I had read several picture books about Harriet Tubman as a child, but never a full-blown biography.
No one really knows when Harriet Tubman was born. It was sometime during the early months of either 1820 or 1822, but because slaves weren’t important enough to have celebratations for their birthdays, their owners rarely recorded them. But we do know that her birth name wasn’t Harriet Tubman. It was Araminta Ross.
Minty (as Harriet was called) lived through a tough childhood. When she was somewhere around five or six, her owner decided that she was old enough to be hired out to different masters. Many of them were cruel and punished her unmercifully for her mistakes, regardless of whether they were accidental or through ignorance. It was these mistreatings that first caused Minty to run away.
She didn’t make it very far; growing cold and hungry, and being to young to think of any other solution, she returned to her home and received another beating. But Minty’s yearning for freedom never left her. As she watched one after another of her siblings being sold further south, she plotted how to escape with her family to freedom.
In 1944, Minty married John Tubman. At some point – again, unknown! – she changed her name to Harriet, and thus became Harriet Tubman. Harriet was very happy with her husband – she loved him very much – but as a slave, the threat always hung over her that she would be sold away from him. She determined that she would be free.
So, in 1949, Harriet escaped and traversed through Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania with the help of the Underground Railroad. In Pennsylvania she halted her journey, rested a while, and finally decided to dedicate her time to helping other slaves escape their masters.
It is thought that Harriet aided something around three hundred of her fellow slaves in their escape from freedom. Each of her runs was fraught with danger; posse hunters and bloodhounds dogged her tracks, and there was always the possibility that she might run into a person that would recognize and report her. Many of her conductor friends were viewed with suspicion, and this made receiving help from them especially difficult. But in spite of all this, Harriet was never caught.
Although it is for this effort that she is most widely known, it was not the only work of her life. She also played the role of a spy for the Union Army, using her skill of stealth and her familiarity with dark forests to steal past confederate pickets and penetrate their cities. Later, she invested a great deal of time fighting for the suffragette cause and aiding the poor. She died of pneumonia in 1913. She had lived into her early nineties and left behind the legacy of a very full life.
I found Harriet Tubman to be a very fair, open biography. Any elements that I objected to were the documentation of actual facts. For example…..
As mentioned in the biographical sketch above, Harriet Tubman not only championed the cause of slaves, but she was also a suffragette. After slavery was abolished she dedicated the rest of her life to winning women the right to vote. She was good friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leaders of the suffragette movement.
While still making her railroad runs, Harriet began wearing bloomers. This was probably much more practical than wearing skirts, and I don’t mind it, personally, but it was portrayed as a step towards the “liberation” of females.
Sojourner Truth, a female preacher, is mentioned.
When she was young, Harriet married a man named John Tubman. There was no official certificate, and when Harriet ran away John refused to come with her. He later married another woman but she lived unmarried.
It is mentioned that Harriet was beaten as a child. It isn’t bloody.
As a teenager, Harriet was struck over the head with a heavy weight. This caused her to suffer from headaches and coma-like sleeping for the rest of her life.
Also, probably due to this incident, Harriet began to have ‘visions’ which she thought were from God. She relied upon them to lead her in life, and she thought that they foretold the future. This only obtruded into the story occasionally.
Conclusion. A solid biography about an important figure in our country’s history. Click here for other resources about Harriet Tubman.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret