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Racing for freedom: Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad network through New York.

On May 14, 1856, "Captain Harriet Human" arrived in the New York City offices of Sydney Howard Gay, an ardent abolitionist, Underground Railroad agent, newspaper editor, and Vigilance Committee member. Arriving with Human were four formerly enslaved young men from Cabin Creek on the Eastern Shore of Maryland: Benjamin Jackson, James Coleman, William Conoway, and Henry Hopkins. Their journey had been treacherous and dangerous - four able-bodied young slaves represented thousands of dollars in assets to their enslavers Slave catchers relentlessly tracked the group along the heavily trodden paths of the Underground Railroad in Delaware and Pennsylvania. By the time these self-liberators and their leader had made it to New York City, they had left the most perilous part of their journey behind them. Nevertheless, they were not completely safe, and their next stops would bring them closer to real freedom in Canada via Central New York's well organized Underground Railroad networks. (2)

After Harriet Human's own escape from Maryland in the late fall of 1849, she spent the next eleven years trying to bring her family and friends to freedom. Some of these rescue stories are featured in Sarah Bradford's 1869 biography. Scenes in the Life of Harriet Human, and a later, modified 1886 edition, Harriet, The Moses of Her People. (3) It is these two biographies, however, that set the stage for the erroneous but praiseworthy myth that Human had conducted nineteen rescue missions, leading 300 people out of bondage. During 1858 and 1859, Human herself repeatedly told audiences that she had rescued between fifty and sixty people in eight to nine trips. Why Bradford chose to ignore Human's own words remains a mystery, though biographer Jean Humez argues that Sarah Bradford lacked the literary confidence and cultural sensitivity to trust Human's own storytelling. (4) The numbers mythology has been complicated by institutional, political, and social discrimination that shaped and obscured the contributions and historical record of the African American experience in America.

The operations of the Underground Railroad most certainly required secrecy, and for generations the secrets and mysteries of the Underground Railroad remained shrouded in hazy lore and legend. This was compounded by a complacency and docile acceptance of the view that few historical records existed documenting the Underground Railroad, effectively erasing any interest in unearthing early primary evidence. Much documentation did exist, however. In spite of readily available sources, including hundreds of contemporary slave narratives, Benjamin Drew's The Refugee: or the North-side View of Slavery (1855); William Stills The Underground Railroad (1872). R-C. Smedley's The History of The Underground Railroad in Chester and Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania (1883), and Wilbur Siebert's The Underground Railroad from Slavery7 to Freedom (1897), early to mid-twentieth century authors chose to promote a nearly all-white and mostly Quaker dominated story filled with hidey holes and tunnels.

New work, using these sources and many more, documenting the history of the Underground Railroad, has been quietly happening for decades. Now, the real stories of the Underground Railroad are emerging, and they are far more compelling and dynamic than the folklore and fakelore of 19th and 20th century mythmakers. No more do we need substitutes for the actual stories of escapes to freedom--no more tunnels, lawn jockeys, hidey holes. Follow the Drinking Gourd songs, or, the most unfortunate, the late 20th century quilt code myth.

Harriet Tubman's life story, and her missions rescuing her loved ones in Maryland, has suffered much the same fate. There has been a great deal of speculation and confusion over the details of Tubman's personal network to freedom. Various biographies written over the past one-hundred-and-fifty years, including children's versions and fictionalized accounts, have repeatedly mischaracterized or misquoted vital sources that provided clues to Tubman's rescue missions and exploits during the 1850s. However, much of her story has been in plain view, located in bundles of primary documents scattered from California to Maine. These records include the published and unpublished records of Philadelphia Vigilance Committee member William Still, the records of Sydney Howard Gay of New York City, the letters of Underground Railroad stationmaster Thomas Garrett, and the journals, diaries and letters of other abolitionists, census records, newspaper accounts, chattel, slave and tax records, court documents, narratives and biographies, and oral histories. Dr. Judith Wellmaivs multi-layered research and resource surveys have uncovered the presence of scores of Underground Railroad agents and thousands of freedom seekers living in plain sight in many Central New York counties. Through research like Dr.Weilman's, and that of other amateur and professional historians, Harriet Tubman's and thousands of others' paths to freedom are readily exposed.

When Tubman first attracted the attention of the country's most powerful abolitionists is unknown. Her introduction to New York and New England anti-slavery activists probably occurred in Philadelphia during anti-slavery fairs and conventions as early as 1855. By that time. Tubman had become intimately linked to Philadelphia's progressive vanguard, most likely through the support and encouragement of Philadelphia Quaker and womeifs rights advocate Lucretia Mott, whom Tubman later credited with being the first person to help her after she had fled slavery in Maryland in 1849. Through Mott, Tubman met Motfs sister Martha Coffin Wright of Auburn, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass and many others who were also part of the small group of abolitionists and reformers who organized and conducted the first Women's Right's Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Mott was also a close friend and ally o( abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison of Boston. For Garrisonians, as they were then called, commitment to liberty and equality extended to rights for women, too.

Thomas Garrett, Wilmington, Delaware's principle Underground Railroad stationmaster, frequently noted, in letters to associates and supporters, his assistance in helping Tubman. By 1855 she had already made about six of the estimated thirteen trips she would make to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to bring loved ones away, three or four already with Garrett's help. Many of these trips would also take her through the offices of Thomas Garrett's fellow secret Underground Railroad agent, William Still in Philadelphia. These, and other early Philadelphia centered connections would soon prove to be the vital link to New York and New England abolitionist networks. By mid-decade her reputation as a daring and resourceful secret conductor of fugitive slaves had spread far and wide in northern abolition circles and underground networks, prompting William Lloyd Garrison to dub her Moses" the deliverer. (5)

Her introduction to Sydney Howard Gay in New York may not have occurred until she made her way to his protection on May 14, 1856, with the four self-liberators from Dorchester County, Maryland. His lengthy interview with Tubman and his extensive record of her stop at his office that day, seems to indicate that this was one of the first, if not the first time he had encountered this legendary freedom fighter. Committed to abolition for decades, Gay's term as an Underground Railroad agent is less well known and understood, though his decade and a half role as editor of the American Anti-Siavery Society's newspaper, the National Antislavery Standard, may give us some clues. During 1855 and 1856, Gay kept a journal record of the names and stories of fugitives coming through his office or home in New York City. If there were other journals and records for other years, their whereabouts remain unknown. Entitled "Record of Fugitives 1855," Gay's journal is part account book and part fugitive biography. Recording the names and stories of nearly 220 freedom seekers from January 1855 through November 1856, Gay's meticulous accounting has left us with a treasure trove rich with dramatic real life stories of success and failure along the Underground Railroad. (6)

That day in May, Gay recorded a few details about the escape of the four men, but took great pains to record information Tubman provided about several of her other rescue missions - missions she apparently conducted successfully, including the Christmas 1854 escape of three of her brothers, without stopping at Gay's office. A portion of his five-page entry on Tubman reveals some of the intimate information she shared with him about her latest journey:
  "May 14th. A party of four arrived from Phila. It was headed by
  Captain Harriett Tubman, the subordinates being Ben. Jackson & Jas.
  Coleman who belonged to Henry Wright of Dorchester Co. Md. Win. A.
  Connoway. Laban Hudson, master, & Henry Hopkins, John Houston master,
  of the same neighborhood. They are all young men, of an aggregate
  market value probably of $6000 ...

  ....The mother of the young man whom [Tubman] look away, in a former
  visit, when she was unsuccessful in getting her brothers, informed
  the four young men who are with her to-day, that she had come back.
  They made the necessary arrangements & a fortnight ago, on Saturday,
  the five started, Harriett leading the company. They traveled by
  night, & on foot to New Castle, Del On the way or there, they learned
  that the hue & cry was after them. Along the Railway, at all the
  stations, & at rail-side taverns bills were posted, describing the
  four men, & offering a reward of SI200 for their capture. But for
  Harriett they would, without doubt, have been taken. She led them
  safely to New Castle. There she took them to the house of a colored
  woman. & for one week they lay concealed there in a potatoe-hole.
  Braving detection for herself, she went backward & forward between
  New Castle & Wilmington, on the cars to get friends to carry her
  company further. The risk was manifestly too great, & they had to
  remain quiet. When she had no longer 20c to pay her passage she
  walked, & at last a friend consented to go for them. They were sent
  to Wilmington, at night, & then to Pa. at last here ...

  Sent them all to Syracuse (food) [$] 21" (7)


Like Tubman and her four companions on this trip, many of the freedom seekers traveling through Gay's office had been sent along by William Still of Philadelphia, whose broad networks in the middle Atlantic slave states of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware supported a steady stream of fugitives into the city. Still is credited with aiding well over a thousand fugitive slaves during the 1850s; his co-partner in the movement, Thomas Garrett, was responsible for facilitating the escapes of nearly 2,700 self liberators during a forty year career. While the great majority of those who fled slavery never intersected with established networks devoted to helping slaves reach freedom, this Chesapeake, Philadelphia, New York and beyond network was profoundly successful, highly sophisticated, and collectively was responsible for thousands securing freedom. Still and Gay sent the great majority of the freedom seekers on to Albany and Syracuse, though New Bedford and Boston, Massachusetts were also top destinations. (8)

Tubman's particular paths to freedom in Canada usually took her through New York City to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and across the Suspension Bridge over the Niagara to Ontario. Though William Still in Philadelphia and Gay in New York sometimes sent freedom seekers to Massachusetts and other New England states, Tubman preferred to go all the way to St. Catharines, in what was then known as Canada West, ensuring protection from the Fugitive Slave Law "under the paw of the British Lion." (9)

Since 1852, William Still had kept a fairly complete record of each freedom seeker who came through the Vigilance Committee's office in Philadelphia. Referred to now as "Journal CY" this account book was used by Still to keep an historical accounting of each individual who asked for his help. This would prove invaluable to family and friends hoping to locate lost loved ones who had traveled along Still's branch of the Underground Railroad. Still would later use this journal as his primary documentary source for his famous book. The Underground Railroad, published in 1871. In addition to '"Journal C." which ends in February 1857, Still also kept careful financial records, documenting the use of funds expended on each fugitive, including money spent on clothing, food, shelter, transportation, and medical care. (10)

William Still was responsible for securing passage from Philadelphia to a variety of other "stations" along the Underground Railroad route North. He depended upon a large network of white and black abolitionists throughout the area, predominantly in Philadelphia and neighboring Chester and Lancaster counties and across the Delaware River in New Jersey. He forwarded many of his charges directly on to New York City, New Bedford, Boston, and beyond, as well as to central New York cities and town like Troy, Albany, Syracuse, and Rochester, where fugitives were then directed to Buffalo or some other convenient place for safe passage across Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, or Niagara Falls. Some went to Elmira, where John W. Jones, a longtime black Underground Railroad operator, funneled hundreds of fugitives making their way though eastern and central Pennsylvania, through the Finger Lakes region, Rochester, and Buffalo for transfer to the Suspension Bridge over Niagara Falls. (11)

In his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, published in 1845, Douglass explained to his readers that he could not reveal the secret network of supporters who populated the Underground Railroad. (12) Though he eventually revealed the names of his fellow agents in the North in a later autobiography, he maintained his silence about the Southern operators for the rest of his life. (13) Tubman, however, tapped into some of the same network that helped Douglass run away in 1838 and stay secreted in the North, and it was this same network, ever expanding throughout the 1840s and 1850s, which helped Tubman ferry her friends and family to freedom. Douglass himself became actively involved in the Underground network weaving its way through Central New York to Rochester and Canada. The route that tunneled fugitives to Douglass included stations in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, and Syracuse. Thomas Garrett, of Wilmington, J. Miller McKim, William Still, Robert Purvis, Lucretia and James Mott, Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall, Allen and Maria Agnew, John and Hannah Cox, and many others in Philadelphia and Chester County, PA, manned numerous safe-houses. (14) Once in New York, Tubman and other fugitives could find help from many collaborators, including Isaac T. Hopper, Lewis Tappan, Oliver Johnson, Jacob Gibbs, and Sydney Gay and his co-agent Louis Napoleon. Lydia and Abigail Mott, Stephen and Harriet Myers, John H. Hooper and others in Albany sent freedom seekers onto the Reverends Samuel J. May and J. W. Loguen in Syracuse. In Rochester, J. P. Moms, William J. Watkins, William Oliver, Frederick and Anna Douglass, Amy and Isaac Post, Maria Porter, and others colluded to send freedom seekers along to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls to Canada, where other former slaves greeted weary fugitives. (15)

Tubman later told historian Wilber Seibert in an interview in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that when she left Philadelphia with a party of runaways, she "proceeded by steam railroad to New York," and from there she took the train to Albany, "where Stephen Myers looked after her and her charges." (16) Myers, a black abolitionist and a member of the local Vigilance Committee and publisher of the area's black newspaper, kept an active Underground Railroad stop at his home in Albany for decades. Tubman had several friends and relatives in neighboring Troy, too, including some Maryland runaways. John and Mary Hooper, Anthony and Lucy Hooper, William and Margaret Jones, and William J. Bowley, were just a few of the many African American supporters that dominated the network in the region. (17) John Hooper had fled from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, possibly Talbot County, sometime in the early 1840s. He had "lived near Frederick Douglass in his boyhood," he later recalled to Wilbur Siebert. (18) Sarah Bradford noted that Hooper was a cousin of Tubman's. Whatever the relationship, the Hoopers were well known Underground Railroad operators in the area, and Tubman no doubt found comfort and security in their home during stop-overs in the region on her way to Syracuse and Rochester. (19)

Rev. Jermaine Loguen or Rev. Samuel May would secure Tubman's passage on a train bound for Rochester when the funds in Albany ran short and train tickets could not be secured straight through to Suspension Bridge. In Rochester, Tubman told Siebert, "Frederick Douglass, would see that she got on the train for the Suspension Bridge and St. Catherine's in Canada," (20)

After her successful trip with the four young men from Maryland, Tubman apparently became ill and was unable to return to the Eastern Shore to rescue her sister Rachel, still enslaved by the Brodess family in Dorchester County. (21) Tubman hoped to immediately travel back to take advantage of "Camp Meeting time" to affect the escape of her sister and her sister's two children, Ben and Angerine. (22) During the summer months, several large Methodist revival meetings attracted thousands of visitors to Dorchester and Caroline counties where Tubman's friends and family members lived. Many slaveholders allowed their enslaved people to attend the camp meetings, which could last a week or two. For the enslaved, it was often a joyous time when separated family and friends could be together in the midst of spiritual and evangelical awakening. Some slaves took advantage of this time to escape.

Tubman did return that September, but for three months was unable to rescue Rachel and her children. The Brodesses were probably extremely nervous and diligent, making Rachel's escape with her children too risky. By the fall of 1856, most of the Brodess slaves - Tubman's four brothers, Robert, Ben Henry, and Moses, and her niece Kessiah and her children James Alfred and Araminta - had fled, leaving Rachel and the children the only enslaved property still in the Brodess family hands. Tubman was not one to wait without action, however. She helped several others escape as far as Wilmington and Philadelphia during September and October, but immediately returned south with the hope of getting her sister.

By late November, Tubman was ready again, but Rachel was not. She decided instead to bring away Josiah (Joe) Bailey and his brother William (Bill), Peter Pennington, and Eliza Manokey. Joe Bailey had known of Tubman's missions to the region to bring loved ones away, after a brutal beating by his new master, William Hughlett of Talbot County, Joe decided to run away. As a timber foreman who managed the harvesting and hauling of ship timber from Hugh Lett's land along the Choptank River, Bailey was well connected to the black maritime and shipbuilding networks in that region. Bailey knew Ben Ross, Harriet Tubman's father who was also a renowned timber inspector and foreman in the region, too. One evening, Joe rowed six miles up the Choptank to Ben Ross's cabin, and informed him that he was ready to go the next time Tubman arrived. (23) Joe was separated from his brother, Bill, who was enslaved by John Campbell Henry of Cambridge, several miles downriver from the Hughlett plantation. Bailey probably contacted Peter Pennington, who labored for Turpin Wright at Wright's farm at Oyster Shell Point, just upriver from Cambridge. How Eliza Manokey came to join the party remains a mystery.

Once the group started their journey, they were immediately pursued. It took them nearly two weeks to reach Wilmington, a trip that had in the past taken Tubman only three or four days. Like the pursuit of the four men from nearby Cabin Creek in May 1856, the slave catchers' persistent tracking of the group forced them to proceed slowly and remain hidden for a longer period than Tubman was used to. They hid in potato holes while the authorities passed within feet of them. According to Bradford, they were "passed along by friends in various disguises ... scattered and separated" and led "roundabout" to a variety of safe meeting places while their pursuers relentlessly searched for them. (24)

Weaving their way northeast through Caroline County, following, perhaps, the Choptank River into Sand Town and Willow Grove in Delaware, the party of freedom seekers relied heavily on the secret network of safe houses belonging to local blacks and whites all the way to Wilmington. (25)

William Hughlett, who had only recently purchased Joe Bailey, posted runaway advertisements throughout the Eastern Shore of Maryland, offering an extraordinary reward of $1,500 for the twenty-eight year old. Joe was a valuable slave, a skilled timber man whose services were vitally important to Hughlett's operations. Hughlett had paid close to $2000 for Joe.
  "TWO THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD--Run away from the
  subscriber on Saturday night, November 16th, 1856, JOSIAH and WILLIAM
  BAILEY, and PETER PENNINGTON. Joe is about 5 feet 10 inches in
  heiaht, of a chestnut color, bald head, with a remarkable scar on one
  of his cheeks, not positive which it is, but think it is on the left,
  under the eye; has intelligent countenance, active and well made. He
  is about 28 years old. Bill, is of a darker color, about 5 feet 9
  inches in height, stammers a little when confused, well made and
  older than Joe; well dressed but may have pulled kersey on over their
  other clothes. Peter is smaller than either the others, about 25
  years of age, dark chestnut color, and 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high.

  A reward of fifteen hundred dollars will be given to any person who
  will apprehend the said Joe Bailey and lodge him safely in the jail
  at Easton, Talbot co., Md., and $300 for Bill and $800 for Peter.
  W.H. HUGHLETT, JOHN C HENRY, T. WRIGHT." (26)


Such high rewards increased substantially the danger of capture for the runaways. Making this group's escape even more risky was the prominent identifying scar on Joe's face.

When they finally reached the outskirts of Wilmington, they discovered that Hughlett, Wright, and Henry had arrived three days before, posting reward notices and hoping for news that the fugitives were near. Members of the black community followed these men around town and tore the reward notices down, but the high reward offers had become common knowledge. Police were patrolling all routes into the city, and there was no safe route to Thomas Garrett's house or store. They were separated again, sent to wait at the homes of various black friends who sent word to Garrett who constantly monitored their situation. Harriet and her group were seeking help to get across the Christiana River. Garrett finally engaged the services of some black bricklayers, who loaded their wagon with bricks and journeyed across river-probably via the Market Street Bridge - in the morning, "singing and shouting;" greeting the police and others watching the traffic. The bricklayers located Harriet, Joe, Bill, Peter, and Eliza and loaded them into the wagon, concealing them in a compartment built into the wagon, beneath a strategically placed mound of bricks. Back they proceeded, still "singing and shouting," passing undetected by the police and slave catchers waiting about the bridge. (27)

One day later, on November 26, the party arrived in Philadelphia at Still's office, where Still recorded their names and stories in his journal. (28) They were not safe, however, and it was imperative that they get to Canada as quickly as possible. On the 27th, they traveled by train to New York City, where Oliver Johnson, at the offices of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, then forwarded them by train to Albany and Syracuse. (29) The Fugitive Aid Society in Syracuse, however, had run out of money, and was able to forward the group only as far as Rochester, not as it customarily did directly to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls. On November 29, W.E. Abbott, of the Syracuse Society, wrote to Samuel D. Porter of Rochester:
  Mr. Porter

  Dear Sir,

  The woman who accompanies the party on their way to freedom is well
  known to us for her untiring devotion to the cause of the enslaved.
  She is herself an escaped bondwoman and this the second company that
  she has brought forth out of the land of servitude at great risk to
  herself. It has been our custom to forward all directly on to the
  Bridge. But now our funds fail us & we are obliged to send them
  forward to the different half way houses that are on their
  route ..." (30)


Abbott noted that this was just Tubman's second through their office, indicating she had managed circumvent Syracuse's main Underground Railroad station for most of her earlier trips to Canada. Perhaps Tubman's introduction to Sydney Gay in May had first secured her access to the Syracuse network. Throughout the 1850s, the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society spent thousands of dollars feeding, clothing, nursing, and transporting fugitives through its extensive network of supporters and operatives. William J. Watkins, one of several black agents working with Frederick Douglass, reported to the Rochester Society that for the eight months ending August 9, 1857, he had forwarded fifty-nine freedom seekers to Canada. Six, he wrote, were forwarded onto Toronto, fifty-three to "Suspension Bridge. St. Catharines. Hamilton, etc." (31) Fundraising occupied the majority of the members* time, but the fairs, lectures, and solicitations for outright donations kept the Society functioning when others, like Syracuse, ran out of funds. (32)

Joe Bailey had been terrified for much of the trip. When he learned that runaway notices had been posted for their capture in New York, Joe "was ready to give up." (33) Depressed and solemn for most of the journey, Joe probably recognized that the deep scar on his face threatened his, and his fellow fugitives", chances for freedom. As they approached the Suspension Bridge, Tubman called out to her friends to look at the great falls. But Joe was inconsolable and would not look. When they reached the Canadian side of the bridge, Tubman shouted out, "Joe, you're free!" Overcome with relief, Joe's shouts of joy and singing drew a crowd. Praising God for his good fortune, Joe told Tubman the next trip he planned on taking would be to heaven. "You might have looked at the Falls first," Tubman replied, "and then gone to Heaven afterwards." (34)

Tubman's parents remained on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to be close to Rachel and their grandchildren. Ben and Rit Ross were free - Ben had been manumitted in 1840, and he had purchased his wife's freedom for $20 in 1855 -and could leave anytime. Sydney Gay noted in May 1856, that Ben, "the old father of the family. ... being free, can leave when he pleases, but will not so long as any of his children remain in bondage ..." (35) During the late winter and early spring, a dramatic slave escape from the area brought suspicion on Ben. Highly respected for his great skill and trustworthiness, Ben had successfully avoided detection as an Underground Railroad agent. He had aided and abetted in the escapes of several of Tubman's rescue missions and other independent escapes as well. The escape of eight highly prized slaves in early March, and their capture and second escape from jail in Dover, Delaware, created a frenzy among slaveholders on the Eastern Shore. Tubman received word through trusted networks that her father was about to be arrested. She raced to Caroline County where her parents were then living. Ben and Rit were both in their seventies, and the prospect of journeying to Canada must have seemed daunting to them, but it also meant leaving their beloved daughter and grandchildren behind. Tubman took 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." (36) Fleeing in the face of great danger, Tubman led her parents north to Wilmington. By early June, they were resting comfortably with Maria Porter in Rochester. After a two week stay, they moved onto St. Catharines where Ben and Rifs sons, William Henry and John Stewart, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren were living. (37)

Over the next three years, Tubman's life was dominated by caring for her parents. A series of slave escapes - including forty-four during the month of October in 1857--brought heightened tensions and severe restrictions on traditional liberties for free and enslaved African Americans on the Eastern Shore. Though Tubman tried to bring away her sister throughout the fall of 1857, Rachel refused to leave without her children. The Brodesses had separated them from her. taking them out of Tubman's reach. By the close of 1857, making another rescue attempt was nearly impossible. Tubman returned, alone, to Canada.

During the summer and fall of 1858, Tubman traveled to Boston, hoping to raise funds for the support of her aged parents. Life in Canada was hard - low wage jobs made it difficult for Tubman to support them and herself. Her hands were full: caring for aging parents, along with the sick and homeless in her small home on North Street, she worked to raise awareness of the suffering among the St. Catharines fugitive community. The needs were great and Tubman collected gifts of clothing, books, and money at small gatherings in parlors and through lectures in churches, lyceums, and other halls throughout New England and New York. Given the tight community of activists that anchored itself in Central New York and the greater Boston area, it is no surprise that Tubman found an eager support network.

Tubman would raise her profile during this period. She told audiences her distressing stories of slavery, deeply moving them. Her dramatic renditions of heart-pounding rescue missions enthralled listeners, too, and they rewarded her with funds to help her parents and her cause.

Tubman's love for her family dominated her life and she worried constantly over their well-being, particularly her aging parents. Another winter in Canada proved too difficult for Ben and Rit. Tubman wanted desperately to secure a home for them, and she shrewdly recognized that their survival would only be secured if they returned to the United States, where they might be sheltered and protected by the growing circle of black and white friends then living in New York and Boston. Sometime during the late winter or early spring of 1859, William H. Seward, attorney, former New York Governor, US Senator, and future Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, offered Tubman a small parcel of property on the outskirts of Auburn.

Seward had inherited a seven-acre farm from his father-in-law, Elijah Miller, on South Street, near the tollgate on the Auburn and Fleming town lines. For a total of $1200, Seward sold the property to Tubman. Originally known as the Burton Farm, the lot consisted of a house, barn and several outbuildings, and tillable land, providing ample room for Tubman and her parents, and any other family members or friends who were in need of a home.

Seward may have met Tubman's through Central New York's Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad network, which may have led her to Auburn and the black and white families who sheltered and aided freedom seekers running through the Finger Lakes region. Though this was not a main branch of the underground, an estimated 500 fugitives passed through the area during the thirty years prior to the Civil War. (38) It is more likely, however, she had met Seward through Martha Coffin Wright of Auburn and her sister, Lucretia Coffin Mott of Philadelphia. Martha and her husband David were ardent abolitionists, and had sheltered freedom seekers in their home in Auburn on several occasions. David had been long-time law partners with Seward, and it is very likely this is the personal connection that brought Seward and Tubman together.

Seward himself spent little time in Auburn during that year. Then a powerful and high profile member of the U.S. Senate and nurturing presidential aspirations, Seward shouldered numerous responsibilities that kept him in Washington a significant amount of time. (39) Seward's wife. Frances may have been instrumental in the transfer of the property. Their son, William H. Seward, Jr., may have negotiated the deal with Tubman, handling the financial and legal terms in his father's absence. Seward had long been a supporter of immigration and sought to protect the rights of immigrant families, and his commitment to the abolition of slavery and the attainment of equal rights for African Americans was well documented by this time period. Though this property was larger and more valuable that the other properties Seward sold to needy families, Seward's decision to assist Tubman was consistent with his other philanthropic and community commitments. (40)

In lieu of a $1200 payment, Seward accepted a terms that allowed Tubman to put $25 down on the home, and make quarterly payments of $10 with interest. (41) This offer is remarkable for several reasons. First, Seward was selling the property to a fugitive black woman with no obvious or steady means of income. Property ownership by women was uncommon in this period and few women secured real property in their own names. Seward could have required that the property be sold to Tubman's father, who was legally free. But Tubman must have insisted, and made a strong argument for selling the property to her and her alone. Tubman was not a citizen; she held no rights either as a free black or slave. The Dred Scott decision, handed down by the Supreme Court in 1857 denied African Americans, free and enslaved, citizenship. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 also placed Seward in a precarious position. In direct defiance of the law, Seward was committing an illegal act by selling the property to a known fugitive slave. Conceivably, he could have been arrested for aiding Harriet Tubman.

Though Tubman knew full well the risks involved in moving back to the United States, she was also assured of as much protection as the black and white community in Auburn could provide in the event she or members of her family might be threatened by slave catchers. Martha Wright and her small circle of anti-slavery and suffrage friends could be counted on to provide comfort and security for Ben and Kit. Living in Auburn also provided Tubman with closer contact with other New York abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith, Samuel May, and her close allies in Albany, including her cousin John Hooper.

The need for money became more pressing for Tubman after she purchased her home. Tubman started right way soliciting funds. (42) With her parents and her brother. John safely ensconced in her house in Auburn, Tubman headed to Boston. Arriving in late May, she began rounds of visiting the homes of anti-slavery activists, giving lectures and speeches on her life in slavery and recounting some incidents of her many daring rescues. John Brown was in town that spring as well, raising more funds for his planned assault on Harper's Ferry. Brown had sought Tubman's help recruiting fugitives in Canada to join him as her prepared for an armed raid into the slave states. They greatly admired each other, and Tubman committed herself to helping him achieve success. During the summer of 1859, the two met on several occasions, planning and scheming. Harriet had suggested the "4 of July as a good time to "raise the mill." (43) Wendell Phillips recalled that the last time he "ever saw John Brown was under my own roof, as he brought Harriet Tubman to me, saying: 'Mr. Phillips, I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent--General Tubman, as we call her'." (44)

When Brown conducted his raid on Harper's Ferry in October, Tubman was not at his side as expected. She was supposedly sick in New Bedford, Massachusetts, though the truth of her whereabouts remains a mystery. Nevertheless, letters found at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland after Brown's capture revealed the names of numerous supporters, including Harriet Tubman. Fearful for her safety, she was rushed off to Canada for her protection. Her family, also at terrible risk, tied back to Canada as well, not returning to Auburn until the late winter of 1861.

Tubman did try to rescue her sister one more time. In the late fall of 1860, Tubman had earned enough extra money to fund another trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She had not been back for nearly three years. Sadly, Rachel had '"died a little before Harriet reached her neighborhood," news that Tubman had not received before she returned to the Eastern Shore. (45) Tubman needed thirty dollars to bribe someone so she could get the two children, Ben and Angerine. She did not have the money, and with great sadness, she left them behind in slavery. She did, however, bring away one last party of fugitives, the Ennals family. Through driving wind, and freezing sleet and snow, Tubman safely guided them to Auburn. Martha Wright wrote to her daughter Ellen Wright Garrison in Boston of Tubman's arrival at their home:
  "We have been expending our sympathies, as well as congratulations,
  on seven newly arrived slaves that Harriet Tubman has just pioneered
  safely from the Southern part of Maryland - One woman carried a baby
  all the way, & brot two other children that Harriet & the men helped
  along. They brot a piece of old comfort & blanket, in a basket with a
  little kindling, a little bread for the baby with some laudanum, to
  keep it from crying during the day - They walked all night, carrying
  the little ones, and spread the comfort on the frozen ground, in some
  dense thicket, where they all hid, while Harriet went out foraging,
  and sometimes cd. not get back till dark, fearing she wd. be
  followed - Then if they had crept further in, & she couldn't find
  them, she wd. whistle, or sing certain hymns & they wd answer." (46)


This would be Tubman's last rescue mission. Her sister was dead. It had been a long decade struggling to bring her to freedom. The loss of the children only compounded the family's sense of loss. It would be Tubman's only failure.

Tubman's financial obligations forced her to continue with her speaking engagements to raise money for her herself, her parents, and the fugitive community in St. Catharines. Her activism expanded to include woman's suffrage meetings, and her broadening political enlightenment strengthened an already steely resolve to destroy slavery at its root. The Civil War provided Tubman a public battlefield where she could continue her own campaign of liberation for all enslaved people. Her missions claiming freedom for scores of friends and relatives marked the beginning of a personal, yet strategic and military consciousness that prepared her for a role on the nation's battlefields. New York and New England antislavery activists, and their deeply committed networks, provided her with the support systems and close community and personal relationships necessary for her protection, financial survival, and evolution as a leader. Deeply moved by her, the country's abolitionist vanguard opened their hearts and homes, propelling her firmly in the role of "Moses" onto a national landscape and into the pantheon of American heroes.

(1) Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D. is author of Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman. Portrait of an American Hero and teaches history at Simmons College and Wheelock College in Boston. Massachusetts.

(2) Interview with Harriet Tubman. "May 14 [1856]". in Record of Fugitives 1855, Sydney Howard Gay Papers, Columbia University Special Collections; and "Journal C of Station 2 of the Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, Agent William Still)." Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Reel 32. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA. May 13, 1856.

(3) Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. (Auburn. New York: W.J. Moses, 1869); and Harriet, the Moses of her People. (New York: Geo. Loekvvood & Sons, I886[much greater than]:

(4) Jean Humez, Harriet Tubman: The Life and Life Stones. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003). 133-144.

(5) "Harriet Tubman. The Colored Nurse and Seoul--The Bndge Sweet Airiean ME. Church last Hvening." The Brooklyn Eagle, Get. 23. 1865.

(6) Record of Fugitives 1855, Sydney Howard Gay Papers. Columbia University Special Colleetions.

(7) Interview with Harriet Tubman, "May 14 [1856]." in Record of Fugitives 1855, Sydney Howard Gay Papers. Columbia University Special Collections. '

(8) See Record of Fugitives 1855, Sydney Howard Gay Papers, Columbia University-Special Collections; and "Journal C of Station 2 of the Underground Railroad (Philadelphia. Agent William Still)." Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Reel 32. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA.

(9) Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. (Auburn. NY: W. J. Moses, Printer, 1869), 77.

(10) William Still also kept other journals, covering the years 1857 through 1862, but the location of those journals is unknown. Also, not every selfliberalor noted in Journal C or the Account book is described in Still's The Underground Railroad. Therefore, for the years 1852 through early 1857, the book should be used in conjunction with the manuscript Journal C for complete details and accuracy. Both the book and Journal C are filled with minor and major typographical and factual errors, but for the most part they are fairly accurate, with Journal C being the most accurate.

(11) "Pennsylvania" The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Sicbert. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA..; and, "New York." The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Siebert. Houghton Literary, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA.

(12) Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Quarles, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself. (1845: Reprint, 6th). (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1971, 101-102.

(13) Douglass. Life and Times of I'rederick Douglass.

(14) For more information on this network of abolitionists and URR operators in Kennett, Pennsylvania, see William Kashatus, Just over (he Line: Chester County and the Underground Railroad. (West Chester, PA: Chester County Historical Society with Pcnn State University Press. 2002).

(15) Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 330. For detailed accounts of the the operations of the Underground Railroad in New York, see: Milton Semett, North Star Country, Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002); and Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society Records. William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Ml; "New York." The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Siebert. Vol. 40. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA.

(16) "The Underground Railroad: Manuscript Materials Collected by Professor Seibert, Ohio University." Vol. 40. Houghton Library. Harvard University. Cambridge, MA.

(17) Bureau of the Census. United Suites Federal Census. 1850; Bureau of the Census. United States Federal Census. 1860. Rensselaer County, N.Y. Also, see "Letter to Sister Harriet Tubman, Nov. I, 1859." Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society Papers. 1:19. William Clements Library. Ann Arbor, Ml.; and. "Siebert Papers, N.Y.". According to the New York 1855 census, (I* Ward. Troy, Rensselaer County), William Bowley had been living there for 15 years, John Hooper for 1 1 years. There are several other possible Eastern Shore, Maryland families in this census, including William and John Meads, and Edward and Leah Bishops, among others. In the 1860 Federal Census, and then the New York Slate 1865 censuses for the same area, there are many more Maryland-born African Americans living in Troy and Albany.

(18) "Siebert Papers, N.Y." Letters. Martin I. Townsend to Siebert, Sept. 4, 18%; April 1. 1897.

(19)"Siebert Papers, N.Y."; Lette. Martin I. Townsend to Siebert, Sept. 4. 18%; April f, 1897; September 7. 1898; and September 14, l898. See Bradford, Scenes, 88; See "Letter, W.E. Abbott to Maria G. Porter, Nov. 29. 1X56." Rochester Anti-Slavery Society Papers. 1:9. William Clements Library. Ann Arbor, Ml. See also "Siebert Papers, N.Y." Letters, Martin I. Townsend to Seibeit.

(20) "Tubman Interview [Seibeil]." "New York." The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Sieberl. Vol. 40. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Cambridge. MA.

(21) James McGowan, Station Master on the Underground Railroad. (Moylan, PA: The Whimsie Press, 1977). 126-127. Letter Thomas Garrett to Eliza Wigham, September 12, 1856. Garrett noted that Tubman had become quite ill with a cold during her last trip.

(22) Interview with Harriet Tubman. "May 14 [ 1856]". in Record of Fugitives 1855, Sydney Howard Gay Papers, Columbia University Special Collections.

(23) Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. (Auburn. New York: W.J.Moses, 1869). 29.

(24) Bradford, Scenic 30-31.

(25) Wilbur Siebed, "The Underground Railroad: Manuscript Materials Collected by Professor Seibert. Ohio University." Vol. 40. Houghton Library. Harvard University. Cambridge. MA.

(26) "Two Thousand Six I kindred Dollars Reward: Easton Gazette. Easton. Maryland. November I 856; and "Journal C of Station 2 of the Underground Railroad (Philadelphia. Agent William Still)." Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Reel 32. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia. PA. November 26. 1856.

(27) Brad fo rd. Stnes,31.

(28) Still, "Journal C." November 2d. 1856.

(29) McGowan, Station Master. 149. Letter, Thomas Garrett to Joseph Dugdale. November 29. 1856.

(30) Rochester Ladies Anti-Stayery Society. "Rochester Records." Letter. WE. Abbott to Samuel D. Porter, November 29. 1856. 1:9.

(31) Rochester Uidies Anti-Slavery Society. "Rochester Records." William R. Clements Library, University of Michigan. Letter, William J. Watkins to Mrs. Armstrong. August 9. [857. 1:10

(32) Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. "Account Book." William R. Clements Library. University of Michigan.;

(33) Bradford, Scenes. 32-35.

(34) Bradford, Scenes. 35.

(35) intemew with Marnel Tubman. "May 14 [1856]". in Record of Fugitives 1855. Sydney Howard Gay Papers. Columbia University Special Collections.

(36) Bradford Scenes. Letter. Thomas Garreti to Bradford. June. 1868. 52.

(37) Wilbur Henry Siebert. "New York." The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Siebert. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. Letter. Mrs. C. BIoss Webb to Siebert, Sept. 7, 1896.,

(38) "New York." The Underground Railroad: Manuscript materials collected by Professor Siebert. US 5278.36.25. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. See work by Elbeil Wixom located in this collection for more detailed information on the URR route through the Finger Lakes region, which included Auburn and vicinity.

(39) In May 1859, Seward also left for an extended tour of Europe, returning in the late fall.

(40) "[William H. Seward - Builder]." Newspaper Scrapbook. Seward House Collection. Auburn, NY.

(41) "Microfilm Reels 192-193." Seward Papers. Harvard University. Cambridge. See also, Rebecca Green. "History of Harriet Tubman and Her Brick House." Cornell University, Ithaca. NY: 1998.

(42) Sanborn, "Harriet Tubman [July 17]"; and Bradford. Scenes. 81.

(43) Sanborn, Brown, Letter, Edwin Morton to Frank Sanborn, June 1. 1859, 468.

(44) Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in (he Life of Harriet Tubman. (Auburn, New York: WJ. Moses, 1869) p. 5. Letter from Wendell Phillips to Bradford June 16. 1868.

(45) According to the Dorchester County Assessment Records, Rachel was taken off the Brodess taxable property list in 1859. Only the two children, Angcrine and Benjamin remained. A local Auburn abolitionist, D.C. Collins, wrote to Franklin Sanborn on January 25. I86I. "We are much pleased that Harriet succeeded in assisting even a few of her suffering friends to escape from bondage, but her sister was not among the number, she having been released from her labors some time since by (hat friend of the poor slave, the Angel of Death." See "Letter, D.C. Collins to Franklin Sanborn. January 25, 1861." Franklin B. Sanborn Papers. American Antiquarian Society. Worcester, MA. See also, "Letter. Genii Smith to Franklin Sanborn, January 29, 1861," Franklin B. Sanborn Papers. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. Smith wrote that Tubman 'returned Christmas from another of her southern expeditions, bringing with her 7 slaves. But her sister, after whom she went was not among them. She died a little before Harriet reached her neighborhood."

(46) "Letter, Martha Coffin Wright to Ellen Wright Garrison, December 30. 1860." Garrison Family Papers. Box 36. f 948. Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA.

Kate Clifford Larson (1)
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