by Beth Chase
My name is Beth Chase and I am the assistant librarian at the Jefferson
Elementary School in Jefferson, NH. This year, as a teaching aid for
Black History Month, I made to puppets in the images of Martin Luther King, Jr.and
Harriet Tubman. MLK spent the day in the second grade classroom
while the teacher taught her class about him. I wrote a play based on
several little snippets of information from the internet and children's
books about Harriet Tubman that actually told the story of her life and
performed that for the children. I would like to share my story and
Good morning to y'all. Let me introduce myself. I was born with the name of Araminta Ross but you may have heard of me by another name, Harriet Tubman. Raise your hand up nice and high so I can see if you know me by that name. Well, I can see many of you have already heard of me. Would you like to hear some about my life and maybe some things you hadn't heard before?
Let's get started here. Let's see, I guess it would be best if I just started at the beginning don't you think? My mother and father were from the Ashanti tribe in West Africa. They were taken from there and ended up on a plantation in the state of Maryland which your teacher can point out to you later on a map.
The man that owned the plantation was Edward Brodas. Mr. Brodas produced lumber to sell but that's not all. He raised slaves to rent and sell. It was there on that plantation that I was born. In a way I was lucky cause lots of times babies were pulled away from their crying mamas and sold but I was able to stay with my family.
I didn't have much to wear, just a dirty ol' cotton dress and I was dirty and so cold. I slept as close to the fire as possibly could. Sometimes I stuck my toes into the ashes so they wouldn't get frostbite. I mostly got cornmeal to eat and sometimes a little fish or meat cause my daddy could hunt. That was a privilege. I spent mos' my time with my grandma cause she was too old for slave labor but when I was 5 or 6 I was lent out to work.
I wasn't old enough yet for field work so I was put to weaving. My new master thought I slacked off at it so I got sent to check muskrat traps. I caught the measles whilst I was doin' this job and got sent back to Mr. Brodas. I got better though and out I went again. Sent to a woman to clean her house and to baby sit. One day I ate one of the woman's sugar cubes and she whipped me for it. Then she sent me back to Mr. Brodas.
When I turned 11, I started wearing this here bandana on my head. It meant I wasn't a child anymore and that I could be sent out into the fields to work. That's when I changed my name from Araminta to Harriet. Harriet was my mama's name. I didn't like to work in the houses and I got beaten many a time by my masters.
By the time I was 15 they wouldn't let me work in the houses any more and I got sent out into the fields to work. I worked hard in those fields but my masters said I was defiant and rebellious. I s'pose in their eyes I was.
One time when I was about 15 years old another slave got into trouble working in the same field as me. He was trying to run away and the master was going to beat him. I stood up for him and tried to stop the master from hittin' him. He threw a heavy lead weight at him and it hit me in the head. I mos' died from that blow. I was in a coma for months. My whole life long after that I had what you'd call blackouts.
When I was in my 20's my mama made me marry John Tubman. He was a big man and he laughed easy but he was a free man and I was a slave. I was allowed to sleep in his house at night but during the daytime I worked like any other slave. Oh, I wanted to run to the north and find freedom. I tried to talk my husband into it but he said he was just fine where he was and there was no need to run away. I told him I was a goin' without him and he'd say, "How will you know which way is north?" Or, "What ya goin'to eat?" I'd say I was a goin' anyway and he said he'd tell my master. I knew by the look on his face that he would.
Well my master died and many of us slaves were to be sold so I just told my sister I was escapin' cause John would've told on me and I set off. I was lucky and I hitched a ride with a woman and her husband and they
turned out to be abolitionists. Tell me if you know what an abolitionist is.
They are the people that didn't believe in slavery and they fought through the courts to make laws that would end slave trade. Lots of Quakers worked for this cause. That's right. They gave me directions to safe houses and names of people who would help me escape! I had to go through swamps and the woods over 90 miles hiking. I got across the Mason Dixon line and went to Philadelphia. That was my introduction to the Underground Railroad.
I got a job and saved my money so I could help other slaves escape and I met a man named William Still. He was a freeborn black man and he knew how to read and write! He was a busy stationmaster on the Underground Railroad let me tell you!
Well soon it was 1850. I was about 30 years old and I helped my first group of slaves to the north and freedom. I helped my sister and her family. I got them onto a fishing boat and met them and stashed them at a safehouse that was part of the Underground Railroad. I got them from house to house until they got to Philadelphia and freedom.
That same year I learned all the routes that the railroad used and I was made an official conductor. Remember now, this wasn't a train that was on tracks, but a secret way to travel and if any of us had been caught we'd have been killed or returned to slavery. My second trip I helped my brother and some of his friends to freedom.
'Bout that same time the United States came up with another law called the Fugitive Slave Act. It meant we had to be even more careful and secretive than before and no more getting slaves to the north but now they had to go all the way to Canada.
I made another trip and tried to get my husband, John. Well, he was happy where he was and he had married someone else by then anyway. I headed back up north and went to Thomas Garret's house. He was about the most famous stationmaster there was. He had a whole lot of slaves hidin' there just waitin' for help to get to freedom.
Well, I helped them. There was a bitty baby there and he would've cried and give us all away so's I gave that babe something to make him sleep and got everybody to Pennsylvania to Mr. Douglas's house. Mr. Douglas was another "stationmaster". He kept us all, 11 passengers and me until he got enough money to get us all to Canada and safety. To get to Canada was so scary. We had to go over Niagara Falls on a homemade suspension bridge! Right over the top of that water with the bridge a swayin' back and forth! In Canada, blacks and whites lived together and we grew our own crops and farmed our own land.
I still had work to do on the railroad though and got myself a job and saved enough money to go back to Maryland to help more slaves escape. 'Bout now the people started givin' me nicknames. One of the things that we did was to make up songs and we'd sing these to each other. They were like a secret code and the white folks didn't understand what we were a talkin' about. I think you heard that already when you learned about the drinking gourd. That was about following the North Star right? Good!
Well there was another song called " Go Down Moses". There's a story in the bible about a man named Moses and he went back into the land of Egypt and led his people to freedom. They had been in bondage to the Pharaoh. Well, in this song they were namin' me Moses cause I went down into the south and led my people to freedom. It was kind of like a code you see, the south was the land of Egypt, the masters were like the Pharaoh and I was kinda like ole' Moses. So that's how I got one of my nicknames.
Anyways, I made 11 trips over the next few years. One time one of the runaways got so scared he wanted to back out and go back. I was so afraid that they'd torture him and he'd give away all the secrets he knew about the railroad. It was important work you know and I couldn't let it all come to a stop. So I pulled a big ole' gun out and pointed it right at that poor man's head and told him. "Dead folks tell no tales" Well, he got the point and we all went on to freedom. That probably helped to earn me another of my nicknames and that was General Tubman.
It was during this time that a reward was put on my head for $40,000 dollars by the plantation owners and another $12,000 by the state of Maryland. They wanted me bad cause I made 19 trips on the Underground Railroad and helped about 300 slaves escape to freedom! My friends got me back to Canada and back to safety but the Civil War was goin' on in the states so back I came.
I pretended that I was a slave that the Union Army had helped to freedom and joined up as a nurse and a cook. I went to Florida and nursed the sick. Those poor men were so covered with blood. I tried to wash them off and keep the flies off them. Those are hard times to remember. I made medicine from roots and helped them best as I could and I never got any of the diseases that those sick men had.
I worked as a scout one summer during the war for Gen. Montgomery and we planned a raid that ended up freeing over 500 slaves from the rebels. Most of those slaves joined the Union Army.
After the war I married a man named Nelson Davis and we had a calm peaceful marriage for almost 20 years until he died. I built a home after that for old black folks to come and live and be taken care of. You know, I ended up living there myself and manys the time I had visitors who wanted to hear about all of my adventures on the Underground Railroad.
Before I finish up talkin' to ya I just want ya all to realize that I had a purpose to my
work. I wanted to be free, sure, but slavery had caused me to have many wounds, some physical (like my blackin'out spells), and some on my spirit. The way for those wounds to be healed was to show folks how cruel and immoral slavery is and to be allowed to live as a free citizen in the United States. I think I was able to do just that.
Jefferson Elementary School
Jefferson, NH 03583