Harriet Tubman: Important Historical Figure

Subject: History
Pages: 4
Words: 1224
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Bachelor

Summary

Harriet Ross Tubman played many roles in her life – a slave, slave liberator, Union Army spy, suffragette, and a public speaker. She used the force of her convictions to free people and fight against oppression. As a result, Tubman joined the ranks of the most eminent abolitionists, completing 13 missions during her lifetime and freeing nearly 70 people1. Therefore, the paper argues that Harriet Tubman is an example of a political activist who stayed devoted to fighting for freedom in the United States, not for personal reasons but for the complete abolishment of slavery.

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Harriet Tubman’s Social Contributions

Harriet Tubman had various social contributions, which made her a prominent historical figure, as her portrait was a candidate to be on a twenty-dollar bill. First, she will be remembered for her escape from slavery and later rescuing approximately 70 people on her 13 trips, which she made from 1849 to 1860 2. In her missions, Harriet Tubman utilized the network called Underground Railroad, which was a creation of abolitionists in the United States and Canada, which helped to guide slaves from the Southern States to the free states of the North. Mainly, those abolitionists consisted of a diverse population of men, women, white, black and indigenous, Quakers, Methodists, and Baptists 3. After she learned the way to escape from Maryland to Pennsylvania, she used the network repeatedly to rescue her family members and groups of people from slavery.

Harriet Tubman’s knowledge of the routes, people, and networks in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland was a topic of praise and was in use later in life. First, an abolitionist is was John Brown, who believed that the way to end slavery was through violence against slave owners. He planned a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859 4. The abolitionist highly valued Tubman’s experience of liberating slaves and having the reputation of “Black Moses”. Hence, Brown asked her to recruit slaves for the raid for him. Although the plan failed and John Brown was executed, Harriet Tubman did not stop her efforts.

Secondly, when the American Civil War started in 1861, Tubman saw the opportunity to end slavery in the Union’s victory. Therefore, she offered her services and joined the Port Royal camp in South Carolina, working as a nurse, cook, and laundress. However, her direct goal was always clear – she wanted to see the abolition of slavery. Hence, Harriet was among the first to propose creating black Union regimens with freed slaves. Though the woman lacked literacy, she communicated her message to President Abraham Lincoln regarding his hesitation about emancipation. The letter called “Kill the Snake Before It Kills You” was penciled for Harriet Tubman by Lydia Maria Child on January 21, 18625. Harriet emphasizes in the letter that the Confederacy cannot be destroyed until oppression is abolished beforehand. “God won’t let Mater Lincoln beat the South until he does right thing… He can do it by setting the Negroes free.”6. She compares slavery to a snake, which will bite until it is killed.

Later during the American Civil War, Tubman formed a network of spies to deliver intelligence to Union forces. After the emancipation was declared in 1863, Harriet Tubman led an armed expedition and became the first woman ever to do so. In South Carolina, the woman led the Combahee River Raid, which liberated nearly 750 slaves and destroyed valuable Confederate supplies 7. Her participation in Civil War granted her a pension and made her a more recognized person in the United States.

Harriet Tubman is an Important Historical Figure

Harriet Tubman is an important historical figure due to several reasons. First, her actions were very progressive as she was among the greatest and most effective abolitionists. Her experience and bravery grew into professional expertise, which became especially useful during the American Revolution, where Harriet received the title of the first woman guiding a military mission. Her success in Combahee River Raid granted freedom to hundreds of slaves. Thirdly, her active position regarding emancipation as well as creating black Union regimens with freed slaves and its importance in the outcomes of the Civil War was also visionary.

Biographical Background

As one of nine children of slaves on a plantation in Dorchester County, Tubman was born a slave in the early 1820s8. When she was a little girl, a slave owner attacked her with a metal weight, which caused headaches, narcolepsy, and hypersomnia throughout her life9. Despite that, she performed hard manual labor in the field and the forest as she worked with her father, making her physically strong. Her mother was the one who showed Harriet that there was a way to resist the oppression as she hid one of her sons, whom the owner wanted to sell. Eventually, the owner did not sell one of Harriet’s brothers, and the family avoided further separation. Later, when Harriet became ill due to the head injury, she was also facing selling, so she escaped slavery with her two brothers in 184910.

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Historical Context of Harriet Tubman’s Life

The slave trade was common in the Western World and people of African origins became subjects of trade and a cheap workforce. However, in the nineteenth century, the shift occurred, and many countries such as Canada started to abolish this inhumane practice. In the United States, the issue was present until the emancipation on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War 8. With emancipation came increased problems of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in the Black community. Harriet had an open-door policy for anyone in need, raising money from the sale of home-grown produce and pigs and donations from friends. The royalties from the sale of a biography by Sarah Brandford also helped offset expenses.

The Importance of the American Civil War

The defeat of the Confederacy marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the western hemisphere. After the end of the American Revolution, the USA passed the Emancipation Proclamation and amended the constitution in order to present the Bill Of Rights11. These changes provided an avenue to bring human slavery to an end. By the time the Civil War started, there was a worldwide antislavery movement. If the Confederacy won, then slavery would have continued, and freedom would not have a place in the world.

The Influence, Legacy, and Accomplishments of Harriet Tubman

Besides rescuing hundreds of slaves, Harriet Tubman helped the African American community in her later life. In addition, her public speaking contributed to the development of the suffragette movement in the United States. Although her efforts were not widely recognized in the US, Britain’s Queen Victoria invited Tubman to her birthday celebrations in England in 189712. Due to financial straits, Tubman could not afford the trip to England, so the monarch sent her a silk shawl and a silver medal, which the famous abolitionist was buried with.

In conclusion, Harriet Tubman devoted her whole life to fighting slavery by rescuing nearly 70 people and directly liberating 750 slaves after her Combahee River Raid. Although the first mission was aimed at rescuing her relatives and loved ones, her lifetime devotion to the fight for the freedom of slaves proves that Tubman was a political activist who pursued the highest mission. People remember her efforts as one of the bravest and most courageous actions to abolish the inhumane practice of slavery.

Bibliography

Bradford, Sarah H.. The Moses of her people. New York: G.R. Lockwood & Son, 1886.

Bradford, Sarah H. Scenes In the Life of Harriet Tubman. Auburn: W.J. Moses, 1869.

Dunbar, Erica Armstrong. She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019.

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Eusebius, Mary. “Modern Moses: Harriet Tubman.” Journal of Negro Education 19, no. 1 (1950): 16-27.

Hobson, Janell. Frontiers. “Of “Sound” and “Unsound” Body and Mind: Reconfiguring the Heroic Portrait of Harriet Tubman.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 40, no. 2 (2019): 193-218.

Schwartz, Barry. “The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln’S Many Second Thoughts”. Society 52, no. 6 (2015): 590-603. doi:10.1007/s12115-015-9954-7.

Tubman, Harriet. Letters from Lydia Maria Child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1882.

Walters, Kerry. Harriet Tubman: A Life in American History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2020.

Footnotes

  1. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman (Simon and Schuster, 2019), 58.
  2. Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People (G.R. Lockwood & Son, 1886), 29.
  3. Kerry Walters, Harriet Tubman: A Life in American History (ABC-CLIO, 2020), 77.
  4. Kerry Walters, Harriet Tubman: A Life in American History (ABC-CLIO, 2020), 87.
  5. Harriet Tubman. Letters from Lydia Maria Child (Houghton Mifflin, 1882), 35.
  6. Harriet Tubman. Letters from Lydia Maria Child (Houghton Mifflin, 1882), 42.
  7. Kerry Walters, Harriet Tubman: A Life in American History (ABC-CLIO, 2020), 92.
  8. Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes In the Life of Harriet Tubman (W.J. Moses, printer, 1869), 46.
  9. Janell Hobson, “Of “Sound” and “Unsound” Body and Mind: Reconfiguring the Heroic Portrait of Harriet Tubman,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 40, no.2 (2019): 199.
  10. Mary Eusebius, “Modern Moses: Harriet Tubman,” Journal of Negro Education 19, no. 1 (1950): 18.
  11. Barry Schwartz, “The Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln’s Many Second Thoughts”, Society 52, no. 6 (2015): 590.
  12. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman (Simon and Schuster, 2019), 33.