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Harriet Tubman Biography

Dreaming About Freedom

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Harriet Tubman longed for her freedom, but escaping to the North was a big decision. The risks were huge. If caught, she would be severely punished and likely sold to a plantation in the deep south where escape was nearly impossible. Even if she made it to the North safely, what would Harriet do once she arrived? Would she be able to get a job? Where would she live? Harriet also knew she would miss her parents and siblings. She would have to start a new life in a world she knew nothing about.

Picture of Harriet sitting on a chair
Harriet Tubman
Author: Benjamin F. Powelson

Harriet's Father Becomes a Free Man

When Harriet Tubman's father, Ben Ross, turned 45 his enslaver gave him his freedom. Ben continued to work for his previous enslaver for wages in order to remain near his wife and children. This meant that the two most important men in Harriet's life, her father and husband, were both free.

Harriet began to wonder about her own enslaved status. Was it possible she should be free as well? She paid a lawyer 5 dollars to investigate her mother's history. The lawyer discovered that a previous enslaver had a will that stated Harriet's mother was to be set free at 45 as well. This was to apply to her children, too. Having this knowledge did little good, however, as Harriet had no power to use to this information to gain her freedom.

Her Enslaver Dies

Around 1849, Harriet heard rumors that her enslaver, Edward Brodess, was going to sell her. She became so worried that she prayed to God that Brodess would die. Not long after Harriet said this prayer, Brodess did die. Harriet felt terribly guilty and regretted ever saying that prayer.

A Big Decision

As it turns out, Brodess' death did not mean that Harriet was safe from being sold. His widow soon decided to sell most of the family's enslaved. Harriet feared she would be sold to pick cotton in the South. She would end up far away from the freedom of the North and would be separated from her family. Harriet decided it was time. She would flee to the North and gain her freedom at last. Harriet would explain her decision later saying "There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other."

Harriet discussed fleeing North with her husband John, but John was a free man and didn't want to get into trouble. He didn't want to have to find a new job in the North either. John was so worried about the repercussions that he threatened Harriet that he would turn her in if she ran away. This didn't change Harriet's mind. She was going with or without John and, if she had to be a bit more sneaky when leaving her cabin, she would do that too.

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Harriet Tubman Biography Contents
  1. Overview and Interesting Facts
  2. Born into Slavery
  3. Early Life as an Enslaved Person
  4. Wounded!
  5. Dreaming About Freedom
  6. The Escape!
  7. The Underground Railroad
  8. Freedom and the First Rescue
  9. The Conductor
  10. The Legend Grows
  11. Harper's Ferry and the Civil War Begins
  12. Life as a Spy
  13. Life After the War
  14. Later Life and Death
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Works Cited

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