THE MOSES OF HER PEOPLE
SARAH H. BRADFORD
"Farewell, ole Marster, don't think hard of me, I'm going on to Canada, where all de slaves are free."
"Jesus, Jesus will go wid you, He will lead you to His throne, He who died has gone before you, Trod de wine-press all alone."
COPYRIGHT, 1886, BY SARAH H. BRADFORD.
The title I have given my black heroine, in this second edition of her story, viz.: THE MOSES OF HER PEOPLE, may seem a little ambitious, considering that this Moses was a woman, and that she succeeded in piloting only three or four hundred slaves from the land of bondage to the land of freedom.
But I only give her here the name by which she was familiarly known, both at the North and the South, during the years of terror of the Fugitive Slave Law, and during our last Civil War, in both of which she took so prominent a part.
And though the results of her unexampled heroism were not to free a whole nation of bond-men and bond-women, yet this object was as much the desire of her heart, as it was of that of the great leader of Israel. Her cry to the slave-holders, was ever like his to Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" and not even he imperiled life and limb more willingly, than did our courageous and self-sacrificing friend.
Her name deserves to be handed down to posterity, side by side with the names of Jeanne D'Arc, Grace Darling, and Florence Nightingale, for not one of these women, noble and brave as they were, has shown more courage, and power of endurance, in facing danger and death to relieve human suffering, than this poor black woman, whose story I am endeavoring in a most imperfect way to give you.
Would that Mrs. Stowe had carried out the plan she once projected, of being the historian of our sable friend; by her graphic pen, the incidents of such a life might have been wrought up into a tale of thrilling interest, equaling, if not exceeding her world renowned "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
The work fell to humbler hands, and the first edition of this story, under the title of "Harriet Tubman," was written in the greatest possible haste, while the writer was preparing for a voyage to Europe. There was pressing need for this book, to save the poor woman's little home from being sold under a mortgage, and letters and facts were penned down rapidly, as they came in. The book has now been in part re-written and the letters and testimonials placed in an appendix.
For the satisfaction of the incredulous (and there will naturally be many such, when so strange a tale is repeated to them), I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration of every incident related to me by my heroic friend. I did this for the satisfaction of others, not for my own. No one can hear Harriet talk, and not believe every word she says. As Mr. Sanborn says of her, "she is too real a person, not to be true."
Many incidents quite as wonderful as those related in the story, I have rejected, because I had no way in finding the persons who could speak to their truth.
This woman was the friend of William H. Seward, of Gerritt Smith, of Wendell Phillips, of William Lloyd Garrison, and of many other distinguished philanthropists before the War, as of very many officers of the Union Army during the conflict.
After her almost superhuman efforts in making her own escape from slavery, and then returning to the South nineteen times, and bringing away with her over three hundred fugitives, she was sent by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts to the South at the beginning of the War, to act as spy and scout for our armies, and to be employed as hospital nurse when needed.
Here for four years she labored without any remuneration, and during the time she was acting as nurse, never drew but twenty days' rations from our Government. She managed to support herself, as well as to take care of the suffering soldiers.
Secretary Seward exerted himself in every possible way to procure her a pension from Congress, but red-tape proved too strong even for him, and her case was rejected, because it did not come under any recognized law.
The first edition of this little story was published through the liberality of Gerritt Smith, Wendell Phillips, and prominent men in Auburn, and the object for which it was written was accomplished. But that book has long been out of print, and the facts stated there are all unknown to the present generation. There have, I am told, often been calls for the book, which could not be answered, and I have been urged by many friends as well as by Harriet herself, to prepare another edition. For another necessity has arisen and she needs help again not for herself, but for certain helpless ones of her people.
Her own sands are nearly run, but she hopes, 'ere she goes home, to see this work, a hospital, well under way. Her last breath and her last efforts will be spent in the cause of those for whom she has already risked so much.
For them her tears will fall, For them her prayers ascend; To them her toils and cares be given, Till toils and cares shall end. S.H.B.
Letter from Mr. Oliver Johnson for the second edition:
NEW YORK, March 6, 1886.
MY DEAR MADAM:
I am very glad to learn that you are about to publish a revised edition of your life of that heroic woman, Harriet Tubman, by whose assistance so many American slaves were enabled to break their bonds.
During the period of my official connection with the Anti-Slavery office in New York, I saw her frequently, when she came there with the companies of slaves, whom she had successfully piloted away from the South; and often listened with wonder to the story of her adventures and hair-breadth escapes.
She always told her tale with a modesty which showed how unconscious she was of having done anything more than her simple duty. No one who listened to her could doubt her perfect truthfulness and integrity.
Her shrewdness in planning the escape of slaves, her skill in avoiding arrest, her courage in every emergency, and her willingness to endure hardship and face any danger for the sake of her poor followers was phenomenal.
I regret to hear that she is poor and ill, and hope the sale of your book will give her the relief she so much needs and so well deserves.
AUBURN THEOL. SEMINARY, March 16, 1886.
By PROFESSOR HOPKINS
The remarkable person who is the subject of the following sketch, has been residing mostly ever since the close of the war in the outskirts of the City of Auburn, during all which time I have been well acquainted with her. She has all the characteristics of the pure African race strongly marked upon her, though from which one of the various tribes that once fed the Barracoons, on the Guinea coast, she derived her indomitable courage and her passionate love of freedom I know not; perhaps from the Fellatas, in whom those traits were predominant.
Harriet lives upon a farm which the twelve hundred dollars given her by Mrs. Bradford from the proceeds of the first edition of this little book, enabled her to redeem from a mortgage held by the late Secretary Seward.
Her household is very likely to consist of several old black people, "bad with the rheumatize," some forlorn wandering woman, and a couple of small images of God cut in ebony. How she manages to feed and clothe herself and them, the Lord best knows. She has too much pride and too much faith to beg. She takes thankfully, but without any great effusiveness of gratitude, whatever God's messengers bring her.
I have never heard that she absolutely lacked. There are some good people in various parts of the country, into whose hearts God sends the thought, from time to time, that Harriet may be at the bottom of the flour sack, or of the potatoes, and the "help in time of need" comes to her.
Harriet's simplicity and ignorance have, in some cases, been imposed upon, very signally in one instance in Auburn, a few years ago; but nobody who knows her has the slightest doubt of her perfect integrity.
The following sketch taken by Mrs. Bradford, chiefly from Harriet's own recollections, which are wonderfully distinct and minute, but also from other corroborative sources, gives but a very imperfect account of what this woman has been.
Her color, and the servile condition in which she was born and reared, have doomed her to obscurity, but a more heroic soul did not breathe in the bosom of Judith or of Jeanne D'Arc.
No fear of the lash, the blood-hound, or the fiery stake, could divert her from her self-imposed task of leading as many as possible of her people "from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
The book is good literature for the black race, or the white race, and though no similar conditions may arise, to test the possibilities that are in any of them, yet the example of this poor slave woman may well stand out before them, and before all people, black or white, to show what a lofty and martyr spirit may accomplish, struggling against overwhelming obstacles.
THE MOSES OF HER PEOPLE.
On a hot summer's day, perhaps sixty years ago, a group of merry little darkies were rolling and tumbling in the sand in front of the large house of a Southern planter. Their shining skins gleamed in the sun, as they rolled over each other in their play, and their voices, as they chattered together, or shouted in glee, reached even to the cabins of the negro quarter, where the old people groaned in spirit, as they thought of the future of those unconscious young revelers; and their cry went up, "O, Lord, how long!"
Apart from the rest of the children, on the top rail of a fence, holding tight on to the tall gate post, sat a little girl of perhaps thirteen years of age; darker than any of the others, and with a more decided woolliness in the hair; a pure unmitigated African. She was not so entirely in a state of nature as the rollers in the dust beneath her; but her only garment was a short woolen skirt, which was tied around her waist, and reached about to her knees. She seemed a dazed and stupid child, and as her head hung upon her breast, she looked up with dull blood-shot eyes towards her young brothers and sisters, without seeming to see them. Bye and bye the eyes closed, and still clinging to the post, she slept. The other children looked up and said to each other, "Look at Hatt, she's done gone off agin!" Tired of their present play ground they trooped off in another direction, but the girl slept on heavily, never losing her hold on the post, or her seat on her perch. Behold here, in the stupid little negro girl, the future deliverer of hundreds of her people; the spy and scout of the Union armies; the devoted hospital nurse; the protector of hunted fugitives; the eloquent speaker in public meetings; the cunning eluder of pursuing man-hunters; the heaven guided pioneer through dangers seen and unseen; in short, as she has well been called, "The Moses of her People."
Here in her thirteenth year she is just recovering from the first terrible effects of an injury inflicted by her master, who in an ungovernable fit of rage threw a heavy weight at the unoffending child, breaking in her skull, and causing a pressure upon her brain, from which in her old age she is suffering still. This pressure it was which caused the fits of somnolency so frequently to come upon her, and which gave her the appearance of being stupid and half-witted in those early years. But that brain which seemed so dull was full of busy thoughts, and her life problem was already trying to work itself out there.
She had heard the shrieks and cries of women who were being flogged in the negro quarter; she had listened to the groaned out prayer, "Oh, Lord, have mercy!" She had already seen two older sisters taken away as part of a chain gang, and they had gone no one knew whither; she had seen the agonized expression on their faces as they turned to take a last look at their "Old Cabin Home;" and had watched them from the top of the fence, as they went off weeping and lamenting, till they were hidden from her sight forever. She saw the hopeless grief of the poor old mother, and the silent despair of the aged father, and already she began to revolve in her mind the question, "Why should such things be?" "Is there no deliverance for my people?"
The sun shone on, and Harriet still slept seated on the fence rail. They, those others, had no anxious dreams of the future, and even the occasional sufferings of the present time caused them but a temporary grief. Plenty to eat, and warm sunshine to bask in, were enough to constitute their happiness; Harriet, however, was not one of these. God had a great work for her to do in the world, and the discipline and hardship through which she passed in her early years, were only preparing her for her after life of adventure and trial; and through these to come out as the Savior and Deliverer of her people, when she came to years of womanhood.
As yet she had seen no "visions," and heard no "voices;" no foreshadowing of her life of toil and privation, of flight before human blood-hounds, of watchings, and hidings, of perils by land, and perils by sea, yea, and of perils by false brethren, or of miraculous deliverance had yet come to her. No hint of the great mission of her life, to guide her people from the land of bondage to the land of freedom. But, "Why should such things be?" and "Is there no help?" These were the questions of her waking hours.
The dilapidated state of things about the "Great House" told truly the story of waning fortunes, and poverty was pressing upon the master. One by one the able-bodied slaves disappeared; some were sold, others hired to other masters. No questions were asked; no information given; they simply disappeared. A "lady," for so she was designated, came driving up to the great house one day, to see if she could find there a young girl to take care of a baby. The lady wished to pay low wages, and so the most stupid and the most incapable of the children on the plantation was chosen to go with her. Harriet, who could command less wages than any other child of her age on the plantation, was therefore put into the wagon without a word of explanation, and driven off to the lady's house. It was not a very fine house, but Harriet had never before been in any dwelling better than the cabins of the negro quarter.
She was engaged as child's nurse, but she soon found that she was expected to be maid of all work by day, as well as child's nurse by night. The first task that was set her was that of sweeping and dusting a parlor. No information was vouchsafed as to the manner of going about this work, but she had often swept out the cabin, and this part of her task was successfully accomplished. Then at once she took the dusting cloth, and wiped off tables, chairs and mantel-piece. The dust, as dust will do, when it has nowhere else to go, at once settled again, and chairs and tables were soon covered with a white coating, telling a terrible tale against Harriet, when her Mistress came in to see how the work progressed. Reproaches, and savage words, fell upon the ears of the frightened child, and she was commanded to do the work all over again. It was done in precisely the same way, as before, with the same result. Then the whip was brought into requisition, and it was laid on with no light hand. Five times before breakfast this process was repeated, when a new actor appeared upon the scene. Miss Emily, a sister of the Mistress, had been roused from her morning slumber by the sound of the whip, and the screams of the child; and being of a less imperious nature than her sister, she had come in to try to set matters right.
"Why do you whip the child, Susan, for not doing what she has never been taught to do? Leave her to me a few minutes, and you will see that she will soon learn how to sweep and dust a room." Then Miss Emily instructed the child to open the windows, and sweep, then to leave the room, and set the table, while the dust settled; and after that to return and wipe it off. There was no more trouble of that kind. A few words might have set the matter right before; but in those days many a poor slave suffered for the stupidity and obstinacy of a master or mistress, more stupid than themselves.
When the labors, unremitted for a moment, of the long day were over (for this mistress was an economical woman, and intended to get the worth of her money to the uttermost farthing), there was still no rest for the weary child, for there was a cross baby to be rocked continuously, lest it should wake and disturb the mother's rest. The black child sat beside the cradle of the white child, so near the bed, that the lash of the whip would reach her if she ventured for a moment to forget her fatigues and sufferings in sleep. The Mistress reposed upon her bed with the whip on a little shelf over her head. People of color are, unfortunately, so constituted that even if the pressure of a broken skull does not cause a sleep like the sleep of the dead, the need of rest, and the refreshment of slumber after a day of toil, were often felt by them. No doubt, this was a great wrong to their masters, and a cheating them of time which belonged to them, but their slaves did not always look upon it in that light, and tired nature would demand her rights; and so nature and the Mistress had a fight for it.
Rock, rock, went the cradle, and mother and child slept; but alas! the little black hand would sometimes slip down, and the head would droop, and a dream of home and mother would visit the weary one, only to be roughly dispelled by the swift descent of the stinging lash, for the baby had cried out and the mother had been awakened. This is no fictitious tale. That poor neck is even now covered with the scars which sixty years of life have not been able to efface. It may be that she was thus being prepared by the long habit of enforced wakefulness, for the night watches in the woods, and in dens and caves of the earth, when the pursuers were on her track, and the terrified ones were trembling in her shadow. We do not thank you for this, cruel woman! for if you did her a service, you did it ignorantly, and only for your own gratification. But Harriet's powers of endurance failed at last, and she was returned to her master, a poor, scarred wreck, nothing but skin and bone, with the words that "She wasn't worth a sixpence."
The poor old mother nursed her back to life, and her naturally good constitution asserted itself, so that as she grew older she began to show signs of the wonderful strength which in after years, when the fugitive slave law was in operation in New York State, enabled her to seize a man from the officers who had him in charge, and while numbers were pursuing her, and the shot was flying like hail about her head, to bear him in her own strong arms beyond the reach of danger.
As soon as she was strong enough for work, Harriet was hired out to a man whose tyranny was worse, if possible, than that of the woman she had left. Now it was out of door drudgery which was put upon her. The labor of the horse and the ox, the lifting of barrels of flour and other heavy weights were given to her; and powerful men often stood astonished to see this woman perform feats of strength from which they shrunk incapable. This cruelty she looks upon as a blessing in disguise (a very questionable shape the blessing took, methinks), for by it she was prepared for after needs.
Still the pressure upon the brain continued, and with the weight half lifted, she would drop off into a state of insensibility, from which even the lash in the hand of a strong man could not rouse her. But if they had only known it, the touch of a gentle hand upon her shoulder, and her name spoken in tones of kindness, would have accomplished what cruelty failed to do.
The day's work must be accomplished, whether the head was racked with pain, and the frame was consumed by fever, or not; but the day came at length when poor Harriet could work no more. The sting of the lash had no power to rouse her now, and the new master finding her a dead weight on his hands, returned the useless piece of property to him who was called her "owner." And while she lay there helpless, this man was bringing other men to look at her, and offering her for sale at the lowest possible price; at the same time setting forth her capabilities, if once she were strong and well again.
Harriet's religious character I have not yet touched upon. Brought up by parents possessed of strong faith in God, she had never known the time, I imagine, when she did not trust Him, and cling to Him, with an all-abiding confidence. She seemed ever to feel the Divine Presence near, and she talked with God "as a man talketh with his friend." Hers was not the religion of a morning and evening prayer at stated times, but when she felt a need, she simply told God of it, and trusted Him to set the matter right.
"And so," she said to me, "as I lay so sick on my bed, from Christmas till March, I was always praying for poor ole master. 'Pears like I didn't do nothing but pray for ole master. 'Oh, Lord, convert ole master;' 'Oh, dear Lord, change dat man's heart, and make him a Christian.' And all the time he was bringing men to look at me, and dey stood there saying what dey would give, and what dey would take, and all I could say was, 'Oh, Lord, convert ole master.' Den I heard dat as soon as I was able to move I was to be sent with my brudders, in the chain-gang to de far South. Then I changed my prayer, and I said, 'Lord, if you ain't never going to change dat man's heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of de way, so he won't do no more mischief.' Next ting I heard ole master was dead; and he died just as he had lived, a wicked, bad man. Oh, den it 'peared like I would give de world full of silver and gold, if I had it, to bring dat pore soul back, I would give myself; I would give eberyting! But he was gone, I couldn't pray for him no more."
As she recovered from this long illness, a deeper religious spirit seemed to take possession of her than she had ever experienced before. She literally "prayed without ceasing." "'Pears like, I prayed all de time," she said, "about my work, eberywhere; I was always talking to de Lord. When I went to the horse-trough to wash my face, and took up de water in my hands, I said, 'Oh, Lord, wash me, make me clean.' When I took up de towel to wipe my face and hands, I cried, 'Oh, Lord, for Jesus' sake, wipe away all my sins!' When I took up de broom and began to sweep, I groaned, 'Oh, Lord, whatsoebber sin dere be in my heart, sweep it out, Lord, clar and clean;' but I can't pray no more for pore ole master." No words can describe the pathos of her tones as she broke into these words of earnest supplication.
What was to become of the slaves on this plantation now that the master was dead? Were they all to be scattered and sent to different parts of the country? Harriet had many brothers and sisters, all of whom with the exception of the two, who had gone South with the chain-gang, were living on this plantation, or were hired out to planters not far away. The word passed through the cabins that another owner was coming in, and that none of the slaves were to be sold out of the State. This assurance satisfied the others, but it did not satisfy Harriet. Already the inward monitor was whispering to her, "Arise, flee for your life!" and in the visions of the night she saw the horsemen coming, and heard the shrieks of women and children, as they were being torn from each other, and hurried off no one knew whither.
And beckoning hands were ever motioning her to come, and she seemed to see a line dividing the land of slavery from the land of freedom, and on the other side of that line she saw lovely white ladies waiting to welcome her, and to care for her. Already in her mind her people were the Israelites in the land of Egypt, while far away to the north somewhere, was the land of Canaan; but had she as yet any prevision that she was to be the Moses who was to be their leader, through clouds of darkness and fear, and fires of tribulation to that promised land? This she never said.
One day there were scared faces seen in the negro quarter, and hurried whispers passed from one to another. No one knew how it had come out, but some one had heard that Harriet and two of her brothers were very soon, perhaps to-day, perhaps to-morrow, to be sent far South with a gang, bought up for plantation work. Harriet was about twenty or twenty-five years old at this time, and the constantly recurring idea of escape at sometime, took sudden form that day, and with her usual promptitude of action she was ready to start at once.
She held a hurried consultation with her brothers, in which she so wrought upon their fears, that they expressed themselves as willing to start with her that very night, for that far North, where, could they reach it in safety, freedom awaited them. But she must first give some intimation of her purpose to the friends she was to leave behind, so that even if not understood at the time, it might be remembered afterward as her intended farewell. Slaves must not be seen talking together, and so it came about that their communication was often made by singing, and the words of their familiar hymns, telling of the heavenly journey, and the land of Canaan, while they did not attract the attention of the masters, conveyed to their brethren and sisters in bondage something more than met the ear. And so she sang, accompanying the words, when for a moment unwatched, with a meaning look to one and another:
"When dat ar ole chariot comes, I'm gwine to lebe you, I'm boun' for de promised land, Frien's, I'm gwine to lebe you."
Again, as she passed the doors of the different cabins, she lifted up her well-known voice; and many a dusky face appeared at door or window, with a wondering or scared expression; and thus she continued:
"I'm sorry, frien's, to lebe you, Farewell! oh, farewell! But I'll meet you in de mornin', Farewell! oh, farewell!
"I'll meet you in de mornin', When you reach de promised land; On de oder side of Jordan, For I'm boun' for de promised land."
The brothers started with her, but the way was strange, the north was far away, and all unknown, the masters would pursue and recapture them, and their fate would be worse than ever before; and so they broke away from her, and bidding her goodbye, they hastened back to the known horrors of slavery, and the dread of that which was worse.
Harriet was now left alone, but after watching the retreating forms of her brothers, she turned her face toward the north, and fixing her eyes on the guiding star, and committing her way unto the Lord, she started again upon her long, lonely journey. Her farewell song was long remembered in the cabins, and the old mother sat and wept for her lost child. No intimation had been given her of Harriet's intention, for the old woman was of a most impulsive disposition, and her cries and lamentations would have made known to all within hearing Harriet's intended escape. And so, with only the North Star for her guide, our heroine started on the way to liberty, "For," said she, "I had reasoned dis out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have de oder; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when de time came for me to go, de Lord would let dem take me."
And so without money, and without friends, she started on through unknown regions; walking by night, hiding by day, but always conscious of an invisible pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, under the guidance of which she journeyed or rested. Without knowing whom to trust, or how near the pursuers might be, she carefully felt her way, and by her native cunning, or by God given wisdom, she managed to apply to the right people for food, and sometimes for shelter; though often her bed was only the cold ground, and her watchers the stars of night.
After many long and weary days of travel, she found that she had passed the magic line, which then divided the land of bondage from the land of freedom. But where were the lovely white ladies whom in her visions she had seen, who, with arms outstretched, welcomed her to their hearts and homes. All these visions proved deceitful: she was more alone than ever; but she had crossed the line; no one could take her now, and she would never call any man "Master" more.
"I looked at my hands," she said, "to see if I was de same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory ober eberything, de sun came like gold trou de trees, and ober de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven." But then came the bitter drop in the cup of joy. She was alone, and her kindred were in slavery, and not one of them had the courage to dare what she had dared. Unless she made the effort to liberate them she would never see them more, or even know their fate.
"I knew of a man," she said, "who was sent to the State Prison for twenty-five years. All these years he was always thinking of his home, and counting by years, months, and days, the time till he should be free, and see his family and friends once more. The years roll on, the time of imprisonment is over, the man is free. He leaves the prison gates, he makes his way to his old home, but his old home is not there. The house in which he had dwelt in his childhood had been torn down, and a new one had been put up in its place; his family were gone, their very name was forgotten, there was no one to take him by the hand to welcome him back to life."
"So it was wid me," said Harriet, "I had crossed de line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but dere was no one to welcome me to de land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in de old cabin quarter, wid de ole folks, and my brudders and sisters. But to dis solemn resolution I came; I was free, and dey should be free also; I would make a home for dem in de North, and de Lord helping me, I would bring dem all dere. Oh, how I prayed den, lying all alone on de cold, damp ground; 'Oh, dear Lord,' I said, 'I haint got no friend but you. Come to my help, Lord, for I'm in trouble!'"
It would be impossible here to give a detailed account of the journeys and labors of this intrepid woman for the redemption of her kindred and friends, during the years that followed. Those years were spent in work, almost by night and day, with the one object of the rescue of her people from slavery. All her wages were laid away with this sole purpose, and as soon as a sufficient amount was secured, she disappeared from her Northern home, and as suddenly and mysteriously she appeared some dark night at the door of one of the cabins on a plantation, where a trembling band of fugitives, forewarned as to time and place, were anxiously awaiting their deliverer. Then she piloted them North, traveling by night, hiding by day, scaling the mountains, fording the rivers, threading the forests, lying concealed as the pursuers passed them. She, carrying the babies, drugged with paregoric, in a basket on her arm. So she went nineteen times, and so she brought away over three hundred pieces of living and breathing "property," with God given souls.
The way was so toilsome over the rugged mountain passes, that often the men who followed her would give out, and foot-sore, and bleeding, they would drop on the ground, groaning that they could not take another step. They would lie there and die, or if strength came back, they would return on their steps, and seek their old homes again. Then the revolver carried by this bold and daring pioneer, would come out, while pointing it at their heads she would say, "Dead niggers tell no tales; you go on or die!" And by this heroic treatment she compelled them to drag their weary limbs along on their northward journey.
But the pursuers were after them. A reward of $40,000 was offered by the slave-holders of the region from whence so many slaves had been spirited away, for the head of the woman who appeared so mysteriously, and enticed away their property, from under the very eyes of its owners. Our sagacious heroine has been in the car, having sent her frightened party round by some so-called "Under-ground Railway," and has heard this advertisement, which was posted over her head, read by others of the passengers. She never could read or write herself, but knowing that suspicion would be likely to fall upon any black woman traveling North, she would turn at the next station, and journey towards the South. Who would suspect a fugitive with such a price set upon her head, of rushing at railway speed into the jaws of destruction? With a daring almost heedless, she went even to the very village where she would be most likely to meet one of the masters to whom she had been hired; and having stopped at the Market and bought a pair of live fowls, she went along the street with her sun-bonnet well over her face, and with the bent and decrepit air of an aged, woman. Suddenly on turning a corner, she spied her old master coming towards her. She pulled the string which tied the legs of the chickens; they began to flutter and scream, and as her master passed, she was stooping and busily engaged in attending to the fluttering fowls. And he went on his way, little thinking that he was brushing the very garments of the woman who had dared to steal herself, and others of his belongings.
At one time the pursuit was very close and vigorous. The woods were scoured in all directions, every house was visited, and every person stopped and questioned as to a band of black fugitives, known to be fleeing through that part of the country. Harriet had a large party with her then; the children were sleeping the sound sleep that opium gives; but all the others were on the alert, each one hidden behind his own tree, and silent as death. They had been long without food, and were nearly famished; and as the pursuers seemed to have passed on, Harriet decided to make the attempt to reach a certain "station of the underground railroad" well known to her; and procure food for her starving party. Under cover of the darkness, she started, leaving a cowering and trembling group in the woods, to whom a fluttering leaf, or a moving animal, were a sound of dread, bringing their hearts into their throats. How long she is away! has she been caught and carried off, and if so what is to become of them? Hark! there is a sound of singing in the distance, coming nearer and nearer.
And these are the words of the unseen singer, which I wish I could give you as I have so often heard them sung by herself:
Hail, oh hail, ye happy spirits, Death no more shall make you fear, Grief nor sorrow, pain nor anguish, Shall no more distress you dere.
Around Him are ten thousand angels Always ready to obey command; Dey are always hovering round you, Till you reach de heavenly land.
Jesus, Jesus will go wid you, He will lead you to his throne; He who died, has gone before you, Trod de wine-press all alone.
He whose thunders shake creation, He who bids de planets roll; He who rides upon the tempest, And whose scepter sways de whole.
Dark and thorny is de pathway, Where de pilgrim makes his ways; But beyond dis vale of sorrow, Lie de fields of endless days.
The air sung to these words was so wild, so full of plaintive minor strains, and unexpected quavers, that I would defy any white person to learn it, and often as I heard it, it was to me a constant surprise. Up and down the road she passes to see if the coast is clear, and then to make them certain that it is their leader who is coming, she breaks out into the plaintive strains of the song, forbidden to her people at the South, but which she and her followers delight to sing together:
Oh go down, Moses, Way down into Egypt's land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.
Oh Pharaoh said he would go cross, Let my people go, And don't get lost in de wilderness, Let my people go.
Oh go down, Moses, Way down into Egypt's land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.
You may hinder me here, but you can't up dere, Let my people go, He sits in de Hebben and answers prayer, Let my people go!
Oh go down, Moses, Way down into Egypt's land, Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.
And then she enters the recesses of the wood, carrying hope and comfort to the anxious watchers there. One by one they steal out from their hiding places, and are fed and strengthened for another night's journey.
And so by night travel, by signals, by threatenings, by encouragement, through watchings and fastings, and I may say by direct interpositions of Providence, and miraculous deliverances, she brought her people to what was then their land of Canaan; the State of New York. But alas! this State did not continue to be their refuge. For in 1850, I think, the Fugitive Slave Law was put in force, which bound the people north of Mason and Dixon's line, to return to bondage any fugitive found in their territories.
"After that," said Harriet, "I wouldn't trust Uncle Sam wid my people no longer, but I brought 'em all clar off to Canada."
On her seventh or eighth journey, she brought with her a band of fugitives, among whom was a very remarkable man, whom I knew only by the name of "Joe." Joe was a noble specimen of a negro, enormously tall, and of splendid muscular development. He had been hired out by his master to another planter, for whom he had worked for six years, saving him all the expense of an overseer, and taking all trouble off from his hands. He was such a very valuable piece of property, and had become so absolutely necessary to the planter to whom he was hired, that he determined to buy him at any cost. His old master held him proportionately high. But by paying one thousand dollars down, and promising to pay another thousand in a certain time, the purchase was made, and this chattel passed over into the hands of a new owner.
The morning after the purchase was completed, the new master came riding down on a tall, powerful horse into the negro quarter, with a strong new rawhide in his hand, and stopping before Joe's cabin, called to him to come out. Joe was just eating his breakfast, but with ready obedience, he hastened out at the summons. Slave as he was, and accustomed to scenes of brutality, he was surprised when the order came, "Now, Joe, strip, and take a licking." Naturally enough, he demurred at first, and thought of resisting the order; but he called to mind a scene he had witnessed a few days before in the field, the particulars of which are too horrible to be given here, and he thought it the wisest course to submit; but first he tried a gentle remonstrance.
"Mas'r," said he, "habn't I always been faithful to you? Habn't I worked through sun an' rain, early in de mornin' an' late at night; habn't I saved you an oberseer by doin' his work? hab you anything to complain agin me?"
"No, Joe, I have no complaint to make of you. You're a good nigger, an' you've always worked well. But you belong to me now; you're my nigger, and the first lesson my niggers have to learn is that I am master and they belong to me, and are never to resist anything I order them to do. So I always begin by giving them a good licking. Now strip and take it."
Joe saw that there was no help for him, and that for the time he must submit. He stripped off his clothing, and took his flogging without a word, but as he drew his shirt up over his torn and bleeding back, he said to himself: "Dis is de first an' de last." As soon as he was able he took a boat, and under cover of the night, rowed down the river, and made his way to the cabin of "Old Ben," Harriet's father, and said to him: "Nex' time Moses comes, let me know."
It was not long after this time, that the mysterious woman appeared—the woman on whom no one could lay his finger—and men, women, and children began to disappear from the plantations. One fine morning Joe was missing, and call as loud as he might, the master's voice had no power to bring him forth. Joe had certainly fled; and his brother William was gone, and Peter and Eliza. From other plantations other slaves were missing, and before their masters were awake to the fact, the party of fugitives, following their intrepid leader, were far on their way towards liberty.
The adventures of this escaping party would of themselves fill a volume. They hid in potato holes by day, while their pursuers passed within a few feet of them; they were passed along by friends in various disguises; they scattered and separated; some traveling by boat, some by wagons, some by cars, others on foot, to meet at some specified station of the under-ground railroad. They met at the house of Sam Green,[A] the man who was afterwards sent to prison for ten years for having a copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in his house. And so, hunted and hiding and wandering, they found themselves at last at the entrance of the long bridge which crosses the river at Wilmington, Delaware.
[Footnote A: In mentioning to me the circumstances of Sam Green's imprisonment, Harriet, who had no acquaintance with books, merely mentioned the fact as it had come to her own knowledge. But I have lately come across a book in the Astor Library which confirms the story precisely as she stated it. It is in a book by Rev. John Dixon Long, of Philadelphia. He says, "Samuel Green, a free colored man of Dorchester County, Maryland, was sentenced to ten years' confinement in the Maryland State Prison, at the spring term of the County Court held in Cambridge, Md.
"What was the crime imputed to this man, born on American soil, a man of good moral character, a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church; a husband and a father? Simply this: A copy of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' had been found in his possession. It was not proved that he had ever read it to the colored people."]
No time had been lost in posting up advertisements and offering rewards for the capture of these fugitives; for Joe in particular the reward offered was very high. First a thousand dollars, then fifteen hundred, and then two thousand, "an' all expenses clar an' clean for his body in Easton Jail." This high reward stimulated the efforts of the officers who were usually on the lookout for escaping fugitives, and the added rewards for others of the party, and the high price set on Harriet's head, filled the woods and highways with eager hunters after human prey. When Harriet and her companions approached the long Wilmington Bridge, a warning was given them by some secret friend, that the advertisements were up, and the bridge was guarded by police officers. Quick as lightning the plans were formed in her ready brain, and the terrified party were separated and hidden in the houses of different friends, till her arrangements for their further journey were completed.
There was at that time residing in Wilmington an old Quaker, whom I may call my "friend," for though I never saw his face, I have had correspondence with him in reference to Harriet and her followers. This man, whose name was Thomas Garrett, and who was well known in those days to the friends of the slave, was a man of a wonderfully large and generous heart, through whose hands during those days of distress and horror, no less than three thousand self-emancipated men, women and children passed on their way to freedom. He gave heart, hand, and means to aid these poor fugitives, and to our brave Harriet he often rendered most efficient help in her journeys back and forth.
He was the proprietor of a very large shoe establishment; and not one of these poor travelers aver left his house without a present of a new pair of shoes and other needed help. No sooner had this good man received intelligence of the condition of these poor creatures, than he devised a plan to elude the vigilance of the officers in pursuit, and bring Harriet and her party across the bridge. Two wagons filled with bricklayers were engaged, and sent over; this was a common sight there, and caused no remark. They went across the bridge singing and shouting, and it was not an unexpected thing that they should return as they went. After nightfall (and, fortunately, the night was very dark) the same wagons recrossed the bridge, but with an unlooked-for addition to their party. The fugitives were lying close together on the bottom of the wagons; the bricklayers were on the seats, still singing and shouting; and so they passed the guards, who were all unsuspicious of the nature of the load contained in the wagons, or of the amount of property thus escaping their hands.
The good man, Thomas Garrett, who was in a very feeble state of health when he last wrote me, and has now gone to his reward, supplied them with all needed comforts, and sent them on their way refreshed, and with renewed courage. And Harriet here set up her Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far hath the Lord helped me!" But many a danger, and many a fright, and many a deliverance awaited them, before they reached the city of New York. And even there they were not safe, for the Fugitive Slave Law was in operation, and their only refuge was Canada, which was now their promised land.
They finally reached New York in safety: and this goes almost without saying, for I may as well mention here that of the three hundred and more fugitives whom Harriet piloted from slavery, not one was ever recaptured, though all the cunning and skill of white men, backed by offered rewards of large sums of money, were brought into requisition for their recovery.
As they entered the anti-slavery office in New York, Mr. Oliver Johnson rose up and exclaimed, "Well, Joe, I am glad to see the man who is worth $2,000 to his master." At this Joe's heart sank. "Oh, Mas'r, how did you know me!" he panted. "Here is the advertisement in our office," said Mr. Johnson, "and the description is so close that no one could mistake it." And had he come through all these perils, had he traveled by day and night, and suffered cold and hunger, and lived in constant fear and dread, to find that far off here in New York State, he was recognized at once by the advertisement? How, then, was he ever to reach Canada?
"And how far off is Canada?" he asked. He was shown the map of New York State, and the track of the railroad, for more than three hundred miles to Niagara, where he would cross the river, and be free. But the way seemed long and full of dangers. They were surely safer on their own tired feet, where they might hide in forests and ditches, and take refuge in the friendly underground stations; but here, where this large party would be together in the cars, surely suspicion would fall upon them, and they would be seized and carried back. But Harriet encouraged him in her cheery way. He must not give up now. "De Lord had been with them in six troubles, and he would not desert them in de seventh." And there was nothing to do but to go on. As Moses spoke to the children of Israel, when compassed before and behind by dangers, so she spake to her people, that they should "go forward."
Up to this time, as they traveled they had talked and sung hymns together, like Pilgrim and his friends, and Joe's voice was the loudest and sweetest among them; but now he hanged his harp upon the willows, and could sing the Lord's songs no more.
"From dat time," in Harriet's language, "Joe was silent; he talked no more; he sang no more; he sat wid his head on his hand, an' nobody could 'rouse him, nor make him take any intrust in anything."
They passed along in safety through New York State, and at length found themselves approaching the Suspension Bridge. They could see the promised land on the other side. The uninviting plains of Canada seemed to them,
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, All dressed in living green;"
but they were not safe yet. Until they reached the center of the bridge, they were still in the power of their pursuers, who might at any pause enter the car, and armed with the power of the law, drag them back to slavery. The rest of the party were happy and excited; they were simple, ignorant creatures, and having implicit trust in their leader, they felt safe when with her, and no immediate danger threatened them. But Joe was of a different mould. He sat silent and sad, always thinking of the horrors that awaited him if recaptured. As it happened, all the other passengers were people who sympathized with them, understanding them to be a band of fugitives, and they listened with tears, as Harriet and all except poor Joe lifted up their voices and sang:
I'm on the way to Canada, That cold and dreary land, De sad effects of slavery, I can't no longer stand; I've served my Master all my days, Widout a dime reward, And now I'm forced to run away, To flee de lash, abroad; Farewell, ole Master, don't think hard of me, I'm traveling on to Canada, where all de slaves are free.
De hounds are baying on my track, Ole Master comes behind, Resolved that he will bring me back, Before I cross the line; I'm now embarked for yonder shore, Where a man's a man by law, De iron horse will bear me o'er, To "shake de lion's paw;" Oh, righteous Father, wilt thou not pity me. And help me on to Canada, where all de slaves are free.
Oh I heard Queen Victoria say, That if we would forsake, Our native land of slavery, And come across de lake; Dat she was standing on de shore, Wid arms extended wide, To give us all a peaceful home, Beyond de rolling tide; Farewell, ole Master, don't think hard of me, I'm traveling on to Canada, where all de slaves are free.
No doubt the simple creatures with her expected to cross a wide lake instead of a rapid river, and to see Queen Victoria with her crown upon her head, waiting with arms extended wide, to fold them all in her embrace. There was now but "one wide river to cross," and the cars rolled on to the bridge. In the distance was heard the roar of the mighty cataract, and now as they neared the center of the bridge, the falls might be clearly seen. Harriet was anxious to have her companions see this wonderful sight, and succeeded in bringing all to the windows, except Joe. But Joe still sat with his head on his hands, and not even the wonders of Niagara could draw him from his melancholy musings. At length as Harriet knew by the rise of the center of the bridge, and the descent immediately after, the line of danger was passed; she sprang across to Joe's side of the car, and shook him almost out of his seat, as she shouted, "Joe! you've shook de lion's paw!" This was her phrase for having entered on the dominions of England. But Joe did not understand this figurative expression. Then she shook him again, and put it more plainly, "Joe, you're in Queen Victoria's dominions! You're a free man!"
Then Joe arose. His head went up, he raised his hands on high, and his eyes, streaming with tears, to heaven, and then he began to sing and shout:
"Glory to God and Jesus too, One more soul got safe; Oh, go and carry the news, One more soul got safe."
"Joe, come and look at the falls!"
"Glory to God and Jesus too, One more soul got safe."
"Joe! it's your last chance. Come and see de falls!"
"Glory to God and Jesus too, One more soul got safe."
And this was all the answer. The train stopped on the other side; and the first feet to touch British soil, after those of the conductor, were those of poor Joe.
Loud roared the waters of Niagara, but louder still ascended the Anthem of praise from the overflowing heart of the freeman. And can we doubt that the strain was taken up by angel voices and echoed and re-echoed through the vaults of heaven:
Glory to God in the highest, Glory to God and Jesus too, For all these souls now safe.
"The white ladies and gentlemen gathered round him," said Harriet, "till I couldn't see Joe for the crowd, only I heard his voice singing, 'Glory to God and Jesus too,' louder than ever." A sweet young lady reached over her fine cambric handkerchief to him, and as Joe wiped the great tears off his face, he said, "Tank de Lord! dere's only one more journey for me now, and dat's to Hebben!" As we bid farewell to Joe here, I may as well say that Harriet saw him several times after that, a happy and industrious freeman in Canada.[B]
[Footnote B: In my recent interview with Mr. Oliver Johnson he told me of an interesting incident in the life of the good man, Thomas Garrett.
He was tried twice for assisting in the escape of fugitive slaves, and was fined so heavily that everything he possessed was taken from him and sold to pay the fine. At the age of sixty he was left without a penny, but he went bravely to work, and in some measure regained his fortune; all the time aiding, in every way possible, all stray fugitives who applied to him for help.
Again he was arrested, tried, and heavily fined, and as the Judge of the United States Court pronounced the sentence, he said, in a solemn manner: "Garrett, let this be a lesson to you, not to interfere hereafter with the cause of justice, by helping off runaway negroes.
The old man, who had stood to receive his sentence, here raised his head, and fixing his eyes on "the Court," he said:
"Judge—thee hasn't left me a dollar, but I wish to say to thee, and to all in this court room, that if anyone knows of a fugitive who wants a shelter, and a friend, send him to Thomas Garrett, and he will befriend him!"
[Not Luther before the Council at Worms was grander than this brave old man in his unswerving adherence to principle. In those days that tried men's souls there were many men like this old Quaker, and many women too, who would have gone cheerfully to the fire and the stake, for the cause of suffering humanity; men and women these "of whom the world was not worthy."]
On one of her journeys to the North, as she was piloting a company of refugees, Harriet came, just as morning broke, to a town, where a colored man had lived whose house had been one of her stations of the under-ground, or unseen railroad. They reached the house, and leaving her party huddled together in the middle of the street, in a pouring rain, Harriet went to the door, and gave the peculiar rap which was her customary signal to her friends. There was not the usual ready response, and she was obliged to repeat the signal several times. At length a window was raised, and the head of a white man appeared, with the gruff question, "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" Harriet asked after her friend, and was told that he had been obliged to leave for "harboring niggers."
Here was an unforeseen trouble; day was breaking, and daylight was the enemy of the hunted and flying fugitives. Their faithful leader stood one moment in the street, and in that moment she had flashed a message quicker than that of the telegraph to her unseen Protector, and the answer came as quickly; in a suggestion to her of an almost forgotten place of refuge. Outside of the town there was a little island in a swamp, where the grass grew tall and rank, and where no human being could be suspected of seeking a hiding place. To this spot she conducted her party; she waded the swamp, carrying in a basket two well-drugged babies (these were a pair of little twins, whom I have since seen well grown young women), and the rest of the company following. She ordered them to lie down in the tall, wet grass, and here she prayed again, and waited for deliverance. The poor creatures were all cold, and wet, and hungry, and Harriet did not dare to leave them to get supplies; for no doubt the man at whose house she had knocked, had given the alarm in the town; and officers might be on the watch for them. They were truly in a wretched condition, but Harriet's faith never wavered, her silent prayer still ascended, and she confidently expected help from some quarter or other.
It was after dusk when a man came slowly walking along the solid pathway on the edge of the swamp. He was clad in the garb of a Quaker; and proved to be a "friend" in need and indeed; he seemed to be talking to himself, but ears quickened by sharp practice caught the words he was saying:
"My wagon stands in the barn-yard of the next farm across the way. The horse is in the stable; the harness hangs on a nail." And the man was gone. Night fell, and Harriet stole forth to the place designated. Not only a wagon, but a wagon well provisioned stood in the yard; and before many minutes the party were rescued from their wretched position, and were on their way rejoicing, to the next town. Here dwelt a Quaker whom Harriet knew, and he readily took charge of the horse and wagon, and no doubt returned them to their owner. How the good man who thus came to their rescue had received any intimation of their being in the neighborhood Harriet never knew. But these sudden deliverances never seemed to strike her as at all strange or mysterious; her prayer was the prayer of faith, and she expected an answer.
At one time, as she was on her way South for a party of slaves, she was stopped not far from the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, by a young woman, who had been for some days in hiding, and was anxiously watching for "Moses," who was soon expected to pass that way.
This girl was a young and pretty Mulatto, named Tilly, she had been lady's maid and dressmaker, for her Mistress. She was engaged to a young man from another plantation, but he had joined one of Harriet's parties, and gone North. Tilly was to have gone also at that time, but had found it impossible to get away. Now she had learned that it was her Master's intention to give her to a Negro of his own for his wife; and in fear and desperation, she made a strike for freedom. Friends had concealed her, and all had been on the watch for Moses.
The distress and excitement of the poor creature was so great, and she begged and implored in such agonized tones that Harriet would just see her safe to Baltimore, where she knew of friends who would harbor her, and help her on her way, that Harriet determined to turn about, and endeavor to take the poor girl thus far on her Northward journey.
They reached the shore of Chesapeake Bay too late to leave that night, and were obliged to hide for a night and day in the loft of an old out-house, where every sound caused poor Tilly to tremble as if she had an ague fit. When the time for the boat to leave arrived, a sad disappointment awaited them. The boat on which they had expected to leave was disabled, and another boat was to take its place. At that time, according to the law of Slavery, no Negro could leave his Master's land, or travel anywhere, without a pass, properly signed by his owner. Of course this poor fugitive had no pass; and Harriet's passes were her own wits; but among her many friends, there was one who seemed to have influence with the clerk of the boat, on which she expected to take passage; and she was the bearer of a note requesting, or commanding him to take these two women to the end of his route, asking no questions.
Now here was an unforeseen difficulty; the boat was not going; the clerk was not there; all on the other boat were strangers. But forward they must go, trusting in Providence. As they walked down to the boat, a gang of lazy white men standing together, began to make comments on their appearance.
"Too many likely looking Niggers traveling North, about these days." "Wonder if these wenches have got a pass." "Where you going, you two?" Tilly trembled and cowered, and clung to her protector, but Harriet put on a bold front, and holding the note given her by her friend in her hand, and supporting her terrified charge, she walked by the men, taking no notice of their insults.
They joined the stream of people going up to get their tickets, but when Harriet asked for hers, the clerk eyed her suspiciously, and said: "You just stand aside, you two; I'll attend to your case bye and bye."
Harriet led the young girl to the bow of the boat, where they were alone, and here, having no other help, she, as was her custom, addressed herself to the Lord. Kneeling on the seat, and supporting her head on her hands, and fixing her eyes on the waters of the bay, she groaned:
"Oh, Lord! You've been wid me in six troubles, don't desert me in the seventh!"
"Moses! Moses!" cried Tilly, pulling her by the sleeve. "Do go and see if you can't get tickets now."
"Oh, Lord! You've been wid me in six troubles, don't desert me in the seventh."
And so Harriet's story goes on in her peculiarly graphic manner, till at length in terror Tilly exclaimed:
"Oh, Moses! the man is coming. What shall we do?"
"Oh, Lord, you've been wid me in six troubles!"
Here the clerk touched her on the shoulder, and Tilly thought their time had come, but all he said was:
"You can come now and get your tickets," and their troubles were over.
What changed this man from his former suspicious and antagonistic aspect, Harriet never knew. Of course she said it was "de Lord," but as to the agency he used, she never troubled herself to inquire. She expected deliverance when she prayed, unless the Lord had ordered otherwise, and in that case she was perfectly willing to accept the Divine decree.
When surprise was expressed at her courage and daring, or at her unexpected deliverances, she would always reply: "Don't, I tell you, Missus, 'twan't me, 'twas de Lord! Jes' so long as he wanted to use me, he would take keer of me, an' when he didn't want me no longer, I was ready to go; I always tole him, I'm gwine to hole stiddy on to you, an' you've got to see me trou."
There came a time when Harriet, who had already brought away as many of her family as she could reach, besides all others who would trust themselves to her care, became much troubled in "spirit" about three of her brothers, having had an intimation of some kind that danger was impending over them. With her usual wonderful cunning, she employed a friend to write a letter for her to a man named Jacob Jackson, who lived near the plantation where these brothers were at that time the hired slaves.
Jacob Jackson was a free negro, who could both read and write, and who was under suspicion just then of having a hand in the disappearance of colored "property." It was necessary, therefore, to exercise great caution in writing to him, on his own account as well as that of the writer, and those whom she wished to aid. Jacob had an adopted son, William Henry Jackson, also free, who had come North. Harriet determined to sign her letter with William Henry's name, feeling sure that Jacob would be clever enough to understand by her peculiar phraseology, the meaning she intended to convey.
Therefore, after speaking of indifferent matters, the letter went on: "Read my letter to the old folks, and give my love to them, and tell my brothers to be always watching unto prayer, and when the good old ship of Zion comes along, to be ready to step on board." This letter was signed "William Henry Jackson."
Jacob was not allowed to have his letters in those days, until the self-elected inspectors of correspondence had had the perusal of them, and consulted over their secret meaning. These wise-acres therefore assembled, wiped their glasses carefully, put them on, and proceeded to examine this suspicious document. What it meant they could not imagine. William Henry Jackson had no parents, or brothers, and the letter was incomprehensible. Study as they might, no light dawned upon them, but their suspicions became stronger, and they were sure the letter meant mischief.
White genius having exhausted itself, black genius was brought into requisition. Jacob was sent for, and the letter was placed in his hands. He read between the lines, and comprehended the hidden meaning at once. "Moses" had dictated this letter, and Moses was coming. The brothers must be on the watch, and ready to join her at a moment's warning. But Moses must hurry, for the word had gone forth that the brothers were to be sent South, and the chain-gang was being collected.
Jacob read the letter slowly, threw it down, and said: "Dat letter can't be meant for me no how; I can't make head or tail of it." And he walked off and took immediate measures to let Harriet's brothers know that she was on the way, and they must be ready at the given signal to start for the North.
It was the day before Christmas when Harriet arrived, and the brothers were to have started on the day after Christmas for the South. They started on Christmas-day, but with their faces turned in another direction, and instead of the chain-gang and the whip, they had the North Star for their guide, and the Moses of her people for their leader.
As usual, this mysterious woman appeared suddenly, and word was conveyed to the brothers that they were to be at Old Ben's cabin on Saturday night, ready to start. "Old Ben" was their father, and as the parents were not of much use now, Harriet was pretty certain that they would not be sent away, and so she left them till she had rescued the younger and more valuable members of the family.
Quite a number had assembled at the cabin when the hour came for starting, but one brother was missing. Something had detained John; but when the time for starting had struck, Harriet's word was "forward," and she "nebber waited for no one."
Poor John was ready to start from his cabin in the negro quarter when his wife was taken ill, and in an hour or two another little heir to the blessings of slavery had come into the world.
John must go off for a "Granny," and being a faithful, affectionate creature, he could not leave his wife under the present circumstances.
After the birth of the child he determined to start. The North and freedom, or the South and life-long slavery, were the alternatives before him; and this was his last chance. If he once reached the North, he hoped with the help of Moses to bring his wife and children there.
Again and again he tried to start out of the door, but a watchful eye was on him, and he was always arrested by the question, "Where you gwine, John?" His wife had not been informed of the danger hanging over his head, but she knew he was uneasy, and she feared he was meditating a plan of escape. John told her he was going to try to get hired out on Christmas to another man, as that was the day on which such changes were made.
He left the house but stood near the window listening. He heard his wife sobbing and moaning, and not being able to endure it he went back to her. "Oh, John!" she cried, "you's gwine to lebe me! I know it! but wherebber you go, John, don't forgit me an' de little children."
John assured her that wherever he went she should come. He might not come for her, but he would send Moses, and then he hurried away. He had many miles to walk to his old father's cabin, where he knew the others would be waiting for him, and at daybreak he overtook them in the "fodder house," not far from the home of the old people.
At that time Harriet had not seen her mother for six years, but she did not dare to let her know that four of her children were so near her on their way to the North, for she would have raised such an uproar in her efforts to detain them, that the whole neighborhood would have been aroused.
The poor old woman had been expecting her sons to spend Christmas with her as usual. She had been hard at work in preparation for their arrival. The fatted pig had been killed, and had been converted into every form possible to the flesh of swine; pork, bacon and sausages were ready, but the boys did not come, and there she sat watching and waiting.
In the night when Harriet with two of her brothers, and two other fugitives who had joined them arrived at the "fodder house," they were exhausted and well-nigh famished. They sent the two strange men up to the cabin to try to rouse "Old Ben," but not to let their mother know that her children were so near her.
The men succeeded in rousing Old Ben, who came out quietly, and as soon as he heard their story, went back into the house, gathered together a quantity of provisions, and came down to the fodder house. He placed the provisions inside the door, saying a few words of welcome to his children, but taking care not to see them. "I know what'll come of dis," he said, "an' I ain't gwine to see my chillen, no how." The close espionage under which these poor creatures dwelt, engendered in them a cunning and artifice, which to them seemed only a fair and right attempt on their part, to cope with power and cruelty constantly in force against them.
Up among the ears of corn lay the old man's children, and one of them he had not seen for six years. It rained in torrents all that Sunday, and there they lay among the corn, for they could not start till night. At about daybreak John had joined them. There were wide chinks in the boards of the fodder house, and through these they could see the cabin of the old folks, now quite alone in their old age. All day long, every few minutes, they would see the old woman come out, and shading her eyes with her hand, take a long look down the road to see if "de boys" were coming, and then with a sad and disappointed air she would turn back into the cabin, and they could almost hear her sigh as she did so.
What had become of the boys? Had they been sold off down South? Had they tried to escape and been retaken? Would she never see them or hear of them more?
I have often heard it said by Southern people that "niggers had no feeling; they did not care when their children were taken from them." I have seen enough of them to know that their love for their offspring is quite equal to that of the "superior race," and it is enough to hear the tale of Harriet's endurance and self-sacrifice to rescue her brothers and sisters, to convince one that a heart, truer and more loving than that of many a white woman, dwelt in her bosom. I am quite willing to acknowledge that she was almost an anomaly among her people, but I have known many of her family, and so far as I can judge they all seem to be peculiarly intelligent, upright and religious people, and to have a strong feeling of family affection. There may be many among the colored race like them; certainly all should not be judged by the idle, miserable darkies who have swarmed about Washington and other cities since the War.
Two or three times while the group of fugitives were concealed in this loft of the fodder house, the old man came down and pushed food inside the door, and after nightfall he came again to accompany his children as far as he dared, upon their journey. When he reached the fodder house, he tied a handkerchief tight about his eyes, and one of his sons taking him by one arm, and Harriet taking him by the other, they went on their way talking in low tones together, asking and answering questions as to relatives and friends.
The time of parting came, and they bade him farewell, and left him standing in the middle of the road. When he could no longer hear their footsteps he turned back, and taking the handkerchief from his eyes, he hastened home.
But before Harriet and her brothers left, they had gone up to the cabin during the evening to take a silent farewell of the poor old mother. Through the little window of the cabin they saw her sitting by the fire, her head on her hand, rocking back and forth, as was her way when she was in great trouble; praying, no doubt, and wondering what had become of her children, and what new evil had befallen them.
With streaming eyes, they watched her for ten or fifteen minutes; but time was precious, and they must reach their next under-ground station before daylight, and so they turned sadly away.
When Christmas was over, and the men had not returned, there began to be no small stir in the plantation from which they had escaped. The first place to search, of course, was the home of the old people. At the "Big House" nothing had been seen of them. The master said "they had generally come up there to see the house servants, when they came for Christmas, but this time they hadn't been round at all. Better go down to Old Ben's, and ask him."
They went to Old Ben's. No one was at home but "Old Kit," the mother. She said "not one of 'em came dis Christmas. She was looking for 'em all day, an' her heart was mos' broke about 'em."
Old Ben was found and questioned about his sons. Old Ben said, "He hadn't seen one of 'em dis Christmas." With all his deep religious feeling, Old Ben thought that in such a case as this, it was enough for him to keep to the letter, and let the man hunters find his sons if they could. Old Ben knew the Old Testament stories well. Perhaps he thought of Rahab who hid the spies, and received a commendation for it. Perhaps of Jacob and Abraham, and some of their rather questionable proceedings. He knew the New Testament also, but I think perhaps he thought the kind and loving Saviour would have said to him, "Neither do I condemn thee." I doubt if he had read Mrs. Opie, and I wonder what judgment that excellent woman would have given in a case like this.
These poor fugitives, hunted like partridges upon the mountains, or like the timid fox by the eager sportsman, were obliged in self-defense to meet cunning with cunning, and to borrow from the birds and animals their mode of eluding their pursuers by any device which in the exigency of the case might present itself to them. They had a creed of their own, and a code of morals which we dare not criticise till we find our own lives and those of our dear ones similarly imperiled.
One of Harriet's other brothers had long been attached to a pretty mulatto girl named Catherine, who was owned by another master; but this man had other views for her, and would not let her marry William Henry. On one of Harriet's journeys this brother had made up his mind to make one of her next party to the North, and that Catherine should go also. He went to a tailor's and bought a new suit of clothes for a small person, and concealed them inside the fence of the garden of Catherine's master. This garden ran down to the bank of a little stream, and Catherine had been notified where to find the clothes. When the time came to get ready, Catherine boldly walked down to the foot of the garden, took up the bundle, and hiding under the bank, she put on the man's garments and sent her own floating down the stream.
She was soon missed, and all the girls in the house were set to looking for Catherine. Presently they saw coming up from the river a well-dressed little darkey boy, and they all ceased looking for Catherine, and stared at him. He walked directly by them, round the house, and out of the gate, without the slightest suspicion being excited as to who he was. In a few weeks from that time, this party were all safe in Canada.
William Henry died in Canada, but I have seen and talked with Catherine at Harriet's house.
I am not quite certain which company it was that was under her guidance on their Northward way, but at one time when a number of men were following her, she received one of her sudden intimations that danger was ahead. "Chillen," she said, "we must stop here and cross dis ribber." They were on the bank of a stream of some width, and apparently a deep and rapid one. The men were afraid to cross; there was no bridge and no boat; but like her great pattern, she went forward into the waters, and the men not knowing what else to do, followed, but with fear and trembling. The stream did not divide to make a way for them to cross over, but to her was literally fulfilled the promise:
"When through the deep waters I cause thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow."
"For," said she, "Missus, de water never came above my chin; when we thought surely we were all going under, it became shallower and shallower, and we came out safe on the odder side." Then there was another stream to cross, which was also passed in safety. They found afterward that a few rods ahead of them the advertisement of these escaping fugitives was posted up, and the officers, forewarned of their coming, were waiting for them. But though the Lord thus marvelously protected her from capture, she did not always escape the consequences of exposure like this. It was in March that this passage of the streams was effected, and the weather was raw and cold; Harriet traveled a long distance in her wet clothing, and was afterward very ill for a long time with a very severe cold. I have often heard her tell this story; but some of the incidents, particularly that of her illness, were not mentioned by herself, but were written me by friend Garrett.
I hardly know how to approach the subject of the spiritual experiences of my sable heroine. They seem so to enter into the realm of the supernatural, that I can hardly wonder that those who never knew her are ready to throw discredit upon the story. Ridicule has been cast upon the whole tale of her adventures by the advocates of human slavery; and perhaps by those who would tell with awe-struck countenance some tale of ghostly visitation, or spiritual manifestation, at a dimly lighted "seance."
Had I not known so well her deeply religious character, and her conscientious veracity, and had I not since the war, and when she was an inmate of my own house, seen such remarkable instances of what seemed to be her direct intercourse with heaven, I should not dare to risk my own character for veracity by making these things public in this manner.
But when I add that I have the strongest testimonials to her character for integrity from William H. Seward, Gerritt Smith, Wendell Phillips, Fred. Douglass, and my brother, Prof. S.M. Hopkins, who has known her for many years, I do not fear to brave the incredulity of any reader.
Governor Seward wrote of her:
"I have known Harriet long, and a nobler, higher spirit, or a truer, seldom dwells in human form."
Gerritt Smith, the distinguished philanthropist, was so kind as to write me expressing his gratification that I had undertaken this work, and added:
"I have often listened to Harriet with delight on her visits to my family, and I am convinced that she is not only truthful, but that she has a rare discernment, and a deep and sublime philanthropy."
Wendell Phillips wrote me, mentioning that in Boston, Harriet earned the confidence and admiration of all those who were working for freedom; and speaking of her labors during the war, he added: "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 more before that time, for the colored race, than our fearless and sagacious friend."
Many other letters I received; from Mr. Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Charities, from Fred. Douglass, from Rev. Henry Fowler, and from Union officers at the South during the war, all speaking in the highest praise and admiration of the character and labors of my black heroine.
Many of her passes also were sent me; in which she is spoken of as "Moses," for by that name she was universally known. For the story of her heroic deeds had gone before her, and the testimony of all who knew her accorded with the words of Mr. Seward:
"The cause of freedom owes her much; the country owes her much." And yet the country was not willing to pay her anything. Mr. Seward's efforts, seconded by other distinguished men, to get a pension for her, were sneered at in Congress as absurd and quixotic, and the effort failed.
Secretary Seward, from whom Harriet purchased her little place near Auburn, died. The place had been mortgaged when this noble woman left her home, and threw herself into the work needed for the Union cause; the mortgage was to be foreclosed. The old parents, then nearly approaching their centennial year, were to be turned out to die in a poor-house, when the sudden determination was taken to send out a little sketch of her life to the benevolent public, in the hope of redeeming the little home. This object, through the kindness of friends, was accomplished. The old people died in Harriet's own home, breathing blessings upon her for her devotion to them.
Now another necessity has arisen, and our sable friend, who never has been known to beg for herself, asks once more for help in accomplishing a favorite project for the good of her people. This, as she says, is "her last work, and she only prays de Lord to let her live till it is well started, and den she is ready to go." This work is the building of a hospital for old and disabled colored people; and in this she has already had the sympathy and aid of the good people of Auburn; the mayor and his noble wife having given her great assistance in the meetings she has held in aid of this object. It is partly to aid her in this work, on which she has so set her heart, that this story of her life and labors is being re-written.
At one time, when she felt called upon to go down for some company of slaves, she was, as she knew, watched for everywhere (for there had been an excited meeting of slave-holders, and they were determined to catch her, dead or alive), her friends gathered round her, imploring her not to go on in the face of danger and death, for they were sure she would never be allowed to return. And this was her answer:
"Now look yer! John saw de City, didn't he?" "Yes, John saw de City." "Well, what did he see? He saw twelve gates, didn't he? Three of dose gates was on de north; three of 'em was on de east; an' three of 'em was on de west; but dere was three more, an' dem was on de south; an' I reckon, if dey kill me down dere, I'll git into one of dem gates, don't you?"
Whether Harriet's ideas of the geographical bearings of the gates of the Celestial City as seen in the apocalyptic vision, were correct or not, we cannot doubt that she was right in the deduction her faith drew from them; and that somewhere, whether North, East, South, or West, to our dim vision, there is a gate that will be opened for our good Harriet, where the welcome will be given, "Come in, thou blessed of my Father."
It is a peculiarity of Harriet, that she had seldom been known to intimate a wish that anything should be given to herself; but when her people are in need, no scruples of delicacy stand in the way of her petitions, nay, almost her demands for help.
When, after rescuing so many others, and all of her brothers and sisters that could be reached, with their children, she received an intimation in some mysterious or supernatural way, that the old people were in trouble and needed her, she asked the Lord where she should go for the money to enable her to go for them. She was in some way, as she supposed, directed to the office of a certain gentleman, a friend of the slaves, in New York. When she left the house of the friends with whom she was staying, she said: "I'm gwine to Mr. ———'s office, an' I ain't gwine to lebe dere, an' I ain't gwine to eat or drink, till I get money enough to take me down after de ole people."
She went into this gentleman's office.
"How do you do, Harriet? What do you want?" was the first greeting.
"I want some money, sir."
"You do! How much do you want?"
"I want twenty dollars, sir!"
"Twenty dollars! Who told you to come here for twenty dollars!"
"De Lord tole me, sir."
"He did; well I guess the Lord's mistaken this time."
"No, sir; de Lord's nebber mistaken! Anyhow I'm gwine to sit here till I get it."
So she sat down and went to sleep. All the morning, and all the afternoon, she sat there still; sometimes sleeping, sometimes rousing up, often finding the office full of gentlemen; sometimes finding herself alone. Many fugitives were passing through New York at this time, and those who came in supposed her to be one of them, tired out, and resting. Sometimes she would be roused up with the words:
"Come, Harriet! You had better go; there's no money for you here."
"No, sir; I'm not gwine to stir from here till I git my twenty dollars!"
She does not know all that happened, for deep sleep fell upon her; probably one of the turns of somnolency to which she has always been subject; but without doubt her story was whispered from one to another, and as her name and exploits were well known to many persons, the sympathies of some of those visitors to the office were aroused; at all events she came to full consciousness, at last, to find herself the happy possessor of sixty dollars, the contribution of these strangers. She went on her way rejoicing to bring her old parents from the land of bondage.
When she reached their home, she found that her old father was to be tried the next Monday for helping off slaves. And so, as she says in her forcible language, "I just removed my father's trial to a higher court, and brought him off to Canada."
The manner of their escape is detailed in the following letter from friend Garrett:
WILMINGTON, 6th Mo., 1868.
MY FRIEND: Thy favor of the 12th reached me yesterday, requesting such reminiscences as I could give respecting the remarkable labors of Harriet Tubman, in aiding her colored friends from bondage. I may begin by saying, living as I have in a slave State, and the laws being very severe where any proof could be made of any one aiding slaves on their way to freedom, I have not felt at liberty to keep any written word of Harriet's or my own labors, except in numbering those whom I have aided. For that reason I cannot furnish so interesting an account of Harriet's labors as I otherwise could, and now would be glad to do; for in truth I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul. She has frequently told me that she talked with God, and he talked with her every day of her life, and she has declared to me that she felt no more fear of being arrested by her former master, or any other person, when in his immediate neighborhood, than she did in the State of New York, or Canada, for she said she never ventured only where God sent her, and her faith in the Supreme Power truly was great.
I have now been confined to my room with indisposition more than four weeks, and cannot sit to write much; but I feel so much interested in Harriet, that I will try to give some of the most remarkable incidents that now present themselves to my mind. The date of the commencement of her labors, I cannot certainly give; but I think it must have been about 1845; from that time till 1860, I think she must have brought from the neighborhood where she had been held as a slave, from 60 to 80 persons,[C] from Maryland, some 80 miles from here. No slave who placed himself under her care, was ever arrested that I have heard of; she mostly had her regular stopping places on her route; but in one instance, when she had several stout men with her, some 30 miles below here, she said that God told her to stop, which she did; and then asked him what she must do. He told her to leave the road, and turn to the left; she obeyed, and soon came to a small stream of tide water; there was no boat, no bridge; she again inquired of her Guide what she was to do. She was told to go through. It was cold, in the month of March; but having confidence in her Guide, she went in; the water came up to her armpits; the men refused to follow till they saw her safe on the opposite shore. They then followed, and, if I mistake not, she had soon to wade a second stream; soon after which she came to a cabin of colored people, who took them all in, put them to bed, and dried their clothes, ready to proceed next night on their journey. Harriet had run out of money, and gave them some of her underclothing to pay for their kindness. When she called on me two days after, she was so hoarse she could hardly speak, and was also suffering with violent toothache. The strange part of the story we found to be, that the masters of these men had put up the previous day, at the railroad station near where she left, an advertisement for them, offering a large reward for their apprehension; but they made a safe exit. She at one time brought as many as seven or eight, several of whom were women and children. She was well known here in Chester County and Philadelphia, and respected by all true abolitionists. I had been in the habit of furnishing her and those who accompanied her, as she returned from her acts of mercy, with new shoes; and on one occasion when I had not seen her for three months, she came into my store. I said, "Harriet, I am glad to see thee! I suppose thee wants a pair of new shoes." Her reply was, "I want more than that." I, in jest, said, "I have always been liberal with thee, and wish to be; but I am not rich, and cannot afford to give much." Her reply was: "God tells me you have money for me." I asked her "if God never deceived her?" She said, "No!" "Well! how much does thee want?" After studying a moment, she said: "About twenty-three dollars." I then gave her twenty-four dollars and some odd cents, the net proceeds of five pounds sterling, received through Eliza Wigham, of Scotland, for her. I had given some accounts of Harriet's labor to the Anti-Slavery Society of Edinburgh, of which Eliza Wigham was Secretary. On the reading of my letter, a gentleman present said he would send Harriet four pounds if he knew of any way to get it to her. Eliza Wigham offered to forward it to me for her, and that was the first money ever received by me for her. Some twelve months after, she called on me again, and said that God told her I had some money for her, but not so much as before. I had, a few days previous, received the net proceeds of one pound ten shillings from Europe for her. To say the least there was something remarkable in these facts, whether clairvoyance, or the divine impression on her mind from the source of all power, I cannot tell; but certain it was she had a guide within herself other than the written word, for she never had any education. She brought away her aged parents in a singular manner. They started with an old horse, fitted out in primitive style with a straw collar, a pair of old chaise wheels, with a board on the axle to sit on, another board swung with ropes, fastened to the axle, to rest their feet on. She got her parents, who were both slaves belonging to different masters, on this rude vehicle to the railroad, put them in the cars, turned Jehu herself, and drove to town in a style that no human being ever did before or since; but she was happy at having arrived safe. Next day, I furnished her with money to take them all to Canada. I afterward sold their horse, and sent them the balance of the proceeds. I believe that Harriet succeeded in freeing all her relatives but one sister and her three children. Etc., etc. Thy friend,
[Footnote C: Friend Garrett probably refers here to those who passed through his hands. Harriet was obliged to come by many different routes on her different journeys, and though she never counted those whom she brought away with her, it would seem, by the computation of others, that there must have been somewhat over three hundred brought by her to the Northern States and Canada.]
As I have before stated, with all Harriet's reluctance to ask for anything for herself, no matter how great her needs may be, no such scruples trouble her if any of her people are in need. She never hesitates to call upon her kind friends in Auburn and in other places for help when her people are in want. At one time, when some such emergency had arisen, she went to see her friend, Governor Seward, and boldly presented her case to him.
"Harriet," he said, "you have worked for others long enough. If you would ever ask anything for yourself, I would gladly give it to you, but I will not help you to rob yourself for others any longer."
In spite of this apparent roughness, we may be sure Harriet did not leave this noble man's house empty handed.
And here I am reminded of a touching little circumstance that occurred at the funeral of Secretary Seward.
The great man lay in his coffin. Friends, children, and admirers were gathered there. Everything that love and wealth could do had been done; around him were floral emblems of every possible shape and design, that human ingenuity could suggest, or money could purchase. Just before the coffin was to be closed, a woman black as night stole quietly in, and laying a wreath of field flowers on his feet, as quietly glided out again. This was the simple tribute of our sable friend, and her last token of love and gratitude to her kind benefactor. I think he would have said, "This woman hath done more than ye all."