Harriet Tubman (182?–1913), known for her role in leading dozens of slaves out of the South to freedom, succeeded in her work through trust in the Lord and a steadfast life of prayer.
She was born into slavery in Maryland in the early 1820s, and was christened Araminta Ross by her parents, Harriet and Benjamin Ross, but later decided to go by her mother’s first name. Her time as a slave was spent being hired out to do housework and later, physical labor outdoors. At fourteen, during an attempt to protect a slave who was running from his master, she was hit in the head by a large weight.
The resulting concussion caused Harriet to experience sudden sleeping spells for the rest of her life, but it may have also been the beginning of a deepening relationship with God. She “began having visions and speaking with God on a [regular] basis, as directly and pragmatically as if he were a guardian uncle whispering instructions exclusively to her and in the most concrete terms about what to do and not do, where to go and not go.”¹
Harriet had a dream in her heart: to be free from slavery. She married John Tubman, a free black man, in 1844, but it wasn’t until 1849 that she felt the time was right to escape. “When I think of all the groans and tears and prayers I’ve heard on plantations, and remember that God is a prayer-hearing God, I feel that his time is drawing near. He gave me my strength, and he set the North Star in the heavens; he meant I should be free.”2
With the help of the Underground Railroad, she was able to make her way to Philadelphia and freedom. However, Harriet was not content to enjoy her freedom on her own and longed for others to be free as well. In 1850, she made the first of what would be approximately thirteen trips back into slave territory for the purpose of guiding others to freedom.
Harriet felt like her role in the Underground Railroad was a commandment she had been given from God. “The Lord told me to do this. I said, ‘Oh Lord, I can’t—don’t ask me—take somebody else.’” But Harriet also reported that God spoke directly to her: “It’s you I want, Harriet Tubman.”3
For ten years Harriet would work tirelessly as a guide, helping around seventy people, including her own mother and father, make it to freedom. As Harriet would recount stories of rescue after rescue, stories filled with suspense and danger, it would become evident that the closeness of her friendship with God was a primary theme. He protected her and she trusted Him implicitly.4 Harriet’s testimony of God’s care for her was that she would only go where He sent her and that He would keep her safe throughout her journeys.5
Harriet continued to make her trips down South until the eve of the War Between the States. Once the Civil War began, Harriet, always desiring to be active in the cause of freedom for her people, joined the war effort as a scout and spy, supporting herself by cooking and cleaning for the Union troops. After the war, Harriet took care of her mother and father, became involved in the suffrage movement, and started a home to take care of those who were old and sick.
The power of Harriet Tubman’s life was rooted in her constant communion and intimacy with Jesus through the Holy Spirit as she fought against injustice and served others. As someone testified about her, “Her relations with the Deity were personal, even intimate, though respectful on her part. He always addressed her as Araminta…”6 Harriet Tubman lived a life of intimacy with Jesus and wisdom that empowered her to accomplish the tasks set before her.
1. Beverly Lowry, Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 92.
2. Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2004), 136.
3. Ibid., 83.
4. Jean McMahom Humez, Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2003), 187.
5. Ibid., 355.
6. Rebecca Price Janney, Harriet Tubman (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999), 62.