American Hero Harriet Tubman

The United States was built on slavery. During the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery in America grew to be a huge business. The slaves were Africans being shipped into the US by the thousands. They came from all over the continent and mostly worked in the Southern states, and some in the North. At one point in the 1800s there were approximately 4 million African slaves living in the United States (History, 2009). During this time Araminta Ross, or better known as Harriet Tubman was born.

It is said that she was born in 1820 on a plantation in Maryland, at the moment there is no exact date (History, 2009). She is looked upon as an American hero to many citizens all over the world, but most importantly in the United States. She grew up to be an African American abolitionist among other things, and she lived and worked throughout the 1800s until her death in 1913. She was born into a family of eight brothers and sisters, but due to the carelessness of the slave owners her family was separated throughout the years.

This was not an uncommon practice, as families were ripped apart when family members were sold to different owners, regardless of their ages. It is hard to imagine what these poor children went through having to grow up so quick, being taken away from all that they know and put into families to take care of at such a young age.

In modern day America, the thought of slavery brings disgust to many people.

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To think that children as young as 5 years old were put to work alongside adults in harsh weather conditions, mostly heat or rain, is almost impossible. Slaves were put to work either outside in the fields, or inside taking care of the house and kids. Age was not a factor in choosing slaves. However, so many years ago when the industrialization of the United States was beginning, this was not unusual. Alongside children and young adults were the elderly. At this point in time, medicine was not very advanced nor was there the knowledge about illnesses we know of now. There could have been elderly people who were incredibly sick working on the fields, doing jobs that would exhaust them and make them far more ill. Also an important thing to keep in mind is that slaves were encouraged to have children, the reason for this is because a baby born to a slave would eventually become a slave to the family that owns them. This was was started due to laws being passed by states like Virginia that made slavery inheritable (History, 2018). This lead to plantation owners not having to go out and purchase slaves from others, therefore saving them money.

As has been discussed recently, culture is something that is very important to the way a person learns to behave individually and as part of a society. It is defined as “the language, beliefs, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that characterize a group and are passed from one generation to the next” (Henslin, ). It teaches us how to react to people, situations, and even our own thoughts, all based on what we are raised around and who we are raised by. It is important to remember that for slaves like Harriet Tubman, but most importantly her parents and ancestors, they were ripped from their culture. They were brought over unwillingly from Africa, where they had their freedom which of course was the most essential part. However, they also had their ways of life, their languages and rules as a society. They had skills that worked perfectly in-tune with the society they had created as Africans whether it was a small village society, or the bigger picture like their countries. After being brought to this country and suffering so much on the voyage alone, they were submersed into a life they knew nothing about.

In addition to this, the slaves must have gone through something that modern day citizens experience when they travel outside of their normal setting, which is culture shock. Culture shock is defined by Henslin as “the disorientation that people experience when they come in contact with a fundamentally different culture…” Imagine being involuntarily taken to a new country, where you must now learn an entirely new language while also taking in the new cultural norms of the new people. Furthermore, you are not given the proper instructions or adequate time to learn these new ideas. Slaves had to do exactly this, while dealing with punishments from their new slave masters, being ripped apart from their families; the only remaining piece of familiarity they had. It is a wonder how they dealt with this trauma mentally and emotionally, and is also an insight on how African-Americans have been raised since those days throughout their generations. Part of the new culture that they were immersed in was the introduction of sanctions by their slave masters. Unfortunately, slaves received negative sanctions in much higher numbers versus positive sanctions. The reason for this would be that the majority of slave owners would forget that slaves were human beings as well, and the rules they imposed on them were unjust. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write, or speak to other slaves unless it was about their work. Both of these actions are extremely important for an individual, in terms of socialization and mental stimulation. If slaves were caught doing this or anything close to it, they could receive whippings as punishment, or being refused food, etc. Another example of the negative sanctions slaves would receive would be the slave Harriet Tubman protected when she was 12 years old, when their slavemaster attempted to hit the slave with a two-pound weight.

Miss Harriet Tubman, originally Araminta took on her mother’s first name during her first marriage. She married to John Tubman, who was a free Black man when she was approximately 24 years old, in 1844. Her heroism started when she was just a mear 12 year old child. One day, her slave master was trying to beat a slave man who was attempting to escape with a weight. She then jumped between the two men and was hit with the weight. This in turn lead her to becoming a narcoleptic, while also suffering from headaches the rest of her life. (Womens History, 2018) This only makes us wonder, when she was out in the fields working as a slave or fighting for the liberation of her fellow African Americans, what happened if she randomly fell into a deep sleep? This only adds to the selflessness that this woman had, knowing she suffered from such an illness yet still risked her life to free so many people. From then on she began her work as an African American abolitionist, working to free circa 300 slaves in a 10 year period. (PBS, 2018).

In order for Harriet Tubman to help free slaves, she primarily worked alongside other abolitionists in the Underground Railroad. The group of abolitionists were white and black, however the majority were black abolitionists. Currently there is no exact date for when the Underground Railroad was started, however the earliest reports of it being spoken about are in the year 1831 by a slave named Tice Davis who escaped from Kentucky to Ohio (History, 2009) The fact that white people also made part of this symbol of freedom for slaves was very important. This would allow slaves to see that there were a few good people left who saw that their lives mattered and that they were seen as people after being dehumanized by their slave masters for so long.

Furthermore, making up the Underground Railroad is a various amount of roles played by former slaves and the abolitionists that work within it, as well as locations they used throughout their journeys. For example, Harriet Tubman was considered a “conductor” who was responsible for getting the slaves from one station to the next. Any rest stops or hiding places were called “depots”, and any person that donated money, food, clothing, etc. was considered a “stockholder” (PBS PART 4). As it can be seen, the Underground Railroad was more than simply an escape from slavery. It had different functions that completed it, and various roles played by people. Once slaves had reached the final destination, which were sometimes northern states like New York or Pennsylvania or even Canada, they could also be connected to other former slaves who had started businesses to help newly freed citizens. For example, there was Josiah Hensen who had formerly been a slave created the Dawn Institute based in Ontario, which offered escaped slaves the opportunity to learn new work skills that they could use to find new jobs. The Underground Railroad offered an escape to freedom while also giving the opportunity to start a new life and learning new ways to contribute and grow to the new society.

In addition to Harriet Tubman was another famous African American abolitionist who also worked within the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglass. He was a former slave who grew up to hold many high rankings and roles in the slave liberation movement. There is no exact birth date for him but it is believed to be around February of 1818 and he was actually born to a slave woman, and a white man. During this time, it was not uncommon for white men, mostly slave owners, to rape the women that worked for them. Regardless of this, the babies born to enslaved women and plantation owners, also became slaves. Like Harriet Tubman, Frederick was born with a different name, Frederick Bailey, and then later on changed his last name to Douglass once he escaped. (History, 2009) He was born into slavery, and moved around several plantations during his teenage years, until his plan to escape in 1838 was successful. (History, 2009) Douglass was fortunate in the sense that one of his owners’ wives had taught him the alphabet and from there he began teaching himself how to read. Years later he was teaching other slaves how to read, taking on the role of a teacher. The fact that he knew how to read gave him even a broader sense of independence, and allowed him more opportunities once he escaped. He chose to relocate in New Bedford, Massachusetts where his abolitionist work took off. He began joining abolitionists groups and going to meetings to discuss the slave liberation act and how he could contribute. After some years in Massachusetts, Douglass decided to move to New York where he eventually began his work with the Underground Railroad. He offered his home as a “station”, also known as a hiding and resting place to the escaped slaves while they completed their journey to a final destination. It is estimated that in doing so, he assisted 400 slaves reach freedom.

Alongside Tubman and Douglass was another brave and fearless woman, known as Sojourner Truth. As can be noted, birthdates for slaves at this time were not precise and there are reports that Truth was born in 1797 but they are unconfirmed. She was originally born Isabella Baumfree, and decided to change her name on June 1st or 1843 (PBS, 2018) Due to the fact that where Truth was raised in was under Dutch control for some time, English was not part of her culture but instead Dutch was. She did not learn English until she was older. Unlike her fellow abolitionists, she was in New York at the time that the state decided to emancipate all slaves in 1827 and she was able to be free and start a new life. At this time is when she pursued her abolitionist career as well as fighting for women’s rights, which in the subculture of post-slavery in the African-American community were still not recognized. She became a public speaker, taking on subjects that at the time were taboo. However, she began to grow a bigger audience each time she spoke. On several occasions, she met with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman among other abolitionists to discuss reforms and new ways to better the lives for African-Americans free or enslaved.

Above all, the most important aspect that resulted from slavery was the resilience that African-Americans showed and continue to show despite their hardships. They were people who were ripped out of their homeland involuntarily, sometimes alone or with family. They were brought to this country to be treated as objects, simply sold to the highest bidder with no regards to their lives. They were thrown into a completely new civilization with people, cultures, and responsibilities they had no idea about. Their rights as human beings were stolen, and they were treated as if they had no significance in this world. But still, they rose. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth are some of the most prominent abolitionists, but they of course were not the only ones. At a time when life was so uncivilized and unjust for African-Americans, it makes us wonder what exactly encouraged these heros to set out and risk their lives to do the right thing for others, for people whom they had never met but who they could still relate to on levels that are beyond us. They took on roles as caretakers, leaders, teachers, nurses and more in a small society that they created before and after they were freed. They began the road to freedom and set the foundation for future civil rights leaders and activists. They also prove that you are not a product of your environment. They took on new cultural aspects, norms, and values that are still alive in the African-American community today.

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American Hero Harriet Tubman. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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