Harriet Tubman Moses of Blacks

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

From 1850 to 1861 Harriet Tubman made 19 trips into the deep-south leading over 300 slaves to freedom.  To abolitionist Frederick Douglass she reported never losing one person and never getting captured. 

If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
— Harriet Tubman

For that Harriet was called Moses. Just like the Biblical Moses, she led her people to freedom. 

For the first 28 years of her life Harriet lived as a slave, never accepting injustice and vowing to be free.  One day, she recalled being whipped five times before breakfast.  It was so common she got into the habit of putting on all the thick clothes she could find to protect herself.

For years before her escape she had recurring visions of her flight to freedom understanding that if she were caught she would most likely be branded as punishment.   

With the help of a Quaker woman she escaped to Philadelphia by way of the Underground Railroad, the portal used by runaway slaves to escape.  Fugitives kept moving at night and rested and hid during the day.

By the mid-19th century some 50,000 slaves escaped using the railroad.  It was never a real railroad but a secret network of safe houses, tunnels and roads leading to freedom.  

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going,” she told them.

Once free, Harriet risked going back south again and again.  First she helped her sister and her sister’s children escape to Canada.  On her second trip she rescued one of her brothers and two other men.

On her third trip she planned to rescue her husband only to find out he had taken another wife and refused to even see her. She figured they were still married and took the news hard. Later she brought her parents to freedom. 

To the slavers she was a thief and a steep bounty was offered for her head.

“If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more,” she said.

She developed a pattern of ferrying at least 10 fugitives at a time at least once a year.  She stayed on back roads and always traveled at night.   

“She always came in the winter, when the nights are long and dark, and people who have homes stay in them,” one admirer said.

Harriet’s devotion to women’s rights was also notorious. Once slaves were freed her women friends often fought for equal rights.

Once the Civil War broke out she served as a scout and spy for the Union Army in South Carolina.  Harriet was the only woman to officially lead soldiers into battle. 

In March of 1913 Harriet lapsed into a final sickness.  She witnessed the burials of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, William Seward and so many of the people involved in the struggle to free slaves.  She understood it was her turn.  

She was buried with military honors in Auburn, New York’s Fort Hill Cemetery.

On March 30, Swann Auction Galleries featured an 1864 Civil War photo album with two photographs of Harriet Tubman.  One shows a previously unknown carte-de-visite showing a younger Harriet.

Other photos include John Wills Menard, the first black man elected to Congress and Charles Sumner, leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts plus “little persons” Commodore Nut and his wife, for a total of 44 photos. The album was presented to Quaker schoolteacher Emily Howland by her friend Carrie Nichols and sold for $161,000. 


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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