Women’s History Quick Pick

Harriet Tubman Secret Agent
Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent
by Thomas B. Allen
I was delighted to read about this wonderful woman!  Born a slave and cruelly treated, with a lifetime handicap from being hit in the head by a metal weight thrown at another slave, Harriet nonetheless was determined to lead her people to freedom.  After escaping from her Maryland masters, she became an Underground Railroad conductor a decade before the official start of the Civil War.  Not only did she guide the people, she also was cook, seamstress, and nurse to them.  In Canada she met John Brown and heard about the plans for the raid he was sure would end slavery.
After the unsuccessful raid, at which she was not present probably due to health problems, Harriet got involved in espionage for the Union.  Like many African Americans at the time, she had the quality of “invisibility” as far as pro-slavery people were concerned.  She and others went about their daily chores while using their powers of observation and clever codes to bring useful information to Union authorities: the way clothing was hung on a clothesline, or messages retrieved while dusting a household, were ways that intelligence was distributed through networks.
The highlight of the book is Harriet’s participation in a daring raid in South Carolina, along the Combahee (pronounced Chumbee) River.  Hundreds of slaves were freed from laboring long hours in rice fields and put aboard boats. Many old plantations were burned.
I was aware of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad activities, but I didn’t know about her espionage and military escapades.  I highly recommend this book, by the same author as George Washington, Spymaster.
-Mrs. Nancy

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