Americana: A name that means courage

March 31, 2019

She was born Araminta Ross in Maryland in 1822. She had eight siblings. Gifted with a brilliant mind and clever wit, she developed one passion: freedom.

A chance entry in Araminta’s (called Minty in her youth) master’s book recorded that he paid a midwife $2 to help “Rit,” Minty’s mother, give birth on March 15, 1822. So Minty was spared the common slave grief of not knowing her age. Her mother was a cook and Minty remembers being left to care for her younger siblings all day when just 5 years old. She enjoyed swinging the baby by his dress while his head and arms brushed the floor. She also remembers the screaming and pleading when two horsemen dragged away her two older sisters to be sold in the South when her master needed a bit of ready cash. She would never see them again.

A few years after her sisters were sold, Edward Brodess tried to sell her youngest brother, Moses. Rit defied the master and hid Moses in the woods for over a month until the slave traders left the region empty handed.

Minty’s childhood, youth and young adulthood were marked by frequent incidence of being rented to other slave holders short term, never knowing what the next day might bring and frightened of the permanent separation of her family.

Meanwhile, communities throughout the United States were stirred by camp meetings led by itinerate preachers. Novel among them were black women who preached freedom, personal responsibility and the willingness for God to aid and nurture all of his children. Minty began to awake spiritually. She learned scripture by heart and used it to guide her decisions.

As a rented slave, Minty was forced to tend muskrat traps in the wintry creeks while feverish with the measles. With another slave mistress, she was whipped if she fell asleep while rocking a baby through the night. Another time, a master threw an iron weight at another slave and hit Minty. The blow fractured her skull and caused terrible headaches and (probably) temporal lobe epilepsy, which included visions, narcolepsy and vivid religious experiences for the rest of her life.

“Slavery,” she said, “is the next thing to hell.”

But the debilitating injury also protected her from being sold and precipitated powerful spiritual experiences that allowed her to become the fearless freedom fighter she became.

When she married at age 22, she took her mother’s name, Harriet. Her husband was a free black man named John Tubman. She made an arrangement with Brodess to hire herself out and pay him an annual fee of $50. She kept the rest of her earnings for herself. She bought a team of steers and hired out as a teamster. She learned the secret forest paths and waterways that carried coded communications of those fighting slavery. Though barely 5 feet tall, she developed prodigious physical strength.

William Still, called the father of the Underground Railroad, said she was “wholly devoid of fear.” She said of herself that she was called to spread freedom by a holy calling.

She left slavery with her two brothers when she was 27. Her two brothers changed their minds and returned to their families and master two weeks later. Shortly thereafter, she escaped alone, meeting with an unnamed white woman, probably a nearby Quaker, who helped her on her way to Pennsylvania.

Next, she marshaled family and friends to help rescue some nieces, and more family a few months later, always bringing them to Pennsylvania. When she returned to Maryland to bring her husband to live in freedom two years after her escape, she found that he had remarried and had no interest in her.

Harriet Tubman rescued between 70 and 230 people from slavery by exploiting the path of abolitionists, both Christians and Jews, blacks and whites, who committed illegal acts in the righteous cause of freedom. She commented with a twinkle in her eye that she rescued the workers from her most vicious masters first.

Harriet Tubman said that she would do the Lord’s work as long as the Lord had use for her. When He didn’t need her anymore, then she was done. She died at age 91. Apparently the Lord had plenty of work for a woman of her unfailing faith, courage and purpose.

An American hero. God bless her.