Stories of Faith | Harriet Tubman
Today, we have been looking forward to sharing this Story of Faith profile that is both timely, in that it's Black History Month, and also because, as we focus this month on our theme of "Finding My Purpose In Christ", we want to focus in on various examples of inspiring women who have found or find their purpose in Christ. And Harriet is just that—a woman who found her anchor, hope, and purpose in God. We welcome this historical perspective by Brittany Richman of The American Moms and are touched by her recounting of Harriet's life and how we can learn from her faith.
It’s said history repeats itself: the good, the bad, and the ugly. When all those forces combine at once, it can create a woman of immeasurable faith—one whose history is worth repeating. Faithful women have the power to calm storms, start movements, and lead nations.
One woman’s faith literally led others to freedom. Her name was Harriet Tubman and she was referred to as the “Moses” of the Underground Railroad for leading so many people out of bondage. Harriet was born during a time in America's history where slavery was rampant. The Civil War wouldn’t start for another four decades and the Emancipation Proclamation would come even later.
Harriet was born into slavery in eastern Maryland in 1822. Even at a young age, she developed a reputation for being a hard worker and strong as an ox. Her slave owner used to brag about her strength to neighboring farmers. When Harriet was only 13 years old, though, all of that changed.
Harriet's owner had sent her on an errand to the marketplace. On her way there, she encountered a young slave boy running from his owner. The young man’s owner demanded that Harriet, who he knew to be strong and quick, catch the runaway and tie him up with a rope. Instead, Harriet strategized to help the boy get away. To give him a lead, she stood in the market doorway, to block the owner, just as the boy ran out.
The obviously livid slave owner grabbed a two-pound weight and hurled it at the doorway in the boy’s direction. Instead of hitting the boy though, the weight struck Harriet on her head with a sickening thud. The force of it cracked her skull and knocked her out cold. Harriet later recalled that the weight would have killed her had it not been for her thick hair.
For the next two days, she lay on the floor of a dirty hut with no medical care. When she was finally conscious enough, she was forced back out into the fields. However, as blood and sweat ran down her face, it became obvious her workhorse days were over.
The injury would change the course of her life. The skull fracture led to sporadic seizures, migraines, hallucinations, and spontaneous moments where even in mid-conversation she would instantly fall asleep. Not even brutal beatings by her owners could arouse her from sleep. She would wake again as if nothing happened and continue where the conversations left off.
Harriet had always believed in God. But her head injury became a defining moment in her life. She turned to God and pleaded with him more than she ever had before. What was her future? She knew her value as a slave was gone and if she could no longer work as a slave, what would become of her?
Because of her uselessness as a slave, her owner had tried to sell her and failed. Finally, she heard she was going to be sent to a chain gang down south—a horrific fate for a slave. She begged God that her owner would either change his mind or die so that she wouldn’t have to go. When the owner unexpectedly died soon after her prayer, she knew God was looking out for her and that He had a plan for her.
She continued to plead for God to show her the way.
“Lord, I'm going to hold steady on to you and you've got to see me through,” she remembered pleading.
The way God pointed was north—north to freedom. So, she ran. She left her family and everything she knew behind. As soon as she stepped foot into the Northern boundaries, she recalled, “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and I felt like I was in heaven.”
Harriet would no longer be in the bonds of slavery again. Over the coming years, she eventually went back to help her family and others escape from their own captivity. In fact, over the course of the next decade she went back for over 300 more people.
The work put Harriet in constant danger. Because of the recently passed Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring those in free states to help slave owners capture and return runaways, Harriet was now considered a fugitive. At one point she even had a $40,000 bounty on her head. It didn’t deter her and she bravely continued with her work with the motto “I can’t die but once.”
Despite risk at nearly every turn, God continued to show her the way. Though she tried to travel primarily at night, there were many instances where she had to lie in a murky swamp or hide under the cover of a potato field to escape from searching captors.
One especially close call came as Harriet led a group of escaped slaves. She felt a sudden prompting from God to leave the pathway she was on and head toward a rushing river. Her group questioned her, not knowing how deep the river was and if their lives would be in peril by crossing. Harriet encouraged them, saying it was God’s will. The water never went above their chin and the entire group made it safely across. Harriet learned later that a group of enraged men had been waiting to capture them further down the pathway they had been on before crossing the river. Had Harriet not listened to her prompting from God, all would have been lost.
Later, when asked how she had made it through such trying circumstances, she confessed it had very little to do with her and everything to do with God: “Twasn't me, 'twas the Lord! I always told Him, 'I trust to you. I don't know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,' an' He always did.”
I often wonder about the doors God opens for us. Did you ever stop to think that perhaps God opens doors for us not only in spite of our limitations or trials but also precisely because of them? Harriet Tubman was the perfect example of this. Her head injury could have destroyed her life. In fact, Harriet’s head injury continues to be discussed in medical journals across the country because the severity of her injury should have left her debilitated. Instead, her injury set her on a path of renewed faith in God and a push from Him to work tirelessly to aid others.
Harriet's faith is a solid example that if we let Him, God will not only turn our weaknesses into strengths, but He will use our weaknesses to guide us to paths and open doors we never would have known otherwise. It's faith like Harriet Tubman's that had the power to lead entire groups of people to freedom. Faith like that is always worth repeating.
Harriet Tubman is slated to be the first African American to be featured on U.S. currency. Look for her on the $20 bill in the next few years. Perhaps it'll remind you of the difference a woman’s faith can make.
For more information, go to the Harriet Tubman Historical Society’s website: http://www.harriet-tubman.org/
Other article sources listed below.
Brittany Candrian Richman
Brittany served in the speechwriting office of President George W. Bush at the White House. She was also a Congressional staffer for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. She and her twin sister started The American Moms, a blog devoted to passing civics and civility onto the next generation. Richman is also passionate about history—our own and our nation’s. She and her husband currently reside in Rapid City, South Dakota with their three children. You can read more about her blog and connect with her at www.theAmericanMoms.com or on Instagram @TheAmericanMoms.
A R T I C L E S O U R C E S
(book) Janney Price, Rebecca. Great Women in American History, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Horizon Books, 1996
(Neurosurgery article) Sabourin, Holland, Mau, Gandhi, and Prestigiacomo, “Head Injury in Heroes of the Civil War and its Lasting Influence.” Neurosurgical Focus, Journal of Neurosurgery, July 2016. http://thejns.org/doi/full/10.3171/2016.3.FOCUS1586