Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero
Slavery. One of the world’s most cruel practices. It’s hard to believe that us humans would be so low to stoop down and declare that other human beings are their property just because of their skin color, but it did happen.
Slavery was probably one of humanity’s lowest points. On large fields with twenty-five or more slaves, the only contact between slaves and their bosses happened through the overseer, who had a cruel and mean personality to keep in control. Many bosses thought that the largest amounts of money were made by working a slave to death in eight or ten years and then buying a new one! Even nice masters often had little contact with their slaves,so as long as the overseer returned money no questions were asked. In many places slaves were given no free time at all, but were forced to work fourteen or fifteen hours a day.
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Sometimes slaves are freed, and sometimes they escape. The lives of the slaves were horrible,however,the punishment given to slaves caught escaping was even worse. Also,slave catchers followed close behind, often with dogs called bloodhounds (arf)who sniffed out the trail;but almost always, when the slaves try to escape they are caught and punished, sometimes even killed! Life was death.
Once they escaped the slaves had to find work or a family member who was already freed. Harriet Tubman was one of the world’s most famous escaped slaves.Tubman described her arrival to freedom “I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to freedom…. I was a stranger in a strange land.”
Why is Harriet Tubman one of the world’s most famous escaped slaves? Because after she successfully escaped (which not many slaves at the time even attempted),she dedicated her entire life to becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad. (Some conductors were former slaves. Others were free blacks and whites.)The Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad. No matter how much it sounds like a real underground railroad, it was a series of safe spots and houses that slaves could stay in before continuing on the long and tiring journey to different places like the North, Canada and the Caribbean where slavery was outlawed. The Underground Railroad usually focuses on bringing enslaved black people out of the southern United States into freedom in the northern United States and Canada. As many as 75,000 blacks were assisted by Underground Railroad “stations,” which was what the safe houses along the way were called.
Most of the movement on the Underground Railroad happened at night. On the journey slaves could not even expect bare living necessities. Life was as hard as concrete. Shelter was usually just a cramped, windowless, mud-floored shack where a large family of slaves were supposed to live, clothing was basic and made of rough,ugly materials; and food was often limited to a bucket of rice or corn per week with no meat. Sometimes ,when they escaped, fugitive slaves fled into areas where Europeans weren’t there, other times they were able to make an agreement with the Indians. Occasionally, blacks were able to form communities for runaway slaves, called “maroons,” in different areas. A lot of blacks ran away during the Revolutionary War. Sometimes, Conductors purposely threw people out of the journey because they were slowing the others down.
“I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years and I can say what most conductors can’t say—I never ran my train off the track or lost a passenger.”—Harriet Tubman, Tubman died on March 10, 1913, of pneumonia. To this very day the people of the United States of America think of Harriet Tubman as a hero. Who are we to say they are wrong? But it is important to know that Harriet Tubman was not the only Conductor on the Underground Railroad, there were others too and we should appreciate them because if they didn’t do what they had done before, our country would probably still have slavery and it would not be the highest ranked country in all of the world. We should be glad the Underground Railroad was there!