When I read the Freedom Train about her rescue missions as a child, I was inspired by her daring as much as by her dedication to helping her friends and family achieve the same glorious sensation of liberty she experienced when she crossed over the line into the free state of Pennsylvania. Harriet Tubman is remembered for having delivered as many as 70 people on her 13 trips into the South, risking her own freedom and safety by returning to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where she had been enslaved and leading groups of men, women, and children north into freedom.
When writing THE TIME RETURNS SERIES, which explores local history as well as the roots of racism in the institution of slavery, I felt it appropriate to dedicate a portion of the second novel to my character Natalie Winslow's research of Harriet Tubman. While there are many well known anecdotes which have been share in biographies or movies, I learned much about this incredible woman which is not common knowledge.
For example, John Brown, famous for his efforts to incite a slave rebellion in Harpers Ferry, WV., in 1859, had great respect for Harriet and referred to her as "General Tubman"--quite a compliment from the fiery abolitionist who led a raid on a Union Armory and refused to be rescued from jail after his capture, choosing instead to be hung as a martyr for the sake of the cause. Although Harriet Tubman was unable to participate in the raid, she assisted Brown in recruiting men and providing valuable knowledge and support.
Several years later, when the War Between the States broke out, Tubman criticized President Lincoln for his lack of decisive action to outlaw slavery even though she joined the Union Army. She hoped that a defeat of the Confederacy would result in the end of the abhorrent practice. In 1863, she was the first woman to plan and lead an armed assault when she guided a regiment of 300 Black soldiers in a raid at Combahee Ferry, S.C., and commanded the gunboats around Confederate mines in the river. The battle was won and resulted in the liberation of 756 people.
During the Civil War, Tubman also served as a nurse, caring for soldiers who were wounded or sick. She used her knowledge of herbal medicine to heal them, and was inspired in return by their bravery and strength. In her later years, she opted to have surgery performed on her skull to relieve the pressure caused by a head injury she had sustained as a youth. It had given her severe headaches and dizzy spells throughout her life. Declining the use of anesthesia, Harriet Tubman chose instead to bite down on a bullet as the soldiers had done in the war to cope with the pain of amputation. Talk about tough!
Another interesting fact pertains to matrimony. Most people are familiar with Harriet's first husband, John Tubman, from whom she took her last name. (She was born Araminta Ross and changed her first name to Harriet after her escape.) Many are unaware that she married a second time, in 1869, to a Union Veteran named Nelson Charles Davis, who was 22 years younger than she was! (Now that's brave!) They adopted a girl, named Gertie, and lived together as a family in Auburn, New York, until Davis died of tuberculosis in 1888.
Additionally it is assumed that she retired from her exciting life of activism after the abolition of slavery. However, Harriet Tubman continued to fight for those who lacked the full benefits of liberty and was an outspoken voice for women's suffrage. She traveled to New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to advocate for women's voting rights. In 1897, a newspaper reported a series of receptions to honor her in Boston. It is said she had given so much of her own resources away to those in need that in order to attend, she was forced to sell a cow to afford the train ticket.
In 1911, Tubman was frail and her health failing. She was admitted to a rest home named in her honor and was described as "ill and penniless." In 1913, she died of pneumonia, surrounded by family members and close friends. Her last words were, "I go to prepare a place for you." She was buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York, with semi-military honors.
WHEN THE SUN COMES BACK is the title of the second novel in THE TIME RETURNS SERIES and is taken from one of the code phrases used by Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad. In this novel, I give tribute to a woman who was selfless in her dedication to both the broader causes of humanity and the individual instances of need she witnessed in her personal life. Her bravery and strength were equaled only by the kindness which compelled her to live in the service of others.
On this day, the 108th anniversary of her death, I want to honor a woman who has been an inspiration to generations to fight for those who are oppressed and to give generously to those in need. Throughout her life, Harriet Tubman attributed her courage and the source of her compassion to God. She is an example to all of us us of what Christian servant leadership should look like. I am confident that when Harriet Tubman entered the gates of heaven, she was greeted with the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."