The Moses Quilt and Harriet Tubman
- Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Harriet’s heart pounded at the thought of what would happen to Jim if the overseer caught him. Believing she could outrun the overseer and having a pretty good hunch of where the slave was headed, she took off in an attempt to warn him before it was too late.
Unfortunately she didn’t make it. The two men were already facing off when she arrived. When the overseer saw Harriet, he told her to help him hold Jim while he whipped him. Harriet refused and instead stood between the two men so Jim would have a chance to escape. The overseer was so mad that he picked up a piece of lead and hurled it at her, hitting her in the forehead and knocking her out. Her skull was fractured, and though she eventually recovered, the dent in her forehead was a permanent reminder of the price she had paid in her first attempt to help free a slave. She also developed an ongoing condition that caused her to drop off to sleep for short periods, regardless of what she might be doing at the time.
My respect level for Harriet Tubman rose greatly at that point, for I realized how easily she could have allowed that incident to force her to cower in submission to the men who claimed to own her. But she didn’t. Instead she determined to devote her life to fleeing for freedom and helping others do the same, having come to the belief that it was what God had purposed for her to do. Isaiah 16:3 quickly became one of her favorite verses, and she repeated it often: “Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.” Her life’s path had been established.
And then there was the patch with the two white bells and a broom. Sounds like a strange combination unless you know the tradition of the time. Because slaves were unable to have traditional wedding ceremonies where they pledged before a minister to live together “till death do us part” because their owners could sell one of the other of them anytime they wished, their “broomstick ceremonies” were simple affairs, usually held in the slave quarters. The couple “jumped the broomstick” and pledged their love to one another, hoping they would indeed have as long a life together as possible. And that’s exactly the way Harriet’s uniting took place with John Tubman in 1844. Harriet was deeply in love with John and thought her life had taken a turn for the better. John, however, was a former slave, “free” in that no one owned him any longer, but still he lived in the slave quarters and worked alongside them. Harriet imagined that John would therefore understand better than anyone her burning desire to escape slavery. Sadly, that was not the case.
The next patch was of a bird behind bars. And that’s how Harriet felt, even as she came to realize that if she escaped, she would have to leave her beloved John behind. He informed her in no certain terms that he wasn’t willing to take such a risk and that if he found out she was going to try it, he would report her to the master. Harriet was heartbroken, and yet her yearning for freedom and her commitment to fulfill what she believed God had called her to do pushed her onward.
Finally, one warm summer evening in 1849, Harriet wrapped a meager amount of food in a bandana and prepared to slip away during the night with her two brothers. They didn’t even tell their parents for fear of word leaking out. But the trip was so dangerous and difficult that it wasn’t long before Harriet’s brothers turned back and she was left alone on her journey to freedom. But she prayed and pressed on, believing God to lead her every step of the way. And so He did. She made her first Underground Railroad contact early on in her trip and soon received assistance and direction along the way. Exhausted and nearly starved, she finally stepped across the Pennsylvania line and knew that she was free. She had no idea where she would live or how she would support herself or even find something to eat, but she compared her newfound sense of freedom to being in heaven. She had given up everything familiar and beloved to her, but she had fulfilled her dream of escaping slavery. Would that finally be enough to satisfy her?
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