Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero
Kate Clifford Larson
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Harriet Tubman is one of the giants of American history—a fearless visionary who led scores of her fellow slaves to freedom and battled courageously behind enemy lines during the Civil War. And yet in the nine decades since her death, next to nothing has been written about this extraordinary woman aside from juvenile biographies. The truth about Harriet Tubman has become lost inside a legend woven of racial and gender stereotypes. Now at last, in this long-overdue biography, historian Kate Clifford Larson gives Harriet Tubman the powerful, intimate, meticulously detailed life she deserves.
Drawing from a trove of new documents and sources as well extensive genealogical research, Larson reveals Tubman as a complex woman— brilliant, shrewd, deeply religious, and passionate in her pursuit of freedom. The descendant of the vibrant, matrilineal Asanti people of the West African Gold Coast, Tubman was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but refused to spend her life in bondage. While still a young woman she embarked on a perilous journey of self-liberation—and then, having won her own freedom, she returned again and again to liberate family and friends, tapping into the Underground Railroad.
Yet despite her success, her celebrity, her close ties with Northern politicians and abolitionists, Tubman suffered crushing physical pain and emotional setbacks. Stripping away myths and misconceptions, Larson presents stunning new details about Tubman’s accomplishments, personal life, and influence, including her relationship with Frederick Douglass, her involvement with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and revelations about a young woman who may have been Tubman’s daughter. Here too are Tubman’s twilight years after the war, when she worked for women’s rights and in support of her fellow blacks, and when racist politicians and suffragists marginalized her contribution.
Harriet Tubman, her life and her work, remain an inspiration to all who value freedom. Now, thanks to Larson’s breathtaking biography, we can finally appreciate Tubman as a complete human being—an American hero, yes, but also a woman who loved, suffered, and sacrificed. Bound for the Promised Land is a magnificent work of biography, history, and truth telling.
From the Hardcover edition.
brother, Samuel Hopkins, wrote in the introduction to the book that Bradford made “no claim whatever to literary merit. Her hope was merely that the considerably numerous public already in part acquainted with Harriet's story, would furnish purchasers enough to secure a little fund for the relief of this remarkable woman.” It seems surprising that Bradford had no hopes for a wide circulation of the biography, especially given the success of many former slave narratives, which were still popular
William L. Andrews, T o T ell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760–1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women's Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, ed. William L. Andrews (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Mary Grimley and Carol Hurd Green Mason, ed., Journeys: Autobiographical Writings by Women (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1979); Ferguson, ed., Nine Black Women; Frances Smith Foster, Written by
de shore. Dey didn't know any ting about me an' I didn't know what to say. I looked at 'em about two minutes, an' den I sung to 'em. Moses, you'll have to give 'em a song” (19). This was not the only time that Tubman tried to point out that the shade of one's skin did not make them all the same, nor did skin color transcend social and cultural differences within the black community. She told Sarah Bradford that when she was in South Carolina, she too had difficulty understanding some of the
Tubman selected a cemetery as a rendezvous point, a clever choice.58 A group of slaves gathering in a cemetery might not arouse the same attention as a group of black people gathering in a home, or even in the woods, which was specifically forbidden by law. Tubman preferred the winter, when the nights were long, although she did lead parties out of Dorchester in the spring and fall as well. Like most runaways, she usually traveled at night, hiding and sleeping during the day. The geography of
from his home earlier. Francis Molock, Cyrus Mitchell, Joshua Handy, Charles Dutton, and Ephraim Hudson had probably either left with Tubman or used instructions provided by her.3 Tubman's illness throughout the summer had delayed their escape; in fact, Garrett had been waiting for Tubman to bring them on since May.4 She may have organized their efforts, or she could have accompanied them just part of the way, preferring to remain close to the Eastern Shore or in Baltimore to embark on another