We are all writing the story of our lives through the choices we make. The question is: What kind of story would you like to create?
Every story is by nature an adventure story. Adventure stories are exciting but they are also challenging. Generally, at the start of the story the hero is faced with an uncertain or dangerous situation. They don’t feel prepared for the task at hand. Often, they try to avoid the adventure because they don’t feel they are up to it.
But eventually, they embark on the quest. On their journey they meet allies who help them. They find the support and tools they need. The hero plays their part and follows the thread of the adventure learning and developing capacities along the way. Hidden strengths are discovered. There are times when they feel lost and like there is no hope. But this is all part of the story and through it all there is something that keeps them going.
What are your favourite adventure stories? If you were to imagine your life as an adventure where might it lead?
On their adventure the hero risks their lives. Why do they do this? Generally, they do it because others depend on them. The world needs them to do it. Their quest is about easing the suffering of others or healing their community in some way. They are driven by a moral cause.
The following is a true story of a life that was full of adventure, driven by the desire for justice.
First, she set herself free. Then, she returned to free her people.
Although she grew up a slave on a plantation in Maryland, Harriet Tubman still had time to play in the streams and creeks on warm summer days. Despite the hardship of slavery, little ‘minty’, as she was known, had warm and loving parents. Her father would tell her stories about the woods and the animals and plants that lived there.
From her mother she heard the wonderful stories of the bible. She told her the story of Moses who had led the Hebrews, who were slaves, out of Egypt, to freedom.
When she was six Minty was hired out by the plantation owner to another family. She had to leave her family behind, just like her sisters did before her. She went to work for a woman called Mrs. Cook, who was a weaver. When she made mistakes, Minty was beaten and whipped. One time, after stealing some sugar, Minty was chased out of the house and hid out scrapping with the pigs for food before eventually returning and receiving her punishment.
When Minty returned to her family she was put to work out on the fields working the plough and chopping wood. It was hard work but she enjoyed the feeling of the wind and the vast expanse of the great blue sky above her. She would listen to the people around her talk about their longing to be free.
Some slaves escaped the plantations. Others rebelled. But neither had much success. One day, when a man was escaping, Minty helped him by blocking the path of the overseer (the man who kept watch of the slaves). But in the process, she caught a weight that was thrown across her head, causing her to bleed and fall unconscious. She nearly died. Afterwards, her act of defiance earned her respect amongst the slaves.
There was a rumour that Harriet would be sent down south, to be sold to another slave-owner. Harriet knew that freedom lay in escaping to the Northern states. She longed to be free and moving south would only make such a possibility less likely. So, she prayed. She prayed to be free. She also prayed that Mr. Brodas, the slave-owner would die so that she might be saved. Incredibly, this is exactly what happened. Even though she hated him, she came to regret her wish. She did not like to think she had been the cause for another human losing their life.
Harriet received an unusual education on the plantation. All the hard work made her really strong. Her father too continued to teach her about the natural world. She learned how to move quietly through the woods and how to navigate by just using the stars. The north star was the one to follow. Slaves look to it with a great sense of hope. In the event of a cloudy night, Harriet’s father told her to feel the trees for moss – moss grew only on the north side of the tree.
Harriet married a man called John Tubman and they were happy together. Harriet wanted john to go with her to the north, to freedom. But John was unsure. He thought it was too dangerous. He worried about how they would survive. John urged her to let go of her dream. But Harriet’s dreams of freedom would not die so easily.
It became clear that John did not share her passion. He warned he would tell the slave-owner if she did try to escape. Harriet realised if she wanted freedom, she would have to do it without her husband.
One day news emerged that Harriet and others were to be sold. She escaped with her brothers through the woods but at a certain point her brothers went back. It was too much of a risk. They told her to come with them but she wanted to keep going. Eventually, they forced her to return.
Harriet faced a tough choice: She could wait to be sold and marched south on a chain gang, or escape north, without her brothers or her husband. She decided, despite the risks, she would march north. With a small amount of supplies, she set out on her own in search of freedom.
As she roamed through the woods she waded through rivers and streams wherever she could, knowing that the hounds that would hunt her could not follow the scent that way.
Previously she had met a Quaker woman who had offered her help. She went to her cottage but could not stay there. The Quaker woman gave her directions of where to go on her journey.
Harriet followed the Choptank river for forty miles, moving under the cover of darkness, and hiding out during the day time. She arrived at the house of a woman that the Quaker woman had directed her to. She provided Harriet with food and clothing for the trip ahead. This network of kind souls supporting slaves travelling north became known as ‘The underground railroad’.
Knowing the there would be hunters out searching for her, Harriet disguised herself in many different ways, sometimes dressing as a man or a well-to-do lady.
Eventually Harriet arrived in Pennsylvania where she was a free woman. Harriet described this feeling as like being in heaven, where a glory reigned over everything and the sun shone down like gold blessing the trees and the hills.
Yet, her struggles were not over. She was a stranger in a strange land. She had no friends nor family. She was far from her homeland and everything she knew. She resolved to return to help the ones she left behind.
Harriet began working cooking and cleaning. She did not like the work but it earned her money. Through a group in Philadelphia that helped runaway slaves, she found out that her sister Mary and Mary’s family were going to be sold. Despite warnings not to Harriet decided she must go back to save them.
A scheme was devised where a letter was sent to the slave auction that claimed Mary and her family were already bought. They were then brought to the house of a Quaker. Under nightfall they left, sailing on a boat upstream to another Quaker refuge. Harriet, with the help of others, had arranged boats and wagons until they arrived at a house where Harriet herself was waiting. She guided them north through the swamps, on foot, by boat and on wagons. With the money that Harriet had earned she armed herself with a pistol for protection. Not only had she freed herself, Harriet now had started to free others from the misery of slavery too. She was soon hatching plans to head south again, in search of more slaves to free.
Around this time a law was passed that said that runaway slaves must be sent back to their masters. The free states in the north were no longer safe. Refuge could only be found by travelling across the border to Canada. While Harriet had started by taking family members north with her, she began to ferry strangers up to safety too.
Harriet took on many different jobs to support her mission. Despite being shy in front of crowds she began to speak at anti-slavery rallies. At one point she even got involved in a riot to set a slave free who had been recaptured in New York and was being sent back to a slave-owner in the south.
Twice a year Harriet did a run south to free more slaves. She also taught others how to escape on their own. Each time she moved people she used a different route through the swamps disguising her passengers in different costumes.
Harriet’s name became well known and there were many close calls. She had to use her ingenuity to free her parents. They were old and would not make the journey on foot so she organised to carry them on horseback.
After a time, it became too dangerous for her to continue on these missions. If caught she would have been killed. By now she had become too important in the anti-slavery movement to risk losing. She would have to find another way to contribute.
In 1861, a civil war broke out between the north and the south of the United states. The north wanted to abolish slavery and the south decided to break away as a result. Many slaves wanted to join the Northern army but they didn’t make good soldiers because they still thought like slaves. Harriet began to teach them to think like freeman so that they could become more effective soldiers and contribute to the cause.
Harriet also helped the women find work in the north. She became a nurse helping slaves who had suffered injury during their escapes. Harriet also became involved in a spy network in the south for the northern forces. She became the commander of intelligence operations with lots of spies or ‘scouts’ under her command. Her experiences in escape had made her ideal for this work. This was dangerous but Harriet was well used to it at this point. The work she did sabotaging the supply lines and recruiting slaves in the south greatly help the north in winning the war.
In 1865, slavery was abolished throughout the United States. However, even though they were free, black people still faced discrimination and injustice. Former slaves suffered terrible poverty and sickness so Harriet continued to serve them by taking them in and supporting them. Harriet wrote books about her life and adventures using the money to help but there was never enough. She sold vegetables she had grown on her land, going door to door. Harriet earned money giving speeches and telling stories. Eventually she was able to set up a home to house and take care of people in need. People from all over came to visit her and listen to her tales.
In 1913, Harriet died of pneumonia.
Fredrick Douglas, a leader in the movement to abolish slavery, said of Harriet: “The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witness of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism”.
How might the life of Harriet Tubman inspire you to create your own adventure story?