It’s not too late to go to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conference

The symposium is tomorrow and Saturday, at the Cambridge branch of Chesapeake College. Click here for details –

photo from

I hope I can make it for a few of the lectures tomorrow afternoon. Back in March, I heard Kate Clifford Larson talk about her new book, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. This is one of the first non-juvenile books about Tubman that’s been published in some 60 years.  I so remember those biographies that we read as kids, back in the 60s. There was a whole series, but I LOVED the one about Harriet Tubman best, and took it out of the library over and over.

Kate Clifford Larson’s talk was fascinating! She’s an academic, but a good storyteller too, and her talk sparked my interest yet again in Ms. Tubman. Talk about a hero! Not only did Harriet Tubman escape slavery herself, but she negotiated relationships with some of the (other) most important abolitionists of the day to build the Underground Railroad – no small task. Here she was, stuck in Dorchester County (there’s not much there now, folks, so think about what it was like back in the 1840s). Dorchester County is one of the most beautiful places on the east coast, but not if you’re enslaved on some godforsaken farm, working constantly, getting beaten and starving, watching your friends and family members also get beaten and starving, and too often sold away from their spouses, children, siblings. Absolutely horrible.

Harriet Tubman went back to Dorchester County 13 times to rescue family and friends, and in the end, personally helped 70 people to safety. Let me rephrase that. Harriet Tubman rescued 70 people…… SEVENTY!


How many people have you rescued?

Can you imagine how much courage that took? She went back 13 times – to the land that she escaped from, coming so close, so many times – to being caught, and if she was caught – she’d have been either sold down to the deep deep South (big problem – impossible to ever escape from that) – or killed. If they knew who she was, what she was doing, they definitely would have killed her. And it was her family and friends (of course) that she took.

So imagine this – you’re a slaveholder on a farm in Dorchester County. You’ve got 10 slaves – men, women and children. You wake up one day and – they’re all gone. All the slaves are gone. Every single one of them. Wha????

But here’s the thing. They knew SOMEONE was helping the enslaved people escape – but who? Well, in the 1840s, they certainly would NEVER have expected a woman (of all things) to be the architect of the Underground Railroad. They thought it was some white Quaker guy from New York. Certainly not a woman. A black woman? Hardly! No way. An illiterate black woman? Ha! A slave? Yeah right. A tiny little, illiterate, female black slave. It wasn’t in their world view to even imagine that – and that was Harriet Tubman’s good luck.

An  extraordinary American, an extraordinary human being. A hero indeed. Larson’s book is filled with interesting info – she weaves together a history of this country, the Underground Railroad and the maritime history too, which is completely part of all this. It was the maritime experience that these enslaved people had, that enabled them to use the north star to find their way through the swamps and marshes and the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, on boats, trains, on foot, and underneath wagons with false bottoms. The maritime world gave them access to information, and networks through which to share information. And they had courage I can hardly imagine.

So cool. The other cool thing is that the symposium includes some information for local families who are researching their own family history – Harriet Tubman was one of many, many heroes of the Underground Railroad. The symposium will include locals telling stories about many of these other heroes and hook up researchers with their ancestors to discover their stories. So, go check it out tomorrow in Cambridge, or buy Larson’s book – here –

lyrics – The Old Ship of Zion

I was standing by the banks of a river
Looking out over life’s troubled seas
When I saw an old ship that was sailing
Is that the old ship of Zion I see

It’s hull was bent and battered
From the storms of life I could see
Waves were rough but that old ship kept sailing
Is that the old ship of Zion I see

At the stern of the ship was the captain
I could hear as he called out my name
Get on board It’s the old ship of Zion
It will never pass this way again

As I step on board I’ll be leaving
All my troubles and trials behind
I’ll be safe with Jesus the captain
Sailing out on the old ship of Zion

and if you’ve got three extra minutes – listen to it below (the first three minutes of this gospel choir’s piece) – absolutely beautiful, especially knowing exactly what this song is communicating. Does anybody else get goosebumps from this?

click here –

~ by kbosin on June 2, 2011.

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