Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman
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Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
In 1837, Harriet is a 7-year-old slave in Maryland. She works as a house servant for a time, until Mistress grows frustrated with her and sends her to work in the fields. Harriet rises to the occasion, growing quicker and stronger than many of the male field hands. Her master even hires her out to prosperous farmers to plow their fields.
On one of these jobs, Harriet meets a slave named Jim who has run away several times. He tells her about a secret Underground Railroad, made up of hiding places called stations and helpers known as conductors. He tells Harriet the Underground Railroad helps slaves escape into free territory. One night, Jim’s master throws a heavy weight at him. It misses and hits Harriet, fracturing her skull.
Harriet doesn’t die, as expected, but she’s never quite the same again. For the rest of her life, she is prone to falling asleep suddenly in the middle of her tasks. Master says she’s no good to him this way. When he can’t sell her, he allows her to hire herself out wherever she can find work. She must give Master some of what she earns, but she can keep the rest for herself.
One day in town, Harriet meets a free black man named John Tubman. They fall in love and marry, and he comes to live on Master’s farm. The relationship begins to sour when John fails to do much work and squanders the money Harriet has saved so carefully. When Master dies, Harriet knows her family will be scattered. She visits some local Quakers, who help her make plans to run away. She does. After nearly a week on the Underground Railroad, Harriet reaches the free state of Pennsylvania.
Harriet finds odd jobs to support herself, but she never stops planning to rescue her family. With the help of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, she makes trips back into slave states to rescue siblings, her aging parents and many fellow slaves. Her cleverness and stubborn boldness earn her a reputation and make her a wanted woman.
In 1850, the Underground Railroad changes its methods of operation out of necessity. The new Fugitive Slave Law allows slave owners to enter free states and reclaim their property. Runaway slaves are no longer safe in the United States, so many flee to Canada. Underground Railroad routes change and many peace-loving abolitionists take up arms.
Harriet helps establish a Canadian settlement called St. Catharines, where much of her family begins to build a new life. Harriet repeatedly risks her life by sneaking back into enemy territory to rescue her people. She becomes known as Moses, eventually freeing more than 300.
Harriet continues to speak out for freedom in public venues, becoming friends with well-known authors and politicians. Alongside abolitionist John Brown, she endeavors to form a covert military operation that will free more slaves. The plan is exposed, Brown is hanged, and Harriet is devastated.
When the Civil War breaks out, Harriet serves as a liaison for General Hunter of the Union Army. As refugee slaves come in, she helps them find work and provisions for their families. These individuals are still not considered free, simply contraband of war. Harriet also nurses both refugees and soldiers in military hospitals. Regiments ask for Harriet to come to them, and many believe the tea she makes from swamp plants brings healing.
On Jan. 1, 1863, Harriet finally sees the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. She then consults with military leaders and serves as a scout, helping the Union Army discover Confederacy strongholds. After the war ends, she continues to serve in military hospitals.
When she finally settles down in Auburn, New York, Harriet supports schools and pays for books and clothing for students. Ignoring her own financial shortfalls, she houses people who can’t support themselves. One of these is an ailing Army officer 15 years her junior, named Nelson Davis, whom she later marries.
Harriet continues to serve as an active supporter of women’s rights and the temperance movement. A book is written about her, and she receives accolades from people such as Queen Victoria for her bravery. Harriet Tubman dies at age 93, singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Slaves sing spirituals as they work. They read Exodus and dream of being free like the Israelites. At first, the area slaveowners encourage the slaves to sing and read the Bible. They think this will keep the slaves too busy to whisper about rebellion. After Nat Turner’s revolt, slave owners rethink their methods. Harriet’s master forbids his slaves to sing spirituals, have church or read the Bible. He sends in a white pastor once a month, but the man only talks about how slaves must obey their masters and how the meek will be blessed.
An old slave talks about Quakers and abolitionists and how, with their help and the Lord’s, slaves will be freed someday. Harriet believes that with the Lord’s help she can free her family. Harriet works with many Quakers to free slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Harriet’s mother tells her to be kind to white people because the Bible talks about love. Her father points out that the Bible talks about hate, too. Many stanzas from spirituals appear in the text. An Army general says it seems like Harriet has an angel to guide her. When John Brown is hanged, Harriet says they have killed Christ, the savior of her people. As slaves await their freedom during the Civil War, they remind each other that the Bible says the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Other Belief Systems
Slave owners use the word d--ned twice. Harriet receives a terrible beating after running from Mistress. When Harriet develops measles, the family to whom she’s been lent fails to notice. They make her work until she collapses and cannot get up. Harriet hears stories about a runaway slave named Nat Turner and his cohorts being hung for their disobedience. A slave owner throws a heavy weight at a slave, accidentally hitting Harriet in the head. She nearly dies and experiences permanent physical damage.
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Racism: Slavery is acceptable and legal, and slaveowners feel no remorse for treating black people with cruelty and brutality.
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Readability Age Range
8 to 12