Aunt Harriet

Aunt Harriet

Aunt Harriet, by Ken Wilson, painter, with some edits

“I liked apples when I was young. And I said, ‘Someday I’ll plant apples myself for other young folks to eat.” ~Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross in 1820 or 1821 to Harriet Greene and Benjamin Ross, in Dorchester County, Maryland. One of eleven children, Araminta was the granddaughter of African slaves.

Due to a childhood accident involving a blow to the head from a 2lb weight being thrown by an overseer, Araminta suffered heavy blackouts for the rest of her life.

Married to a free man of color, John Tubman, in 1844, Araminta took his name, her Christian name and was reborn, Harriet Tubman.

Escaping to the north in 1849 along the Underground Railroad, she gained not only her freedom but a lifelong mission of administering to her down trodden African American brethren. She would journey back down to the south an additional nineteen times before 1861, helping no less than 300 slaves gain their freedom. These daring and dangerous exploits earned her the prophetic title of “The Moses of Her People,” for she was a deliverer who got “about her father’s business.”

Harriet’s life story at times may read like melodrama but it was far from it, for she was a deeply religious person whose convictions transformed her. Harriet often spoke of her talks with God and His guiding Spirit, which spoke to her through her “blackouts.” These tales, given matter-of-factly, left little doubt in the minds of listeners as to the truth of their origins.

Harriet’s work was so total and mysterious that the enraged slaveholders put a bounty of $40,000 on her head which was a tremendous amount of money then. At that time, the slave market for the average adult slave was $1,200 and $40 could secure a pair of work oxen.

The Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 forced Harriet to “land” her “passengers” in Canada. She also helped provide for their welfare which included clothing, shelter and organized societies. Harriet financed these endeavors solely through her own labors.

During the Civil War years, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts enlisted Harriet’s services for the Union Army as nurse, spy and scout. She led many raids for the famous 54th Mass. Volunteer Infantry into enemy territory. On these raids, she was often given carte blanche which always proved beneficial to the Union cause by helping free hundreds of slaves, acquiring valuable information and other useful contraband. In the famous raid of June 2, it was Harriet who led Colonel Montgomery’s men to an overwhelming victory, freeing 800 slaves and destroying thousands of dollars worth of property, without loss of a single life.

After the war, Harriet embarked on her lifelong mission of accruing a home for her fellow African Americans, on property deeded to her by her friend, Secretary of State William H. Seward. Harriet paid for this by peddling fruit in the community and agreeing to have her biography published, as written by Geneva resident Sarah H. Bradford.

In 1906, she deeded the South Street property and her home to the A.M.E. Zion Church. On March 10, 1913, in the fiftieth year of Emancipation, Harriet Tubman died. She rests in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York, where she was buried with full military rites.

Supplies for the painting, which resides at Seymour Library, were purchased at Nash’s in Auburn. The painting, conceived during a discussion on Hoopes Avenue, was contructed at Fortuna Studios in Duesseldorf, Germany.