Harriet Tubman, History's Baddest Bitch
We have all heard of her, the woman who risked her life to free slaves and travel the underground railroad, but how much have we really been taught about Harriet Tubman? Well if you received the same white focused education that I did, the answer is, probably not much. I have always had a liking for H-Tubz because of her bravery, and after taking some time to do more research on her life, I quickly turned into a STAN. H-Tubz is one of my favorite people in history period. Harriet was the baddest bitch in history, but is only really recognized and talked about as a black woman who freed some slaves, which is dope but she was so much more than that. Harriet Tubman was a fucking spy for the Union in the civil war, they we're pretty much helpless without her, she was out here defending your mama, daddy, cousins and them since she was a child. She suffered from both physical and mental illness and still overcame, she was a master of disguise, she built an army of bad bitches, and wasn’t ever paid or recognized for her work until years later and so much more. So I am here to tell you her whole story.
Let's start from the beginning of her life, as her childhood sets the stage for who she was as an adult. Harriet Tubman was actually born “Araminta (Minty) Ross”to slave parents Harriet ("Rit") Green and Ben Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland. Harriet Tubman is an alias she created when she started to free slaves. Her parents were owned by two different plantations. Rit, her mother was owned by Mary Pattison Brodess and eventually her son Edward. Ben, Harriet 's father, was owned by Anthony Thompson who eventually married Mary, and became her second husband. Anthony Thompson owned a very large plantation near Blackwater River in Madison, Maryland. It’s hard to know the exact date that Harriet was born due to slave records never being kept, but according to historians and midwife records, it’s estimated that she was born in 1822, give or take 1-2 years. The only other records that exist of her earlier family is that her grandmother, Modesty, came from Africa on a slave ship, and she was told that her linage was Ashanti from what is today known as Ghana.
Harriet 's mother was cook for the Brodess family and her father was woodsman who managed the timber work on the Thompson plantation. They married around 1808 and according to court documents, they had 9 children; Linah, Mariah Ritty, Soph, Robert, Harriet, Ben, Rachel, Henry, and Moses. Rit, tried to keep her family together as slavery tends to rip families apart. Bitch ass Mary Brodess, the slave owner, sold 3 of Rit's daughters (Linah, Mariah Ritty, and Soph) and they were never reunited from what we know. Mary tried to sell her youngest son, Moses, but Rit, with the help of other slaves on the plantation and freed blacks, hid him for over a month. When Mary Brodess approached the slave quarters to take Moses by force, Rit told her... “You are after my son; but the first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open.” Mary Brodess stopped trying to sell him after that, *cackle*. Some believe that this event and the stories told about it after, is what influenced Harriet 's, interest in resistance. Before moving forward, it is important to note that Harriet was a very religious person. As an illiterate child, she was told bible stories by her mother and she adopted a very passionate faith in God. However, she rejected the teachings of the New Testament completely, because she thought it urged slaves to be obedient and weak. Instead, she found guidance from the teachings of the old testament, particularly with the idea of deliverance. Harriet was such a believer that she claimed to experience, "vivid dreams and visions" that she interpreted to be from God himself. These visions will play apart later in her story.
Because her mother was assigned to the house, she had little time to care for her family, and as a result, Harriet was tasked with being the family caretaker. This was fairly common in large slave families. At the age of 5-6 however, Mary Brodess hired her out as a nursemaid to a friend named “Miss Susan”. Harriet's job was to care for Miss Susan’s child while it slept. If the baby woke and/or cried, Harriet was whipped. In some of Harriet 's journal's, she recalled one time that she was lashed 5 times before breakfast and she had the scars the rest of her life. However, it was around this time that Harriet started to develop her own means of being a bad bitch. She did this by doing things such as, running away and hiding for days at a time, only returning when she wanted to and finding ways to resist the lashings by wearing layers of clothing as protection against the beatings she received and fighting back. This resistance continued to grow and get her into trouble.
When she was in her early teens, she was suffered a permanent and severe head injury trying to help a fellow slave. Harriet had been sent into town to purchase some irrelevant shit at one of the stores when she stumbled into a slave owned by a different family. This slave had left the fields without permission and was to be punished, publicly. His overseers saw her minding her own business, and demanded that she help restrain the man, Harriet, of course refused. The runaway, managed to get loose and tried to make a run for it. The overseer threw a two-pound weight at the man, but missed and hit Harriet in the head. In her journals she said that believed that it had broken her skull and that the texture of her hair in its natural 4c, flourishing afro form was the only thing that saved her life. Obviously, this did cause her serious head injuries. At the time, she was unconscious and bleeding and returned to her home where she was given medical attention for a whopping two days before sent out to the fields to work. This head injury caused disabling epileptic seizures, headaches and according to medical professionals today, the powerful visions and dream experiences she interpreted to be from God. She would randomly collapse into seizures, or into deep states of unconsciousness where she appeared to be sleeping but she claimed to be aware of her surroundings. This particular injury impaired what work she could do, and her owner Mary Brodess tried to sell her as she was no use to her anymore. This plan did not work so well as no one wanted a “useless slave”. Harriet dealt with these symptoms throughout her entire life. Today’s professionals suspect she suffered was likely suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy her whole life.
In 1840, her father, Ben, was manumitted when he was 45, which basically meant he was freed for good service. However, the rest of Ben’s family was not freed, remember his wife was owned by Mary Brodess, so he continued to work for Thompson as a timber estimator so he could be close to his family. Several years after this, Harriet became suspicious of the fact that her father was freed but not her mother, thus she secretly hired a white attorney to investigate her mother’s legal status. The attorney discovered that Rit’s former owner had issued instructions that she was to be freed at the age of 45 like her husband. The records also showed that this was the same for her children and that any children born after Rit’s age of 45 were legally free. But the Brodess family completely ignored this contract, which was fairly common, and it would be impossible for Harriet to legally challenge this in court as a slave.
In 1844, Harriet married a free black man by the name of John Tubman. Their marriage was complicated as she was still a slave and because of her mother’s contract, legally any children had by John and Harriet, would be automatically be slaves. Not much is known about John Tubman or their marriage but historians believe that John planned to buy her and her family out of slavery. This was very common for “blended” families, families who had some members free and some enslaved, to do. Soon after her marriage is when Harriet changed her name from Araminta, to Harriet, it is thought that this quickly followed their wedding and was in preparation to her planning her first escape.
In 1849, Minty, now Harriet Tubman fell extremely ill, which diminished her value as a slave even more. Edward, Mary Brodess’s son who now owned the plantation, tried to sell Harriet but like his mother, could not find anyone who wanted to buy an ill and useless slave. Harriet stated in an interview later in life that she remembers being very angry at Edward for trying to sell her and for keeping her family enslaved when they were supposed to be free. She stated “I prayed all night long for my master till the first of March; and all the time he was bringing people to look at me, and trying to sell me.” when it appeared that a sale was about to me made she said “I changed my prayer. First of March I began to pray, 'Oh Lord, if you ain't never going to change that man's heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way” one week later, Edward was dead. Her joy however, was short lived as Edward’s, death caused more problems for her family than solutions. A dead plantation owner meant that the slaves would be sold, and they were rarely sold in families. This meant that Harriet’s family was going to be torn apart for good. Harriet decided she was going to wait around to see what her family’s fate would be, she later said that she had two choices, liberty or death, she chose liberty and on September 17, 1849, she and her brothers, Ben and Henry, escaped.
Because they were in the middle of a slave sale, it wasn’t notice for a good 2 weeks that they had gone missing, which gave them plenty of time to get a head start. Eliza, Edward’s widow who was in control of the plantation now that he was dead, posted a runaway slave notice as soon as she realized they were gone. There was a $100 reward for each slave returned. However, Harriet and her brothers soon returned on their own shortly after this posting. Her brothers had second thoughts about leaving. Ben had just become a father and didn’t want to leave his family, and whatever reasons Henry had clearly been enough to make him turn back from freedom. This forced Harriet to return with them, but she didn’t stay long. Before Harriet left the plantation again, she sent word to her mother via coded negro spirituals about her plan to escape and come back for them. She left again, utilizing the underground railroad to make her way north. Following the North Star, travelling on foot, it is estimated that this journey could have taken up to 3 weeks. Her voyage called for her to avoid dogs, and slave catchers, she would sometimes dress up as a housemaid and pretend to work with families who were aiding slaves get through the underground railroad and then continue travelling at night. Her destination, Pennsylvania.
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
Once she got to Philly, Harriet worked odd jobs to save money to help get her family up north. Meanwhile, Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which essentially stated that, if you were caught aiding runaway slaves you could be tried as a criminal. This law always forced all officials, including those in “free states” to aid in the capture of runaway slaves. Meaning if a runaway slave managed to make it to a free state, they can still be captured by that state’s officials and held be punished. This law, severely increased the risk for slaves who wanted to escape.
In December of 1850, Harriet received word that her niece and two children were to be sold in Cambridge. So Harriet went to Baltimore where her brother in law hid her until the auction. Kessiah, Harriet’s niece, had a free husband who won the highest bid, buying her out of slavery, but he did not have enough to buy the children. No matter though, Harriet waited until the auctioneers stepped away for lunch, and she took the children and ran to a nearby safe house. Eventually the whole family reunited at Harriet’s home in Philly. This was the beginning of Harriet’s rescue missions.
In 1851, Harriet returned to Dorchester County for the first time since her escape, she went to find her husband, John and she discovered that John, had remarried and despite her asking him to rejoin her, he said that he was happy and refused to reunite. Harriet was prepared to bust in his house and give him a piece of her mind but she decided he was a fuckboy not worth her time. So instead she found some slaves who wanted to escape and she led them back to Philly. John was killed 16 years later in an argument with a white man. Over the next 11 years, Harriet repeated this trip and led approximately 300 slaves to freedom, including her remaining brothers, their wives and children. She was fearless to say the least. She prayed and trusted that god would protect her and became a master in disguising herself to avoid slave-catchers and overseers. The following is a description of one of her disguises
Tubman once disguised herself with a bonnet and carried two live chickens to give the appearance of running errands. Suddenly finding herself walking toward a former owner in Dorchester County, she yanked the strings holding the birds' legs, and their agitation allowed her to avoid eye contact. Later she recognized a fellow train passenger as another former master; she snatched a nearby newspaper and pretended to read. Since Tubman was known to be illiterate, the man ignored her.
Like I said, a bad bitch.
Harriet was known to carry a revolver with her and she was not afraid to use it. This wasn’t only for the dogs and slave-catchers that were after her squad, but she also a threat to any slave that endangered the group. She told a story about one man who insisted he was going to go back to the plantation when morale got low among a group of runaways. She pointed the gun at his head and said, "You go on or die. Several days later, he was with the group as they entered the United Province of Canada.
Stories say that the reward for her capture was $40k but there is no official record of this and it is thought to be more around $12k or maybe even less. No documentation has been found of either. However, despite so many people looking for Harriet, she was never caught and neither were the runaways she aided. Her last mission to Dorchester County was to collect the rest of her family, her father and brothers had managed to save enough money to buy her mother out of slavery but when her father attempted to make his way north with Rit and a few other runaways they were at risk of arrest. Harriet received word of this and went to help. Eventually, her remaining family members, were all reunited. After her captain save-a-slave days, Harriet started to get involved with the civil war and attacks against slaveholders.
John Brown, an abolitionist who advocated for using violent force to destroy slavery, began recruiting supporters for an attack on slave-owners. Harriet or “General Tubman” as he called her, was one of these recruits. Her vast knowledge of support networks and resources in the border states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware were priceless to Brown and his men. Her initial task was to gather former slaves who would be interesting in joining his fight, and she did. Harriet helped him plan his attack on Harper’s Ferry, VA. Harriet was never at the revolt itself and it is not known for sure where she was at the time. Some say she was home, suffering from seizures or comas, and others think she was out recruiting people to join the fight. It is also speculated that she began to have doubts in Brown’s plan and may have backed off, as eventually, the raid failed and Brown was convicted of high treason and hung. Harriet later told a friend that “He done more in dying, than 100 men would in living”.
In 1859, Harriet bought some land outside of Auburn, NY and she moved her parents from Ontario Canada where they were hiding, down to her new land. I should mention that, many runaways fled to Canada to avoid capture as many northern states were becoming unsafe for freed blacks with the new Fugitive law in place. This also made it very risky for slaves who were seeking refuge in Canada to return to the states. However, being the bad bitch that she was, Harriet convinced them to move. In 1850, Harriet went on her final rescue mission. If you remember from the beginning of this story, her sisters were sold very early on, one of those sister’s was Rachel. For several years Harriet had tried to help her escape but was unsuccessful. In 1850 she made a final attempt, only to get to Dorchester County and discover that Rachel had died. However, Rachel had left two children behind, Harriet was told she could rescue the kids with a $30 bribe, but she had no money and was forced to leave without them. No one knows what happened to them after that. Not one to waste a perfectly good slave rescue trip, she gathered another group of slaves and made her way back up north.
In 1861, the Civil War broke out, full force. Harriet was not one to keep quiet about her views on the Civil War, she thought that a win from the union was the key step needed to abolishing slavery. Harriet wanted to offer her services much like she did with John Brown. Her knowledge of the land was something the union did not have. So she joined a group of Philly and Boston abolitionists heading to North Carolina to fight. She became a key part of the Union Army’s success. She met with David Hunter, another abolitionist supporter. Harriet served as a nurse in Port Royal preparing medical remedies and treatments for the soldiers. She also took care of the men with smallpox, which, she somehow never contracted herself, she says this was because God protected her. Keep in mind, she was never paid for her services. She started to be paid in food rations, but soon people complained she was receiving “special treatment”, *eye roll*, so to ease tension, she gave these up and continued to work for free and instead hustled money by selling pies and root beer that she made at night.
In 1863, after Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Harriet found renewed support to destroy Confederacy once and for all. It wasn’t long before she was back to work for the Union. She became a scout for the Union. Her scouting allowed them to map that terrain and spy on the people who lived there. It was because of her and her squad of bad bitches, that Colonel James Montgomery was able to takeover Jacksonville, FL. Later in the same year, Harriet was the first women to ever lead an armed assault during the civil war. In 1863 she served as the key adviser, and joined the raid of Combahee River, which resulted in the rescue of over 750 slaves. She continued to work for the union for 2 more years. However, despite her over 5 years of service to the Union and United States, she never received a salary and for many years didn’t receive any type of compensation. If you remember we talk briefly before about how she was paid in rations but had to give those up. In 1899, she finally received pension for her services. 1899, damn near 35 years after. It should also be pointed out that because she was always given up so much for her family, community and other slaves she rescued, Harriet was living well below the poverty line. Harriet was in constant debt, which led friends and supporters of her to try and raise money to help her. We are nearing the end of Harriet’s story.
After the war, she settled back in with her family in Auburn. She remarried to a man 22 years her youth, named Nelson Davis, who she met during the war and they were married for another 20 years, adopting a baby girl named Gerti. In her later years, close to her death, she joined the fight for women’s rights and quickly teamed up well known feminist such as with Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. Harriet traveled all over the east coast, speaking out about women’s rights using herself and other previously enslaved women’s sacrifices during the civil war as example of why women deserve the right to vote.
In the late 1890s her medical conditions got worse as she aged. She underwent brain surgery at Boston Mass. General Hospital. Harriet said she was unable to sleep due to “buzzing” in her head, and asked a doctor operate. It should also be noted that she received no anesthesia for this brain surgery, she instead, chose to bite down on a bullet because that is what she saw the soldiers in the field do when they had their limbs amputated. By 1911, her body was so worn out that she was put on permanent bed rest in a home named after her in her honor. And in 1913, surrounded by her family and friends, she died of pneumonia. She was buried with semi-military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery, in Auburn New York.
That is the amazing story of H-Tubz the baddest bitch in history. From a fierce, stubborn child, to a union spy as an adult, Harriet embodies everything I’ve ever wanted from a strong black woman icon. She overcome unimaginable circumstances and horrors both psychically and mentally. She trusted and believed so strongly in her views that it lit a fire and passion deep inside of her giving her the strength to never give up. She was so selfless and humble, she put everyone before herself even when it caused her harm. She was here for women, men, family, slaves, and any other person who faced an injustice of any sort. Harriet Tubman is a true American bad ass, who deserves more praise and to have her story shouted from the mountain tops. Harriet Tubman, History’s Baddest Bitch.