Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People

Harriet Tubman was a slave in Maryland who escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania. She could have fled to safety in Canada, but after years of enduring harsh treatment, she was determined to help other slaves to freedom. Becoming a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, she delivered over 300 runaway slaves. Infuriated by her success, slave owners offered a $40,000 reward for her capture—dead or alive.

Harriet was the first to acknowledge that her accomplishments were only possible with God. She would declare to Sarah Bradford, who wrote her biography, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!” And she said, “On my underground railroad, I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

As a child Harriet had learned to trust the Lord. This was necessary because she was rented out to cruel masters and mistresses. One flung a two-pound weight at another slave, but Harriet jumped in the way and took the blow, causing her lifelong hardship. Yet, enduring hard labor and little sleep caused Harriet to grow strong in body and spirit.

Praying for Her Owner

She often prayed for her owner, “Oh, dear Lord, change that man’s heart and make him a Christian.” But, when she heard that she was to be sent to a chain gang in the far South, she changed her prayer: “Lord, if you ain’t never going to change that man’s heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way, so he won’t do no more mischief.”

The master died suddenly, as wickedly as he had lived. Brokenhearted and full of guilt, Harriet began to pray to be washed of sin. “It ’peared like I would give the world full of silver and gold, if I had it, to bring that poor soul back, I would give myself; I would give everything! But he was gone, I couldn’t pray for him no more.”

Following the North Star

In 1849 she felt the Lord was telling her to flee north. Her brothers joined her, but soon turned back out of fear. Vowing never to be taken alive, Harriet kept going, praying, “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you and you’ve got to see me through.” Following the North Star, she escaped to freedom alone. “Oh, how I prayed then, lying on the cold, damp ground, ‘Oh, dear Lord, I ain’t got no friend but you. Come to my help, Lord, for I’m in trouble!’”

Harriet came to a solemn resolution: She would make a home for her family in the North and, with the Lord’s help, bring them there. Night and day she worked, saving pennies, and when she had enough money, she slipped away from her home to rescue her family. It turned out her husband had taken up with another woman and was not interested in running north. Swallowing her disappointment, Harriet piloted others north.

Miraculous Escapes

Nineteen times Harriet ventured into the South to lead fellow slaves to safety, prompting her nickname, “Moses.” She experienced many narrow escapes, but the Lord always sent help. Once a boatman eyed her suspiciously. He ordered her aside with a young woman she was helping to freedom using forged passes. Harriet knelt at the bow of the boat and prayed, “Oh, Lord! You’ve been with me in six troubles; don’t desert me in the seventh!” The boatman returned a few minutes later saying, “You can take your tickets now.”

Another time the Lord led her to wade a flooded river. She did, and escaped being captured by slavers whom she later discovered had been hiding a short distance down the path. “I think slavery is the next thing to hell,” she said. “If a person would send another into bondage he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him to hell if he could.”

Among those she helped to freedom in one of her trips were her own mom and dad. Prompted in her spirit, she raised money and headed south where she found her father was facing criminal charges for helping runaway slaves. She got them safely to Canada.

During the Civil War, she acted as a scout for the Union and nursed wounded soldiers all without pay.

Today, statues and plaques commemorate Harriet Tubman. On February 1, 1978, she became the first black woman honored on American postage. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush, acting on a Congressional resolution, proclaimed March 10 as Harriet Tubman Day. But during her old age, when a little financial assistance would have been welcome, Congress jeered at an attempt to award her a pension. Tubman lived to be about 93 years old, dying in extreme poverty on March 10, 1913, in a home for aged African-Americans that she had founded in Auburn, NY. Fittingly, she told those gathered at her death bed, “I go to prepare a place for you.” We have no doubt she did just that.

The Torchlighters Heroes of the Faith episode on Harriet Tubman features her commitment to prayer, her miraculous escape to freedom, and her brave determination to follow God’s call back into danger to rescue others.  Stream this 30-minute animated film or purchase the DVD (includes documentary). Make use of our free curriculum and Kid’s fun page to help children learn even more about this remarkable woman of faith.