Harriet and the Underground Railroad

By Maritza Brunt

woodcut harriet tubman

A long, long time ago, in a country called the United States of America, there lived a little girl. Her name was Harriet.

Harriet lived with her mum and dad and nine siblings. Life was very difficult for Harriet and her family. Back then, people owned other people, and forced them to do very hard jobs, all day, every day. This is called slavery, and it was very common for people like Harriet who were born with dark skin.

Harriet and her family lived on a large farm in a place called Maryland. Even when she was very little, Harriet was forced to do lots of chores that she didn’t want to do, and was beaten and punished badly if she didn’t do them right. On the farm, she became very strong, working with cows and animals and planting in the fields.

But one day, something terrible happened to Harriet.

Harriet was in town, running errands for her master, when she heard a big noise coming from around the corner. Curious, she went to investigate, and found a scary white man yelling at one of his slaves. In anger, the master picked up a big iron weight and threw it with all his might at the slave. But it didn’t hit the slave—it hit Harriet instead, right in the head.

Harriet nearly died from her head injury. But she surprised everyone when she recovered. Because of the accident, Harriet had dizzy spells and would black out for the rest of her life. But something good came from the accident, too. During her dizzy spells, Harriet was sure that God was speaking to her in dreams. She realised that there was a God who loved her very much, even when her master treated her badly, and she began to have faith that God would help her, no matter what.

One day, when Harriet was older, she heard something that made her heart happy.

“Harriet,” hissed a fellow slave, as they were working in the fields. “Did you hear about Pennsylvania?”

Harriet knew that Pennsylvania was another place further north in the United States, far away from her home.

“No,” she whispered. “What’s happened?”

“It’s wonderful,” said her friend. “Slavery is no longer allowed in some places up north! People who have dark skin like us can be free!”

Harriet couldn’t believe her ears. Right away, she started planning her escape. It took her years, but finally, when her master died, she knew it was time.

By this stage, Harriet was an adult in her early 20s. She knew that her master’s wife would sell her to another bad man, so one evening, as night came, she left. Even though there were lots of bad people who still wanted to own slaves, there were lots of good people, too—people who wanted to help slaves be free. These people belonged to a secret club called the Underground Railroad.

This club was very confusing, because it was not underground, and it wasn’t actually a railroad. It was a special name used to help slaves like Harriet escape. There were lots of secret meeting spots and safe houses, where slaves could safely spend a night before moving on to the next stop. This is how Harriet escaped, and after a long and scary journey, Harriet finally made it to Pennsylvania. She was free.

But Harriet couldn’t stop thinking about her family and her friends back on the farm.

“God,” she prayed one night. “I love being free. But I want my family and friends to be free, too. Will you help me rescue them?”

A few years after Harriet escaped, a new law was passed.

“Any slave who has escaped can now, under law, be taken back to their master,” read the statement. This meant that places like Pennsylvania were no longer safe for Harriet and other free slaves. If they wanted true freedom, they needed to travel even further north, and cross the border into Canada.

Harriet was determined to make it, and even more determined to help others. Working during the long, cold winter nights, when she wouldn’t be spotted, Harriet made the big trip back to Maryland to rescue her family. Then, using the safe meeting spots on the Underground Railroad, Harriet took them all the way to Canada. Over a few years, Harriet made 19 trips and helped around 300 slaves to freedom. All the time, she would pray, “Please help me, God. Help me help other people.”

Harriet’s bravery and the way she loved to help people led her to become a nurse when she became older. During a big war in the United States called the Civil War, Harriet helped rescue a further 750 slaves so that they too could be free.

After the war, Harriet decided to live in New York with her family, where she continued to help poor people and make sure that people with dark skin, like hers, were treated kindly, and the same way as people with white skin. Harriet was never caught, and never lost a slave on one of her rescue trips, and thanks to her, lots of people found freedom. But most importantly, Harriet never stopped talking to God, and thanking Him for being with her. Harriet knew that God had helped her survive slavery, and helped her escape, and she was always incredibly thankful. 

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