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Bedtime Biography: Harriet Tubman

The Road to Freedom

By Catherine Clinton
7-minute read
Audio available
Bedtime Biography: Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004) sheds light on the fascinating life of Harriet Tubman, a pioneering woman who not only escaped the bonds of slavery, but also helped hundreds of others do the same. The book also offers insights on her vital role in the American Civil War, and in the fight for equal rights for women and African-Americans.

  • People of all ages seeking an inspirational story
  • Amateur historians who love learning more about the Civil War era
  • Activists and advocates for civil and women’s rights

Catherine Clinton is a teacher and historian who studied Afro-American Studies at Harvard University and received her Ph.D. from Princeton University. She has written more than 15 books including Civil War Stories, Half Sisters of History and I, Too, Sing America.

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Bedtime Biography: Harriet Tubman

The Road to Freedom

By Catherine Clinton
  • Read in 7 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 5 key ideas
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Bedtime Biography: Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton
Synopsis

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004) sheds light on the fascinating life of Harriet Tubman, a pioneering woman who not only escaped the bonds of slavery, but also helped hundreds of others do the same. The book also offers insights on her vital role in the American Civil War, and in the fight for equal rights for women and African-Americans.

Key idea 1 of 5

Chapter 1

Bedtime Biographies are best when listened to.  Check out the audio version to get the full experience!

 

Are you familiar with the name Araminta Ross? How about the name Harriet Tubman? 

These two names belonged to the same remarkable woman. This bedtime biography tells the tale of how Araminta Ross – a girl born into slavery – became Harriet Tubman, a free woman who stood up for what she believed in, and fought, for freedom with bravery and fearlessness.

If you’d like to learn more about one of nineteenth-century America’s most heroic women, then make yourself comfortable and relax. Maybe close your eyes as you imagine the calendar pages flipping back, back, back – all the way back to 1825.

 

Harriet Tubman always claimed she was born in 1825. Her true birth year, like those of most people born into slavery, went undocumented. However, we do know where she was born.

In the early nineteenth century, Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a place of staggering natural beauty. Fields full of grain surrounded Chesapeake Bay, forming a green carpet patterned with rivers and creeks and inlets. Waterbirds abounded, as did wildlife of other kinds. Beneath the water of the bay spread vast oyster beds. It was into this idyllic landscape, near a town called Bucktown, that Araminta Ross was born.

Araminta’s parents were named Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green – or Ben and Rit, as their family called them. It’s probable that Araminta had at least ten other siblings, but the exact number is lost in the fog of history. For this family’s white owners, Maryland must have seemed a kind of paradise, a land as bounteous as it was beautiful. For Araminta and her enslaved parents and siblings, it was a kind of hell.

 

Araminta’s family was at constant risk of being torn apart. This fate befell two of Araminta’s sisters, who were sold while she was still a young girl.

Luckily, Araminta wasn’t sold. But, at the age of five, she was sent off to care for the infant son of “Miss Susan,” a woman from the neighborhood who requested help from Araminta’s master.

Araminta was terribly homesick and terribly mistreated. Whenever the baby cried, Miss Susan would whip Araminta, giving her scars that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Eventually, Miss Susan sent the malnourished and fragile young girl back to her family. This cycle repeated itself for years: Araminta worked in one household after another.

At the age of 12, Araminta began working in the fields. Hoeing and harvesting was exhausting work, but she preferred the straightforward outdoor labor to the domestic abuses of masters like Miss Susan. The fieldwork also increased Araminta’s physical strength, and she was soon capable of heaving large and cumbersome barrels of flour up onto carts.

But this work came with its own risks. Indeed, one incident nearly ended Araminta’s life.

 

One day, one of the people enslaved by Araminta’s master attempted escape. The overseer spotted him and gave chase. Araminta blocked the overseer’s path, but, at that moment, he threw a lead weight at the escaping man – and missed. Instead of finding its mark, the weight hit Araminta in the head, knocking her out cold. For days, she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Her skull eventually healed, but the injury had lasting effects. For the rest of her life, she would experience intermittent blackouts and other disabling symptoms. It’s probable that she had a neurological disorder similar to narcolepsy.

Nonetheless, she continued to work in the fields. And she slowly regained her strength.

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