The Moses Quilt and Harriet Tubman
- Wednesday, February 06, 2013
I first heard of Harriet Tubman while studying American history in grammar school. From that point on the terms “Harriet Tubman” and “Underground Railroad” were synonymous. Also, from that point on, Harriet Tubman became one of my all-time favorite heroines. So when I first considered writing a fiction series based on the lives of women in American history whose great faith and courage made a difference, it was no surprise that Ms. Tubman’s name rose to the top of my list.
What was a surprise was discovering how very little I knew about her beyond the basics of her escape from slavery and her subsequent involvement in leading hundreds of others to freedom as well. It turns out that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This lady had a multitude of fascinating—and often dangerous—experiences during her lifetime and was involved in all sorts of causes. Because she was known as the “Moses of her people” and because each of the three stories in this new “Quilt Series” is told against the backdrop of a quilt, with various patches in the quilt representing different times or events in the historical character’s life, the first book was titled The Moses Quilt.
Mimi, the elderly woman in the book who owns the Moses quilt, relays Harriet Tubman’s life to her great-granddaughter and her boyfriend through the quilt’s patches. The first patch depicted a tiny cradle and represented Harriet’s birth and very early childhood. But as Mimi explained to her enthralled listeners, there was no cradle for little Harriet when she first entered the world. Born in Madison, Maryland, in 1820 (some records say 1821 or 1822), Harriet was one of what is believed to have been a dozen siblings. The family lived in a tiny, windowless, dirt-floored cabin on the Brodas plantation, where slave children were put to work when they weren’t much more than toddlers. Harriet’s owners were especially brutal, and she learned at a very young age about beatings and humiliation and never enough to eat. But her parents, Harriet ("Rit") Green and Ben Ross, were godly people. Though illiterate and penniless, they made it a point to teach their children the Scriptures from memory and to model to them a loving and forgiving life. As a result, Harriet grew up feeling pity, rather than hatred, for her masters, despite the fact that she never had anything close to a normal childhood.
And that leads directly to the second thing I learned about Harriet Tubman: the patch with the cross on it. Digging back into the far reaches of my childhood memories, I can’t recall that I ever heard what a strong Christian Harriet was or how she inherited that faith from her parents. But knowing that now helps me understand how she could have been so brave and courageous throughout her life. As Mimi explained to her listeners, “If you want to understand this courageous woman, then you first have to understand her great faith. There was no compromise when it came to her belief in God. From the earliest age, she was forced into a life that demanded complete trust in the Almighty if she were to survive. She understood that, and she practiced it daily. Combine that faith with a deep-seated desire to be free and to see her people free, and you’ll get a glimpse of how one solitary woman—uneducated and without a dime to her name—accomplished so much for so many.”
Had I learned nothing more than that great truth about Harriet Tubman, it would have been enough…but there was so much more that came as a direct result of her faith and courage.
The next patch in the Moses quilt that represented a major turning point in Harriet’s life was that of a two-pound weight. Harriet was thirteen years old and bone weary from working in the fields all day when she noticed something unusual—and alarming. A slave named Jim took what he thought was a chance to escape and raced for freedom, headed in the direction of town. But Harriet wasn’t the only one who saw Jim leave; the overseer spotted him too and took off after him.
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