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Harriet Tubman: Underground Railroad Conductor

Previous: 1: Harriet Tubman"s Life in Slavery

The year after Harriet Tubman"s arrival in the North, she decided to return to Maryland to free her sister and her sister"s family. Over the next 12 years, she returned 18 or 19 more times, bringing a total of more than 300 slaves out of slavery.

Tubman"s organizing ability was key to her success -- she had to work with supporters on the clandestine Underground Railroad, as well as get messages to the slaves, since she met them away from their plantations to avoid detection.

They usually left on a Saturday evening, as the Sabbath might delay anyone noticing their absence for another day, and if anyone did note their flight, the Sabbath would certainly delay anyone from organizing an effective pursuit or publishing a reward.

Tubman was only about five feet tall, but she was smart and she was strong -- and she carried a long rifle. She used the rifle not only to intimidate pro-slavery people they might meet, but also to keep any of the slaves from backing out. She threatened any who seemed like they were about to leave, telling them that "dead Negroes tell no tales." A slave who returned from one of these trips could betray too many secrets: who had helped, what paths the flight had taken, how messages were passed.

When Tubman had first arrived in Philadelphia, she was, under the law of the time, a free woman. But the next year, with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, her status changed: she became, instead, a fugitive slave, and all citizens were obligated under the law to aid in her recapture and return.

So she had to operate as quietly as possible, but nevertheless she was soon known throughout abolitionist circles and the freedmen"s communities.

As the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act became clear, Tubman began guiding her "passengers" on the underground railroad all the way to Canada, where they could be truly free.

From 1851 through 1857, she herself lived part of the year in St. Catherines, Canada, as well as spending some time in the area of Auburn,

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