," said Harriet. "Der voices is so sweet, and dey can sing eberyting we sing, an' den dey can sing a great many hymns dat we can't nebber catch at all."
The old preacher began his sermon by pointing to the dead man, who lay in a rude box on the ground before him.
"Shum? Ded-a-de-dah! Shum, David? Ded-a-de-dah! Now I want you all to flec' for moment. Who ob all dis congregation is gwine next to lie ded-e-de-dah? You can't go nowhere's, my frien's and bredren, but Deff 'll fin' you. You can't dig no hole so deep an' bury yourself dar, but God A'mighty's far-seein' eye'll fin' you, an' Deff 'll come arter you. You can't go into that big fort (pointing to Hilton Head), an' shut yourself up dar; dat fort dat Sesh Buckra said the debil couldn't take, but Deff 'll fin' you dar. All your frien's may forget you, but Deff 'll nebber forget you. Now, my bredren, prepare to lie ded-a-de-dah!"
This was the burden of a very long sermon, after which the whole congregation went round in a sort of solemn dance, called the "spiritual shuffle," shaking hands with each other, and calling each other by name as they sang:
"My sis'r Mary's boun' to go; My sis'r Nanny's boun' to go; My brudder Tony's boun' to go; My brudder July's boun' to go."
This to the same tune, till every hand had been shaken by every one of the company. When they came to Harriet, who was a stranger, they sang:
Eberybody's boun' to go!
The body was then placed in a Government wagon, and by the light of the pine torches, the strange, dark procession moved along, singing a rude funeral hymn, till they reached the place of burial.
Harriet's account of her interview with an old negro she met at Hilton Head, is amusing and interesting. He said, "I'd been yere seventy-three years, workin' for my master widout even a dime wages. I'd worked rain-wet sun-dry. I'd worked wid my mouf full of dust, but could not stop to get a drink of water. I'd been whipped, an' starved, an' I was always prayin', 'Oh! Lord, come an' delibber us!' All dat time de birds had been flyin', an' de rabens had been cryin', and de fish had been swimmin' in de waters. One day I look up, an' I see a big cloud; it didn't come up like as de clouds come out far yonder, but it 'peared to be right ober head. Der was thunders out of dat, an' der was lightnin's. Den I looked down on de water, an' I see, 'peared to me a big house in de water, an' out of de big house came great big eggs, and de good eggs went on trou' de air, an' fell into de fort; an' de bad eggs burst before dey got dar. Den de Sesh Buckra begin to run, an' de neber stop running till de git to de swamp, an' de stick dar an' de die dar. Den I heard 'twas de Yankee ship[D] firin' out de big eggs, an dey had come to set us free. Den I praise de Lord. He come an' put he little finger in de work, an de Sesh Buckra all go; and de birds stop flyin', and de rabens stop cryin', an' when I go to catch a fish to eat wid my rice, dey's no fish dar. De Lord A'mighty 'd come and frightened 'em all out of de waters. Oh! Praise de Lord! I'd prayed seventy-three years, an' now he's come an' we's all free."
[Footnote D: The Wabash.]
The following account of the subject of this memoir is cut from the Boston Commonwealth of 1863, kindly sent the writer by Mr. Sanborn:
"It was said long ago that the true romance of America was not in the fortunes of the Indian, where Cooper sought it, nor in New England character, where Judd found it, nor in the social contrasts of Virginia planters, as Thackeray imagined, but in the story of the fugitive slaves. The observation is as true now as it was before War, with swift, gigantic hand, sketched the vast shadows, and dashed in the high lights in which romance loves to lurk and flash forth. But the stage is enlarged on which these dramas are played, the whole world now sit as spectators, and the desperation or the magnanimity of a poor black woman has power to shake the nation that so long was deaf to her cries. We write of one of these heroines, of whom our slave annals are full—a woman whose career is as extraordinary as the most famous of her sex can show.
"Araminta Ross, now known by her married name of Tubman, with her sounding Christian name changed to Harriet, is the grand-daughter of a slave imported from Africa, and has not a drop of white blood in her veins. Her parents were Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, but married and faithful to each other. They still live in old age and poverty,[E] but free, on a little property at Auburn, N.Y., which their daughter purchased for them from Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State. She was born, as near as she can remember, in 1820 or in 1821, in Dorchester County, on the Eastern shore of Maryland, and not far from the town of Cambridge. She had ten brothers and sisters, of whom three are now living, all at the North, and all rescued from slavery by Harriet, before the War. She went back just as the South was preparing to secede, to bring away a fourth, but before she could reach her, she was dead. Three years before, she had brought away her old father and mother, at great risk to herself.
[Footnote E: Both dead for some years.]
"When Harriet was six years old, she was taken from her mother and carried ten miles to live with James Cook, whose wife was a weaver, to learn the trade of weaving. While still a mere child, Cook set her to watching his musk-rat traps, which compelled her to wade through the water. It happened that she was once sent when she was ill with the measles, and, taking cold from wading in the water in this condition, she grew very sick, and her mother persuaded her master to take her away from Cook's until she could get well.
"Another attempt was made to teach her weaving, but she would not learn, for she hated her mistress, and did not want to live at home, as she would have done as a weaver, for it was the custom then to weave the cloth for the family, or a part of it, in the house.
"Soon after she entered her teens she was hired out as a field hand, and it was while thus employed that she received a wound, which nearly proved fatal, from the effects of which she still suffers. In the fall of the year, the slaves there work in the evening, cleaning up wheat, husking corn, etc. On this occasion, one of the slaves of a farmer named Barrett, left his work, and went to the village store in the evening. The overseer followed him, and so did Harriet. When the slave was found, the overseer swore he should be whipped, and called on Harriet, among others, to help tie him. She refused, and as the man ran away, she placed herself in the door to stop pursuit. The overseer caught up a two-pound weight from the counter and threw it at the fugitive, but it fell short and struck Harriet a stunning blow on the head. It was long before she recovered from this, and it has left her subject to a sort of stupor or lethargy at times; coming upon her in the midst of conversation, or whatever she may be doing, and throwing her into a deep slumber, from which she will presently rouse herself, and go on with her conversation or work.
"After this she lived for five or six years with John Stewart, where at first she worked in the house, but afterward 'hired her time,' and Dr. Thompson, son of her master's guardian, 'stood for her,' that is, was her surety for the payment of what she owed. She employed the time thus hired in the rudest labors,—drove oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man,—sometimes earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master, 'to buy a pair of steers,' worth forty dollars. The amount exacted of a woman for her time was fifty or sixty dollars—of a man, one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars. Frequently Harriet worked for her father, who was a timber inspector, and superintended the cutting and hauling of great quantities of timber for the Baltimore ship-yards. Stewart, his temporary master, was a builder, and for the work of Ross used to receive as much as five dollars a day sometimes, he being a superior workman. While engaged with her father, she would cut wood, haul logs, etc. Her usual 'stint' was half a cord of wood in a day.
"Harriet was married somewhere about 1844, to a free colored man named John Tubman, but she had no children. For the last two years of slavery she lived with Dr. Thompson, before mentioned, her own master not being yet of age, and Dr. T.'s father being his guardian, as well as the owner of her own father. In 1849 the young man died, and the slaves were to be sold, though previously set free by an old will. Harriet resolved not to be sold, and so, with no knowledge of the North—having only heard of Pennsylvania and New Jersey—she walked away one night alone. She found a friend in a white lady, who knew her story and helped her on her way. After many adventures, she reached Philadelphia, where she found work and earned a small stock of money. With this money in her purse, she traveled back to Maryland for her husband, but she found him married to another woman, and no longer caring to live with her. This, however, was not until two years after her escape, for she does not seem to have reached her old home in the first two expeditions. In December, 1850, she had visited Baltimore and brought away her sister and two children, who had come up from Cambridge in a boat, under charge of her sister's husband, a free black. A few months after she had brought away her brother and two other men, but it was not till the fall of 1851, that she found her husband and learned of his infidelity. She did not give way to rage or grief, but collected a party of fugitives and brought them safely to Philadelphia. In December of the same year, she returned, and led out a party of eleven, among them her brother and his wife. With these she journeyed to Canada, and there spent the winter, for this was after the enforcement of Mason's Fugitive Slave Bill in Philadelphia and Boston, and there was no safety except 'under the paw of the British Lion,' as she quaintly said. But the first winter was terribly severe for these poor runaways. They earned their bread by chopping wood in the snows of a Canadian forest; they were frost-bitten, hungry, and naked. Harriet was their good angel. She kept house for her brother, and the poor creatures boarded with her. She worked for them, begged for them, prayed for them, with the strange familiarity of communion with God which seems natural to these people, and carried them by the help of God through the hard winter.
"In the spring she returned to the States, and as usual earned money by working in hotels and families as a cook. From Cape May, in the fall of 1852, she went back once more to Maryland, and brought away nine more fugitives.
"Up to this time she had expended chiefly her own money in these expeditions—money which she had earned by hard work in the drudgery of the kitchen. Never did any one more exactly fulfill the sense of George Herbert—
"'A servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine.'
"But it was not possible for such virtues long to remain hidden from the keen eyes of the Abolitionists. She became known to Thomas Garrett, the large-hearted Quaker of Wilmington, who has aided the escape of three thousand fugitives; she found warm friends in Philadelphia and New York, and wherever she went. These gave her money, which he never spent for her own use, but laid up for the help of her people, and especially for her journeys back to the 'land of Egypt,' as she called her old home. By reason of her frequent visits there, always carrying away some of the oppressed, she got among her people the name of 'Moses,' which it seems she still retains.
"Between 1852 and 1857, she made but two of these journeys, in consequence partly of the increased vigilance of the slave-holders, who had suffered so much by the loss of their property. A great reward was offered for her capture and she several times was on the point of being taken, but always escaped by her quick wit, or by 'warnings' from Heaven—for it is time to notice one singular trait in her character. She is the most shrewd and practical person in the world, yet she is a firm believer in omens, dreams, and warnings. She declares that before her escape from slavery, she used to dream of flying over fields and towns, and rivers and mountains, looking down upon them 'like a bird,' and reaching at last a great fence, or sometimes a river, over which she would try to fly, 'but it 'peared like I wouldn't hab de strength, and jes as I was sinkin' down, dere would be ladies all drest in white ober dere, and dey would put out dere arms and pull me 'cross.' There is nothing strange in this, perhaps, but she declares that when she came North she remembered these very places as those she had seen in her dreams, and many of the ladies who befriended her were those she had been helped by in her vision.
"Then she says she always knows when there is danger near her—she does not know how, exactly, but ''pears like my heart go flutter, flutter, and den dey may say "Peace, Peace," as much as dey likes, I know its gwine to be war!' She is very firm on this point, and ascribes to this her great impunity, in spite of the lethargy before mentioned, which would seem likely to throw her into the hands of her enemies. She says she inherited this power, that her father could always predict the weather, and that he foretold the Mexican war.
"In 1857 she made her most venturesome journey, for she brought with her to the North her old parents, who were no longer able to walk such distances as she must go by night. Consequently she must hire a wagon for them, and it required all her ingenuity to get them through Maryland and Delaware safe. She accomplished it, however, and by the aid of her friends she brought them safe to Canada, where they spent the winter. Her account of their sufferings there—of her mother's complaining and her own philosophy about it—is a lesson of trust in Providence better than many sermons. But she decided to bring them to a more comfortable place, and so she negotiated with Mr. Seward—then in the Senate—for a little patch of ground. To the credit of the Secretary of State it should be said, that he sold her the property on very favorable terms, and gave her some time for payment. To this house she removed her parents, and set herself to work to pay for the purchase. It was on this errand that she first visited Boston—we believe in the winter of 1858-59. She brought a few letters from her friends in New York, but she could herself neither read nor write, and she was obliged to trust to her wits that they were delivered to the right persons. One of them, as it happened, was to the present writer, who received it by another hand, and called to see her at her boarding-house. It was curious to see the caution with which she received her visitor until she felt assured that there was no mistake. One of her means of security was to carry with her the daguerreotypes of her friends, and show them to each new person. If they recognized the likeness, then it was all right.
"Pains were taken to secure her the attention to which her great services of humanity entitled her, and she left New England with a handsome sum of money toward the payment of her debt to Mr. Seward. Before she left, however, she had several interviews with Captain Brown, then in Boston. He is supposed to have communicated his plans to her, and to have been aided by her in obtaining recruits and money among her people. At any rate, he always spoke of her with the greatest respect, and declared that 'General Tubman,' as he styled her, was a better officer than most whom he had seen, and could command an army as successfully as she had led her small parties of fugitives.
"Her own veneration for Captain Brown has always been profound, and since his murder, has taken the form of a religion. She had often risked her own life for her people, and she thought nothing of that; but that a white man, and a man so noble and strong, should so take upon himself the burden of a despised race, she could not understand, and she took refuge from her perplexity in the mysteries of her fervid religion.
"Again, she laid great stress on a dream which she had just before she met Captain Brown in Canada. She thought she was in 'a wilderness sort of place, all full of rocks, and bushes,' when she saw a serpent raise its head among the rocks, and as it did so, it became the head of an old man with a long white beard, gazing at her, 'wishful like, jes as ef he war gwine to speak to me,' and then two other heads rose up beside him, younger than he,—and as she stood looking at them, and wondering what they could want with her, a great crowd of men rushed in and struck down the younger heads, and then the head of the old man, still looking at her so 'wishful.' This dream she had again and again, and could not interpret it; but when she met Captain Brown, shortly after, behold, he was the very image of the head she had seen. But still she could not make out what her dream signified, till the news came to her of the tragedy of Harper's Ferry, and then she knew the two other heads were his two sons. She was in New York at that time, and on the day of the affair at Harper's Ferry she felt her usual warning that something was wrong—she could not tell what. Finally she told her hostess that it must be Captain Brown who was in trouble, and that they should soon hear bad news from him. The next day's newspaper brought tidings of what had happened.
"Her last visit to Maryland was made after this, in December, 1860; and in spite of the agitated condition of the country, and the greater watchfulness of the slave-holders, she brought away seven fugitives, one of them an infant, which must be drugged with opium to keep it from crying on the way, and so revealing the hiding-place of the party."
In the spring of 1860, Harriet Tubman was requested by Mr. Gerrit Smith to go to Boston to attend a large Anti-Slavery meeting. On her way, she stopped at Troy to visit a cousin, and while there the colored people were one day startled with the intelligence that a fugitive slave, by the name of Charles Nalle, had been followed by his master (who was his younger brother, and not one grain whiter than he), and that he was already in the hands of the officers, and was to be taken back to the South. The instant Harriet heard the news, she started for the office of the United States Commissioner, scattering the tidings as she went. An excited crowd was gathered about the office, through which Harriet forced her way, and rushed up stairs to the door of the room where the fugitive was detained. A wagon was already waiting before the door to carry off the man, but the crowd was even then so great, and in such a state of excitement, that the officers did not dare to bring the man down. On the opposite side of the street stood the colored people, watching the window where they could see Harriet's sun-bonnet, and feeling assured that so long as she stood there, the fugitive was still in the office. Time passed on, and he did not appear. "They've taken him out another way, depend upon that," said some of the colored people. "No," replied others, "there stands 'Moses' yet, and as long as she is there, he is safe." Harriet, now seeing the necessity for a tremendous effort for his rescue, sent out some little boys to cry fire. The bells rang, the crowd increased, till the whole street was a dense mass of people. Again and again the officers came out to try and clear the stairs, and make a way to take their captive down; others were driven down, but Harriet stood her ground, her head bent and her arms folded. "Come, old woman, you must get out of this," said one of the officers; "I must have the way cleared; if you can't get down alone, some one will help you." Harriet, still putting on a greater appearance of decrepitude, twitched away from him, and kept her place. Offers were made to buy Charles from his master, who at first agreed to take twelve hundred dollars for him; but when this was subscribed, he immediately raised the price to fifteen hundred. The crowd grew more excited. A gentleman raised a window and called out, "Two hundred dollars for his rescue, but not one cent to his master!" This was responded to by a roar of satisfaction from the crowd below. At length the officers appeared, and announced to the crowd, that if they would open a lane to the wagon, they would promise to bring the man down the front way.
The lane was opened, and the man was brought out—a tall, handsome, intelligent white man, with his wrists manacled together, walking between the U.S. Marshal and another officer, and behind him his brother and his master, so like him that one could hardly be told from the other. The moment they appeared, Harriet roused from her stooping posture, threw up a window, and cried to her friends: "Here he comes—take him!" and then darted down the stairs like a wild-cat. She seized one officer and pulled him down, then another, and tore him away from the man; and keeping her arms about the slave, she cried to her friends: "Drag us out! Drag him to the river! Drown him! but don't let them have him!" They were knocked down together, and while down, she tore off her sun-bonnet and tied it on the head of the fugitive. When he rose, only his head could be seen, and amid the surging mass of people the slave was no longer recognized, while the master appeared like the slave. Again and again they were knocked down, the poor slave utterly helpless, with his manacled wrists, streaming with blood. Harriet's outer clothes were torn from her, and even her stout shoes were pulled from her feet, yet she never relinquished her hold of the man, till she had dragged him to the river, where he was tumbled into a boat, Harriet following in a ferry-boat to the other side. But the telegraph was ahead of them, and as soon as they landed he was seized and hurried from her sight. After a time, some school children came hurrying along, and to her anxious inquiries they answered, "He is up in that house, in the third story." Harriet rushed up to the place. Some men were attempting to make their way up the stairs. The officers were firing down, and two men were lying on the stairs, who had been shot. Over their bodies our heroine rushed, and with the help of others burst open the door of the room, and dragged out the fugitive, whom Harriet carried down stairs in her arms. A gentleman who was riding by with a fine horse, stopped to ask what the disturbance meant; and on hearing the story, his sympathies seemed to be thoroughly aroused; he sprang from his wagon, calling out, "That is a blood-horse, drive him till he drops." The poor man was hurried in; some of his friends jumped in after him, and drove at the most rapid rate to Schenectady.
This is the story Harriet told to the writer. By some persons it seemed too wonderful for belief, and an attempt was made to corroborate it. Rev. Henry Fowler, who was at the time at Saratoga, kindly volunteered to go to Troy and ascertain the facts. His report was, that he had had a long interview with Mr. Townsend, who acted during the trial as counsel for the slave, that he had given him a "rich narration," which he would write out the next week for this little book. But before he was to begin his generous labor, and while engaged in some kind efforts for the prisoners at Auburn, he was stricken down by the heat of the sun, and was for a long time debarred from labor.
This good man died not long after and the promised narration was never written, but a statement by Mr. Townsend was sent me, which I copy here:
Statements made by Martin I. Townsend, Esq., of Troy, who was counsel for the fugitive, Charles Nalle.
Nalle is an octoroon; his wife has the same infusion of Caucasian blood. She was the daughter of her master, and had, with her sister, been bred by him in his family, as his own child. When the father died, both of these daughters were married and had large families of children. Under the highly Christian national laws of "Old Virginny," these children were the slaves of their grandfather. The old man died, leaving a will, whereby he manumitted his daughters and their children, and provided for the purchase of the freedom of their husbands. The manumission of the children and grandchildren took effect; but the estate was insufficient to purchase the husbands of his daughters, and the fathers of his grandchildren. The manumitted, by another Christian, "conservative," and "national" provision of law, were forced to leave the State, while the slave husbands remained in slavery. Nalle, and his brother-in-law, were allowed for a while to visit their families outside Virginia about once a year, but were at length ordered to provide themselves with new wives, as they would be allowed to visit their former ones no more. It was after this that Nalle and his brother-in-law started for the land of freedom, guided by the steady light of the north star. Thank God, neither family now need fear any earthly master or the bay of the blood-hound dogging their fugitive steps.
Nalle returned to Troy with his family about July, 1860, and resided with them there for more than seven years. They are all now residents of the city of Washington, D.C. Nalle and his family are persons of refined manners, and of the highest respectability. Several of his children are red-haired, and a stranger would discover no trace of African blood in their complexions or features. It was the head of this family whom H.F. Averill proposed to doom to returnless exile and life-long slavery.
When Nalle was brought from Commissioner Beach's office into the street, Harriet Tubman, who had been standing with the excited crowd, rushed amongst the foremost to Nalle, and running one of her arms around his manacled arm, held on to him without ever loosening her hold through the more than half-hour's struggle to Judge Gould's office, and from Judge Gould's office to the dock, where Nalle's liberation was accomplished. In the meelee she was repeatedly beaten over the head with policemen's clubs, but she never for a moment released her hold, but cheered Nalle and his friends with her voice, and struggled with the officers until they were literally worn out with their exertions, and Nalle was separated from them.
True, she had strong and earnest helpers in her struggle, some of whom had white faces as well as human hearts, and are now in Heaven. But she exposed herself to the fury of the sympathizers with slavery, without fear, and suffered their blows without flinching. Harriet crossed the river with the crowd, in the ferry-boat, and when the men who led the assault upon the door of Judge Stewart's office were stricken down, Harriet and a number of other colored women rushed over their bodies, brought Nalle out, and putting him in the first wagon passing, started him for the West.
A lively team, driven by a colored man, was immediately sent on to relieve the other, and Nalle was seen about Troy no more until he returned a free man by purchase from his master. Harriet also disappeared, and the crowd dispersed. How she came to be in Troy that day, is entirely unknown to our citizens; and where she hid herself after the rescue, is equally a mystery. But her struggle was in the sight of a thousand, perhaps of five thousand spectators.
On asking Harriet particularly, as to the age of her mother, she answered, "Well, I'll tell you, Missus. Twenty-three years ago, in Maryland, I paid a lawyer five dollars to look up the will of my mother's first master. He looked back sixty years, and said it was time to give up. I told him to go back furder. He went back sixty-five years, and there he found the will—giving the girl Ritty to his grand-daughter (Mary Patterson), to serve her and her offspring till she was forty-five years of age." This grand-daughter died soon after, unmarried; and as there was no provision for Ritty, in case of her death, she was actually emancipated at that time. But no one informed her of the fact, and she and her dear children remained in bondage till emancipated by the courage and determination of this heroic daughter and sister. The old woman must then, it seems, be ninety-eight years of age,[F] and the old man has probably numbered as many years. And yet these old people, living out beyond the toll-gate, on the South Street road, Auburn, come in every Sunday—more than a mile—to the Central Church. To be sure, deep slumbers settle down upon them as soon as they are seated, which continue undisturbed till the congregation is dismissed; but they have done their best, and who can doubt that they receive a blessing. Immediately after this they go to class-meeting at the Methodist Church. Then they wait for a third service, and after that start out home again.
[Footnote F: This was written in the year '68, and the old people both lived several years after that time.]
Harriet supposes that the whole family were actually free, and were kept wrongfully in a state of slavery all those long years; but she simply states the fact, without any mourning or lamenting over the wrong and the misery of it all, accepting it as the will of God, and, therefore, not to be rebelled against.
This woman, of whom you have been reading, is now old and feeble, suffering from the effects of her life of unusual labor and hardship, as well as from repeated injuries; but she is still at work for her people. For many years, even long before the war, her little home has been the refuge of the hunted and the homeless, for whom she had provided; and I have seen as many as eight or ten dependents upon her care at one time living there.
It has always been a hospital, but she feels the need of a large one, and only prays to see this, "her last work," completed ere she goes hence.
Without claiming any of my dear old Harriet's prophetic vision, I seem to see a future day when the wrongs of earth will be righted, and justice, long delayed, will assert itself. I seem to see that our poor Harriet has passed within "one of dem gates," and has received the welcome, "Come, thou blessed of my Father; for I was hungry and you gave me meat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me."
And when she asks, "Lord, when did I do all this?" He answers:
"Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it unto me."
And as she stands in her modest way just within the celestial gate, I seem to see a kind hand laid upon her dark head, and to hear a gentle voice saying in her ear, "Friend, come up higher!"
SOME ADDITIONAL INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF "HARRIET."
The story of this remarkable black woman has been attracting renewed interest of late, and I have often been asked to publish another edition of the book, and to add some interesting and amusing incidents which I have related to my friends.
Harriet is very old and feeble now; she does not know how old, but probably between eighty and ninety. Her years of toil and adventure have told upon her, and she may not last much longer. If she does, she will still need help which she would never ask for herself, but which this little book may give her; when she dies, it may aid in putting up a fitting monument to her memory, which should always be "kept green."
As time goes on, the horrors of the days of slavery are by many forgotten, and the children who have been born since the War of the Rebellion know of that fearful straggle, and of the causes that led to it, only as a tradition of long ago.
Even in the city where Harriet has so long lived her quiet and unobtrusive life, it is not an uncommon thing to meet a young person who has never even heard her name.
Those who know the principal facts of her eventful history may be interested to read these few added incidents, which she has related to me from time to time.
A year or two ago, as I was staying at the summer home of my brother, Professor Hopkins, on Owasco Lake, Harriet came up to see us; it was after lunch, and my brother ordered a table to be set for her on the broad shaded piazza and waited on her himself, bringing her cups of tea and other good things, as if it were a pleasure and an honor to serve her.
There is a quiet dignity about Harriet that makes her superior or indifferent to all surrounding circumstances; whether seated at the hospitable board of Gerrit Smith or any other white gentleman, as she often was, or sent to the kitchen, where the white domestics refused to eat with a "nigger," it was all the same to Harriet; she was never elated, or humiliated; she took everything as it came, making no comments or complaints.
And so she sat quietly eating her lunch, and talking with us. After the lunch was over, as we sat on the piazza waiting for the steamboat to take her back to Auburn, she said:
"I often think, Missus, of things I wish I had told you before you wrote de book. Now, as I come up on de boat I thought of one thing thet happened to me when I was very little.
"I was only seven years old when I was sent away to take car' of a baby. I was so little dat I had to sit down on de flo' and hev de baby put in my lap. An' dat baby was allus in my lap 'cept when it was asleep, or its mother was feedin' it.
"One mornin' after breakfast she had de baby, an' I stood by de table waitin' till I was to take it; just by me was a bowl of lumps of white sugar. My Missus got into a great quarrel wid her husband; she had an awful temper, an' she would scole an' storm, an' call him all sorts of names. Now you know, Missus, I never had nothing good; no sweet, no sugar, an' dat sugar, right by me, did look so nice, an' my Missus's back was turned to me while she was fightin' wid her husband, so I jes' put my fingers in de sugar bowl to take one lump, an' maybe she heard me, an' she turned an' saw me. De nex' minute she had de raw hide down; I give one jump out of de do', an' I saw dey came after me, but I jes' flew, and dey didn't catch me. I ran, an' I ran, an' I run, I passed many a house, but I didn't dar' to stop, for dey all knew my Missus an' dey would send me back. By an' by, when I was clar tuckered out, I come to a great big pig-pen. Dar was an ole sow dar, an' perhaps eight or ten little pigs. I was too little to climb into it, but I tumbled ober de high board, an' fell in on de ground; I was so beat out I couldn't stir.
"An' dere, Missus, I stayed from Friday till de nex' Chuesday, fightin' wid dose little pigs for de potato peelin's an" oder scraps dat came down in de trough. De ole sow would push me away when I tried to git her chillen's food, an' I was awful afeard of her. By Chuesday I was so starved I knowed I'd got to go back to my Missus, I hadn't got no whar else to go, but I knowed what was comin.' So I went back."
"And she gave you an awful flogging, I suppose, Harriet?"
"No, Missus, but he did."
This was all that was said, but probably that flogging left some of those scars which cover her neck and back to this day.
Think of a poor little helpless thing seven years old enduring all this terror and suffering, and yet few people are as charitable to the slave-holders as Harriet. "Dey don' know no better, Missus; it's de way dey was brought up. 'Make de little nigs min' you, or flog 'em,' was what was said to de chillen, and dey was brought up wid de whip in der hand. Now, min' you, Missus, dat wasn't de way on all de plantations; dere was good Marsters an' Missuses, as I've heard tell, but I didn't happen to come across 'em."
There is frequent mention made in the Memoir of Harriet's firm and unwavering trust in God in times of great perplexity or deadly peril, when she often had occasion to say, "Vain is the help of man, but in God is my help." I have never known another instance of such implicit trust and confidence.
Very soon after the Civil War her house was turned into a hospital, and no poor helpless creature of her race was ever turned from her door. Indeed, all through the war, and through the cruel reign of the fugitive slave law, her house was one of the depots of the "Underground Railway," as that secret and unseen mode of conveying the hunted fugitives was called, and when the war was over she established a hospital, which for many years, indeed till she was too ill herself to take charge of it, has been the refuge of the sufferers of her race who had no earthly dependence but Harriet.
Very often this woman, except for her trust in "de Lawd," had had no idea where the next meal was to come from, but she troubled herself no more about it than if she had been a Vanderbilt or an Astor. "De Lawd will provide" was her motto, and He never failed her.
One day, in passing through Auburn, I was impelled to stop over a train, and drive out to see what were the needs of my colored friend, and to take her some supplies.
Her little house was always neat and comfortable, and the small parlor was nicely and rather prettily furnished. The lame, the halt, and the blind, the bruised and crippled little children, and one crazy woman, were all brought in to see me, and "the blind woman" (she seemed to have no other name), a very old woman who had been Harriet's care for eighteen years, was led into the room—an interesting and pathetic group.
On leaving, I said to her: "If you will come out to the carriage, Harriet, there are some provisions there for you."
She turned to one of her poor dependents and said: "What did you say to me dis mornin'? You said, 'We hadn't got nothin' to eat in de house,' and what did I say to you? I said, 'I've got a rich Father!'"
Nothing that comes to this remarkable woman ever surprises her. She says very little in the way of thanks, except to the Giver of all good. How the knowledge comes to her no one can tell, but she seems always to know when help is coming, and she is generally on hand to receive it, though it is never for herself she wants it, but only for those under her care.
I must not forget to mention the Indian girls of the Fort Wrangel School, who, having read a little notice of Harriet in the "Evangelist," went to work, and by their daily labor raised thirty-seven dollars which they sent to me for Harriet—and this school has been disbanded, and these educated girls have been sent back to their wretched homes, because our Government could not afford to support it any longer!
Pundita Ramabai went about this time to see Harriet and they had an interesting talk together. Here was a remarkable trio taking hold of hands—the woman from East India, the Indian girl from the far West, and the black woman from the Southern States only two removes from an African savage!
Once when she came to New York, where she had not been in twenty years, and was starting off alone to find some friends miles away in a part of the city which she had never seen, we remonstrated with her, telling her she would surely be lost.
"Now, Missus," she said, "don't you t'ink dis ole head dat done de navigatin' down in Egypt can do de navigatin' up here in New York?"
And she walked many miles, scorning a "cyar," and found all the people she wished to see.
Harriet was known by various names among her Southern friends. One of these was "Ole Chariot," perhaps as a rhyme to the name by which they called her.
And so, often when she went to bring away a band of refugees, she would sing as she walked the dark country roads by night:
"When dat ar' ole chariot comes, Who's gwine wid me?"
And from some unseen singer would come the response:
"When dat ar' ole chariot comes, I'se gwine wid you."
And by some wireless telegraphy known only to the initiated it would be made known in one cabin or another where their deliverer was waiting concealed, and when she would be ready to pilot them on their long journey to freedom.
A Woman's Suffrage Meeting was held in Rochester a year or two ago, and Harriet came to attend it. She generally attended every meeting of women, on whatever subject, if possible to do so.
She was led into the church by an adopted daughter, whom she had rescued from death when a baby, and had brought up as her own.
The church was warm and Harriet was tired, and soon after she entered deep sleep fell upon her.
Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton were on the platform, and after speeches had been made and business accomplished, one of these ladies said:
"Friends, we have in the audience that wonderful woman, Harriet Tubman, from whom we should like to hear, if she will kindly come to the platform."
People looked around at Harriet, but Harriet was fast asleep.
"Mother! mother!" said the young girl; "they are calling for you," but it was some time before Harriet could be made to understand where she was, or what was wanted of her. At length, she was led out into the aisle and was assisted by one of these kind ladies on to the platform.
Harriet looked around, wondering why so many white ladies were gathered there. I think it was Miss Anthony who led her forward, saying:
"Ladies, I am glad to present to you Harriet Tubman, 'the conductor of the Underground Railroad.'"
"Yes, ladies," said Harriet, "I was de conductor ob de Underground Railroad for eight years, an' I can say what mos' conductors can't say—I nebber run my train off de track an' I nebber los' a passenger." The audience laughed and applauded, and Harriet was emboldened to go on and relate portions of her interesting history, which were most kindly received by the assembled ladies.
After the passage of the iniquitous fugitive slave law, Harriet removed all her dependents to Canada, and here John Brown and some of his followers took refuge with her, and she was his helper and adviser in many of his schemes. The papers of that time tell of her helping him with his plans and of his dependence upon her judgment. In one of his letters he says: "Harriet has hitched on, and with all her might; she is a whole team."
For this large party added to her own family of several persons, she worked day and night in her usual self-forgetting manner. Her old father and mother were with her, and the mother, nearly a hundred years old and enfeebled in mind, was querulous and exacting, and most unreasonable in her temper, often reproaching this faithful daughter as the Israelites did Moses of old, for "bringing them up into the wilderness to die there of hunger."
There came a day when everything eatable was exhausted, and the prospect was dark, indeed. The old mother had no tobacco and no tea—and these were more essential to her comfort than food or clothing; then reproaches thick and fast fell upon Harriet. She made no reply, but "went into her closet and shut the door"; when she came out she had a large basket on her arm.
"Catharine," she said, "take off dat small pot an' put on a large one."
"But, Harriet, der ain't not'ing in de house to eat."
"Put on de large pot, Catharine; we're gwine to have soup to-day"—and Harriet started for the market. The day was nearly over, and the market-men were anxious to be rid of their wares, and were offering them very cheap. Harriet walked along with the basket on her arm. "Old woman, don't you want a nice piece of meat?" called out one; and another, "Here's a nice piece; only ten cents. Take this soup-bone, you can have it for five cents." But Harriet had not five cents. At length a kind-hearted butcher, judging of the trouble from her face, said: "Look here, old woman, you look like an honest woman; take this soup-bone, and pay me when you get some money"; then another said, "Take this," and others piled on pieces of meat till the basket was full. Harriet passed on, and when she came to the vegetables she exchanged some of the meat for potatoes, cabbage, and onions, and the big pot was in requisition when she reached home. Harriet had not "gone into her closet and shut the door" for nothing.
I hope I may be excused for sometimes telling my story in the first person, as I cannot conveniently do it in any other way. In getting ready a Thanksgiving box to send to Harriet, a few years ago, I had ordered a turkey to be sent for it, but as the weather grew quite warm, I was advised to send a ham instead. That box was lost for three weeks, and when I saw Harriet again and told her that I had intended to send a turkey in it, she said, "Wal, dere was a clar Providence in dat, wa'n't dere, Missus?"
A friend, hearing that I was preparing a Christmas box in New York for this needy household, sent me a quantity of clothing and ten dollars for them. As my box was not quite full, I expended three dollars of that money in groceries, and sent seven dollars to a lady in Auburn who acted as treasurer for Harriet, giving her money as it was needed; for Harriet's heart is so large, and her feelings are so easily wrought upon, that it was never wise to give her more than enough for present needs.
Not long after, I received a letter from a well-known physician—a woman—in Auburn, in which she said:
"I want to tell you something about Harriet. She came to me last Friday, and said, 'Doctah, I have got my taxes and insurance to pay to-morrow, and I haven't a cent. Would you lend me seven dollars till next Chuesday?' More to try her than anything else, I said, 'Why, Harriet, I'm a poor, hard-working woman myself; how do you know you'll pay me seven dollars next Tuesday?' 'Well, Doctah, I can't jes' tell you how, but I'll pay you next Chuesday.'" On Tuesday my letter with seven dollars enclosed arrived in Auburn, and Harriet took the money to the friend who had lent it to her. Others thought this strange, but there was nothing strange about it to her.
A few years ago, when Harriet called on the writer, she was introduced to the husband of one of her daughters lately married. He told her how glad he was to see her, as he had heard so much about her. She made one of her humble courtesies, and said: "I'm pleased to see you, sir; it's de first time I've hed de pleasure makin' yo' 'quaintance since you was 'dopted into my fam'bly."
When the turns of somnolence come upon Harriet, her "sperrit," as she says, goes away from her body, and visits other scenes and places, and if she ever really sees them afterwards they are perfectly familiar to her and she can find her way about alone. Instances of this kind have lately been mentioned in some of the magazines, but Harriet had never heard of them.
Sitting in her house one day, deep sleep fell upon her, and in a dream or vision she saw a chariot in the air, going south, and empty, but soon it returned, and lying in it, cold and stiff, was the body of a young lady of whom Harriet was very fond, whose home was in Auburn, but who had gone to Washington with her father, a distinguished officer of the Government there.[G]
[Footnote G: William H. Seward.]
The shock roused Harriet from her sleep, and she ran into Auburn, to the house of her minister, crying out: "Oh, Miss Fanny is dead!" and the news had just been received.
She woke from a sleep one day in great agitation, and ran to the houses of her colored neighbors, exclaiming that "a drefful t'ing was happenin' somewha', de ground was openin', an' de houses were fallin' in, and de people bein' killed faster 'n dey was in de wah—faster 'n dey was in de wah."
At that very time, or near it, an earthquake was occurring in the northern part of South America, for the telegram came that day, though why a vision of it should be sent to Harriet no one can divine.
Her expressions are often very peculiar; some ladies of a certain church who had become interested in her wished to see her, and she was invited to come to their city, and attended the sewing circle, where twenty or thirty of them were gathered together. They asked her many questions, and she told stories, sang songs, danced, and imitated the talk of the Southern negroes; and went away loaded with many tokens of the kind interest of these ladies. On the way home she said:
"What nice, kind-lookin' ladies dem was, Missus. I looked in all dere faces, an' I didn't see nothin' venomous in one of 'em!"
As has been said, Harriet can neither read nor write; her letters are all written by an amanuensis, and she seems to have an idea that by laying her hand on this person, her feelings may be transmitted to the one to whom she is writing. These feelings are sometimes very poetically expressed. I have by me some of those letters; in one of them she says: "I lay my hand on the shoulder of the writer of this letter, and I wish for you, and all your offsprings, a through ticket in the Gospel train to Glory."
In another letter she has dictated this sentence:
"I ask of my Heavenly Father, that when the last trump sounds, and my name is called, I may stand close by your side, to answer to the call." Probably many of her friends and correspondents might contribute facts and incidents in Harriet's life quite as interesting as any I have mentioned, but I have no way of getting at them.
Harriet had long cherished the idea of having her hospital incorporated, and placed in charge of the Zion African Methodist Church of Auburn, and she was particularly anxious to come into possession of a lot of twenty-five acres of land, near her own home, to present to it as a little farm. This lot was to be sold at auction, and on the day of the sale Harriet appeared with a very little money, and a determination to have the land, cost what it might.
"Dey was all white folks but me dere, Missus, and dere I was like a blackberry in a pail ob milk, but I hid down in a corner, and no one know'd who was biddin'. De man began down pretty low, and I kept goin' up by fifties; he got up to twelve hundred, thirteen hundred, fourteen hundred, and still dat voice in the corner kept goin' up by fifties. At last it got up to fourteen hundred and fifty, an' den oders stopped biddin', an' de man said, 'All done! who is de buyer?' 'Harriet Tubman,' I shouted. 'What! dat ole nigger?' dey said. 'Old woman, how you ebber gwine to pay fer dat lot ob land?' 'I'm gwine home to tell de Lawd Jesus all about it,' I said."
After telling the Lord Jesus all about it, Harriet went down to a bank, obtained the money by mortgaging the land, and then requested to have a deed made out, making the land over to the Zion African Methodist Church. And her mind is easy about her hospital, though with many persons the trouble would be but just beginning, as there is interest on the mortgage to be paid.
Though the hospital is no longer on her hands, you will never find her without several poor creatures under her care. When I last saw her she was providing for five sick and injured ones. A blind woman came one day to her door, led by four little children—her husband had turned her out of his house, and like all other poor distressed black people, who could get there, she made her way to Harriet. Before the next morning a fifth was added to the group. As soon as it was possible Harriet dressed the whole six in white and took them to a Methodist church and had them baptized.
A little account of this was sent to the "Evangelist," and the almost immediate response was seventy-five dollars, which was of great benefit in providing for the needs of the growing family.
This faithful creature will probably not live much longer, and her like will not be seen again. But through the sale of the last edition of her "Memoir," and some other sources of income, her wants will be abundantly supplied.
Harriet's friends will be glad to learn that she has lately been for some time in Boston, where a surgical operation was performed upon her head, the skull (which was crushed by a weight thrown by her master more than seventy years before) being successfully raised. Harriet's account of this operation is rather amusing.
"Harriet," said Professor Hopkins, "what is the matter with your head? Your hair is all gone!"
"Why, dat's where dey shaved it off befo' dey cut my head open."
"Cut your head open, Harriet? What do you mean?"
"Wal, sir, when I was in Boston I walked out one day, an' I saw a great big buildin', an' I asked a man what it was, an' he said it was a hospital. So I went right in, an' I saw a young man dere, an' I said, 'Sir, are you a doctah?' an' he said he was; den I said, 'Sir, do you t'ink you could cut my head open?'
"'What do you want your head cut open fer?' he said.
"Den I tol' him de whole story, an' how my head was givin' me a powerful sight of trouble lately, with achin' an' buzzin', so I couldn' get no sleep at night.
"An' he said, 'Lay right down on dis yer table,' an' I lay down."
"Didn't he give you anything to deaden the pain, Harriet?"
"No, sir; I jes' lay down like a lamb fo' de slaughter, an' he sawed open my skull, an' raised it up, an' now it feels more comfortable." "Did you suffer very much?"
"Yes, sir, it hurt, ob cose; but I got up an' put on my bonnet an' started to walk home, but my legs kin' o' gin out under me, an' dey sont fer a ambulance an' sont me home."
It has been hoped that this remarkable experience might result in giving Harriet a new lease of life, but I am sorry to say she is very feeble, and I fear will not be with us much longer.
Her "through ticket" has long been ready for her, and when her last journey is accomplished can we doubt that she will be welcomed to one of those many mansions prepared for those who have spent their lives in the Master's service?
The following letters to the writer from those well-known and distinguished philanthropists, Hon. Gerrit Smith and Wendell Phillips, and one from Frederick Douglass, addressed to Harriet, will serve as the best introduction that can be given of the subject of this memoir to its readers:
Letter from Hon. Gerrit Smith.
PETERBORO, June 13, 1868.
MY DEAR MADAME: I am happy to learn that you are to speak to the public of Mrs. Harriet Tubman. Of the remarkable events of her life I have no personal knowledge, but of the truth of them as she describes them I have no doubt.
I have often listened to her, in her visits to my family, and I am confident that she is not only truthful, but that she has a rare discernment, and a deep and sublime philanthropy.
With great respect your friend,
* * * * *
Letter from Wendell Phillips.
June 16, 1868.
DEAR MADAME: The last time I ever saw John Brown was under my own roof, as he brought Harriet Tubman to me, saying: "Mr. Phillips, I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent— General Tubman, as we call her."
He then went on to recount her labors and sacrifices in behalf of her race. After that, Harriet spent some time in Boston, earning the confidence and admiration of all those who were working for freedom. With their aid she went to the South more than once, returning always with a squad of self-emancipated men, women, and children, for whom her marvelous skill had opened the way of escape. After the war broke out, she was sent with indorsements from Governor Andrew and his friends to South Carolina, where in the service of the Nation she rendered most important and efficient aid to our army.
In my opinion there are few captains, perhaps few colonels, who have done more for the loyal cause since the war began, and few men who did before that time more for the colored race, than our fearless and most sagacious friend, Harriet.
* * * * *
Letter from Frederick Douglass.
ROCHESTER, August 29, 1868.
DEAR HARRIET: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt "God bless you" has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
* * * * *
Extracts from a Letter written by Mr. Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of State Charities.
MY DEAR MADAME: Mr. Phillips has sent me your note, asking for reminiscences of Harriet Tubman, and testimonials to her extraordinary story, which all her New England friends will, I am sure, be glad to furnish.
I never had reason to doubt the truth of what Harriet said in regard to her own career, for I found her singularly truthful. Her imagination is warm and rich, and there is a whole region of the marvelous in her nature, which has manifested itself at times remarkably. Her dreams and visions, misgivings and forewarnings, ought not to be omitted in any life of her, particularly those relating to John Brown.
She was in his confidence in 1858-9, and he had a great regard for her, which he often expressed to me. She aided him in his plans, and expected to do so still further, when his career was closed by that wonderful campaign in Virginia. The first time she came to my house, in Concord, after that tragedy, she was shown into a room in the evening, where Brackett's bust of John Brown was standing. The sight of it, which was new to her, threw her into a sort of ecstacy of sorrow and admiration, and she went on in her rhapsodical way to pronounce his apotheosis.
She has often been in Concord, where she resided at the houses of Emerson, Alcott, the Whitneys, the Brooks family, Mrs. Horace Mann, and other well-known persons. They all admired and respected her, and nobody doubted the reality of her adventures. She was too real a person to be suspected. In 1862, I think it was, she went from Boston to Port Royal, under the advice and encouragement of Mr. Garrison, Governor Andrew, Dr. Howe, and other leading people. Her career in South Carolina is well known to some of our officers, and I think to Colonel Higginson, now of Newport, R.I., and Colonel James Montgomery, of Kansas, to both of whom she was useful as a spy and guide, if I mistake not. I regard her as, on the whole, the most extraordinary person of her race I have ever met. She is a negro of pure, or almost pure blood, can neither read nor write, and has the characteristics of her race and condition. But she has done what can scarcely be credited on the best authority, and she has accomplished her purposes with a coolness, foresight, patience and wisdom, which in a white man would have raised him to the highest pitch of reputation.
I am, dear Madame, very truly your servant,
* * * * *
Letter from Hon. Wm.H. Seward.
WASHINGTON, July 25, 1868.
MY DEAR SIR: Harriet Tubman, a colored woman, has been nursing our soldiers during nearly all the war. She believes she has a claim for faithful services to the command in South Carolina with which you are connected, and she thinks that you would be disposed to see her claim justly settled.
I have known her long, and a nobler, higher spirit, or a truer, seldom dwells in the human form. I commend her, therefore, to your kind and best attentions.
Faithfully your friend,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
* * * * *
Letter from Col. James Montgomery.
ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C., July 6, 1863. HEADQUARTERS COLORED BRIGADE.
BRIG.-GEN. GILMORE, Commanding Department of the South—
GENERAL: I wish to commend to your attention, Mrs. Harriet Tubman, a most remarkable woman, and invaluable as a scout. I have been acquainted with her character and actions for several years.
I am, General, your most ob't servant,
JAMES MONTGOMERY, Col. Com. Brigade.
* * * * *
Letter from Mrs. Gen. A. Baird.
PETERBORO, Nov. 24, 1864.
The bearer of this, Harriet Tubman, a most excellent woman, who has rendered faithful and good services to our Union army, not only in the hospital, but in various capacities, having been employed under Government at Hilton Head, and in Florida; and I commend her to the protection of all officers in whose department she may happen to be.
She has been known and esteemed for years by the family of my uncle, Hon. Gerrit Smith, as a person of great rectitude and capabilities.
MRS. GEN. A. BAIRD.
* * * * *
Letter from Hon. Gerrit Smith.
PETERBORO, N.Y., Nov. 4, 1867.
I have known Mrs. Harriet Tubman for many years. Seldom, if ever, have I met with a person more philanthropic, more self-denying, and of more bravery. Nor must I omit to say that she combines with her sublime spirit, remarkable discernment and judgment.
During the late war, Mrs. Tubman was eminently faithful and useful to the cause of our country. She is poor and has poor parents. Such a servant of the country should be well paid by the country. I hope that the Government will look into her case.
* * * * *
Testimonial from Gerrit Smith.
PETERBORO, Nov. 22, 1864.
The bearer, Harriet Tubman, needs not any recommendation. Nearly all the nation over, she has been heard of for her wisdom, integrity, patriotism, and bravery. The cause of freedom owes her much. The country owes her much.
I have known Harriet for many years, and I hold her in my high esteem.
* * * * *
Certificate from Henry K. Durrant, Acting Asst. Surgeon, U.S.A.
I certify that I have been acquainted with Harriet Tubman for nearly two years; and my position as Medical Officer in charge of "contrabands" in this town and in hospital, has given me frequent and ample opportunities to observe her general deportment; particularly her kindness and attention to the sick and suffering of her own race. I take much pleasure in testifying to the esteem in which she is generally held.
HENRY K. DURRANT, Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A. In charge "Contraband" Hospital.
Dated at Beaufort, S.C., the 3d day of May, 1864.
I concur fully in the above.
R. SAXTON, Brig.-Gen. Vol.
* * * * *
The following are a few of the passes used by Harriet throughout the war. Many others are so defaced that it is impossible to decipher them.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH, HILTON HEAD, PORT ROYAL, S.C., Feb. 19, 1863.
Pass the bearer, Harriet Tubman, to Beaufort and back to this place, and wherever she wishes to go; and give her free passage at all times, on all Government transports. Harriet was sent to me from Boston by Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, and is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the Government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.
D. HUNTER, Maj.-Gen. Com.
* * * * *
General Gilmore, who succeeded General Hunter in command of the Department of the South, appends his signature to the same pass.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH, July 1, 1863.
Continued in force.
Q.A. GILMORE, Brig.-Gen. Com.
* * * * *
BEAUFORT, Aug. 28, 1862.
Will Capt. Warfield please let "Moses" have a little Bourbon whiskey for medicinal purposes.
HENRY K. DURANT, Act. Ass. Surgeon.
* * * * *
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D. C, March 20, 1865.
Pass Mrs. Harriet Tubman (colored) to Hilton Head and Charleston, S.C., with free transportation on a Government transport,
By order of the Sec. of War. Louis H., Asst. Adj.-Gen., U.S.A. To Bvt. Brig.-Gen. Van Vliet, U.S.Q.M., N.Y. Not transferable.
* * * * *
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C., July 22, 1865.
Permit Harriet Tubman to proceed to Fortress Monroe, Va., on a Government transport. Transportation will be furnished free of cost.
By order of the Secretary of War. L.H., Asst. Adj.-Gen. Not transferable.
* * * * *
Appointment as Nurse.
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the Medical Director Department of Virginia has been instructed to appoint Harriet Tubman nurse or matron at the Colored Hospital, Fort Monroe, Va.
Very respectfully, your obdt. servant, V.K. BARNES, Surgeon-General. Hon. WM.H. SEWARD, Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
Of the many letters, testimonials, and passes, placed in the hands of the writer by Harriet, the following are selected for insertion in this book, and are quite sufficient to verify her statements.
A Letter from Gen. Saxton to a lady of Auburn.
ATLANTA, GA., March 21, 1868.
MY DEAR MADAME: I have just received your letter informing me that Hon. Wm.H. Seward, Secretary of State, would present a petition to Congress for a pension to Harriet Tubman, for services rendered in the Union Army during the late war. I can bear witness to the value of her services in South Carolina and Florida. She was employed in the hospitals and as a spy. She made many a raid inside the enemy's lines, displaying remarkable courage, zeal, and fidelity. She was employed by General Hunter, and I think by Generals Stevens and Sherman, and is as deserving of a pension from the Government for her services as any other of its faithful servants.
I am very truly yours, RUFUS SAXTON, Bvt. Brig.-Gen., U.S.A.
Rev. Samuel I. May, in his recollections of the anti-slavery conflict, after mentioning the case of an old slave mother, whom he vainly endeavored to assist her son in buying from her master, says:
"I did not until four years after know that remarkable woman Harriet, or I might have engaged her services, in the assurance that she would have bought off the old woman without paying for her inalienable right—her liberty."
Mr. May in another place says of Harriet, that she deserves to be placed first on the list of American heroines, and then proceeds to give a short account of her labors, varying very little from that given in this book.
FUGITIVE SLAVE RESCUE IN TROY.
From the Troy Whig, April 28, 1859.
Yesterday afternoon, the streets of this city and West Troy were made the scenes of unexampled excitement. For the first time since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, an attempt was made here to carry its provisions into execution, and the result was a terrific encounter between the officers and the prisoner's friends, the triumph of mob law, and the final rescue of the fugitive. Our city was thrown into a grand state of turmoil, and for a time every other topic was forgotten, to give place to this new excitement. People did not think last evening to ask who was nominated at Charleston, or whether the news of the Heenan and Sayers battle had arrived—everything was merged into the fugitive slave case, of which it seems the end is not yet.
Charles Nalle, the fugitive, who was the cause of all this excitement, was a slave on the plantation of B.W. Hansborough, in Culpepper County, Virginia, till the 19th of October, 1858, when he made his escape, and went to live in Columbia, Pennsylvania. A wife and five children are residing there now. Not long since he came to Sandlake, in this county, and resided in the family of Mr. Crosby until about three weeks ago. Since that time, he has been employed as coachman by Uri Gilbert, Esq., of this city. He is about thirty years of age, tall, quite light-complexioned, and good-looking. He is said to have been an excellent and faithful servant.
At Sandlake, we understand that Nalle was often seen by one H.F. Averill, formerly connected with one of the papers of this city, who communicated with his reputed owner in Virginia, and gave the information that led to a knowledge of the whereabouts of the fugitive. Averill wrote letters for him, and thus obtained an acquaintance with his history. Mr. Hansborough sent on an agent, Henry J. Wall, by whom the necessary papers were got out to arrest the fugitive.
Yesterday morning about 11 o'clock, Charles Nalle was sent to procure some bread for the family by whom he was employed. He failed to return. At the baker's he was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal J.W. Holmes, and immediately taken before United States Commissioner Miles Beach. The son of Mr. Gilbert, thinking it strange that he did not come back, sent to the house of William Henry, on Division Street, where he boarded, and his whereabouts was discovered.
The examination before Commissioner Beach was quite brief. The evidence of Averill and the agent was taken, and the Commissioner decided to remand Nalle to Virginia. The necessary papers were made out and given to the Marshal.
By this time it was two o'clock, and the fact began to be noised abroad that there was a fugitive slave in Mr. Beach's office, corner of State and First Streets. People in knots of ten or twelve collected near the entrance, looking at Nalle, who could be seen at an upper window. William Henry, a colored man, with whom Nalle boarded, commenced talking from the curb-stone in a loud voice to the crowd. He uttered such sentences as, "There is a fugitive slave in that office—pretty soon you will see him come forth. He is going to be taken down South, and you will have a chance to see him. He is to be taken to the depot, to go to Virginia in the first train. Keep watch of those stairs, and you will have a sight." A number of women kept shouting, crying, and by loud appeals excited the colored persons assembled.
Still the crowd grew in numbers. Wagons halted in front of the locality, and were soon piled with spectators. An alarm of fire was sounded, and hose carriages dashed through the ranks of men, women, and boys; but they closed again, and kept looking with expectant eyes at the window where the negro was visible. Meanwhile, angry discussions commenced. Some persons agitated a rescue, and others favored law and order. Mr. Brockway, a lawyer, had his coat torn for expressing his sentiments, and other melees kept the interest alive.
All at once there was a wild halloo, and every eye was turned up to see the legs and part of the body of the prisoner protruding from the second story window, at which he was endeavoring to escape. Then arose a shout! "Drop him!" "Catch him!" "Hurrah!" But the attempt was a fruitless one, for somebody in the office pulled Nalle back again, amid the shouts of a hundred pairs of lungs. The crowd at this time numbered nearly a thousand persons. Many of them were black, and a good share were of the female sex. They blocked up State Street from First Street to the alley, and kept surging to and fro.
Martin I. Townsend, Esq., who acted as counsel for the fugitive, did not arrive in the Commissioner's office until a decision had been rendered. He immediately went before Judge Gould, of the Supreme Court, and procured a writ of habeas corpus in the usual form, returnable immediately. This was given Deputy-Sheriff Nathaniel Upham, who at once proceeded to Commissioner Beach's office, and served it on Holmes. Very injudiciously, the officers proceeded at once to Judge Gould's office, although it was evident they would have to pass through an excited, unreasonable crowd. As soon as the officers and their prisoner emerged from the door, an old negro, who had been standing at the bottom of the stairs, shouted, "Here they come," and the crowd made a terrific rush at the party.
From the office of Commissioner Beach, in the Mutual Building, to that of Judge Gould, in Congress Street, is less than two blocks, but it was made a regular battlefield. The moment the prisoner emerged from the doorway, in custody of Deputy-Sheriff Upham, Chief of Police Quin, Officers Cleveland and Holmes, the crowd made one grand charge, and those nearest the prisoner seized him violently, with the intention of pulling him away from the officers, but they were foiled; and down First to Congress Street, and up the latter in front of Judge Gould's chambers, went the surging mass. Exactly what did go on in the crowd, it is impossible to say, but the pulling, hauling, mauling, and shouting, gave evidences of frantic efforts on the part of the rescuers, and a stern resistance from the conservators of the law. In front of Judge Gould's office the combat was at its height. No stones or other missiles were used; the battle was fist to fist. We believe an order was given to take the prisoner the other way, and there was a grand rush towards the West, past First and River Streets, as far as Dock Street. All this time there was a continual melee. Many of the officers were hurt—among them Mr. Upham, whose object was solely to do his duty by taking Nalle before Judge Gould in accordance with the writ of habeas corpus. A number in the crowd were more or less hurt, and it is a wonder that these were not badly injured, as pistols were drawn and chisels used.
The battle had raged as far as the corner of Dock and Congress Streets, and the victory remained with the rescuers at last. The officers were completely worn out with their exertions, and it was impossible to continue their hold upon him any longer. Nalle was at liberty. His friends rushed him down Dock Street to the lower ferry, where there was a skiff lying ready to start. The fugitive was put in, the ferryman rowed off, and amid the shouts of hundreds who lined the banks of the river, Nalle was carried into Albany County.
As the skiff landed in West Troy, a negro sympathizer waded up to the waist, and pulled Nalle out of the boat. He went up the hill alone, however, and there who should he meet but Constable Becker! The latter official seeing a man with manacles on, considered it his duty to arrest him. He did so, and took him in a wagon to the office of Justice Stewart, on the second floor of the corner building near the ferry. The justice was absent.
When the crowd on the Troy bank had seen Nalle safely landed, it was suggested that he might be recaptured. Then there was another rush made for the steam ferry-boat, which carried over about 400 persons, and left as many more—a few of the latter being soused in their efforts to get on the boat. On landing in West Troy, there, sure enough, was the prisoner, locked up in a strong office, protected by Officers Becker, Brown and Morrison, and the door barricaded.
Not a moment was lost. Up stairs went a score or more of resolute men—the rest "piling in" promiscuously, shouting and execrating the officers. Soon a stone flew against the door—then another— and bang, bang! went off a couple of pistols, but the officers who fired them took good care to aim pretty high. The assailants were forced to retreat for a moment. "They've got pistols," said one. "Who cares?" was the reply; "they can only kill a dozen of us— come on." More stones and more pistol-shots ensued. At last the door was pulled open by an immense negro, and in a moment he was felled by a hatchet in the hands of Deputy-Sheriff Morrison; but the body of the fallen man blocked up the door so that it could not be shut, and a friend of the prisoner pulled him out. Poor fellow! he might well say, "Save me from my friends." Amid the pulling and hauling, the iron had cut his arms, which were bleeding profusely, and he could hardly walk, owing to fatigue.
He has since arrived safely in Canada.