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Underground Railroad

The Hidden History Of Slavery In Michigan

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Image result for gateway to freedom memorial
Gateway To Freedom Memorial in Detroit, MI, by African American artist, Ed Dwight

Detroit, MI is known for being an important stop on the Underground Railroad.  You may not know that people were also enslaved in Detroit and surrounding areas.   Many roads, schools, and places are named after wealthy slave-owning families.  If you live in or near Detroit, you will recognize these names, Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Dequindre, and Groesbeck Livernois, Rivard, and many others. From its founding in 1750, slavery existed during Detroit’s existence as a French, British, and then American settlement. The Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library has an original ledger book of William Macomb.  The ledger lists his property and includes over 20 enslaved individuals.  The first mayor of Detroit, John R. Williams (two streets bear his name), also owned slaves along with priests of the Catholic Church in Detroit.  The men who financed the Detroit Free Press were also former slave owners.  The Free Press used its platform to support slavery prior to the Civil War. 

People of African and Native/Indigenous descent were both enslaved in Detroit.  Enslavement of native peoples occurred first. Slavery played an integral role in the relationship between European settlers and Native tribes.  The Native system of enslavement involved taking captives to settle conflicts or build alliances. This would occur by women and children of rival factions being exchanged or given to confirm an alliance or settle a dispute.  When the French arrived, they also adopted this practice to establish trade alliances with Native peoples as well.  Native women were victims of labor trafficking and sexual violence.  The enslaved were used as pawns to help bolster trading alliances between European settlers and Native tribes.  Slavery continued to exist in the Northwest Territory (which included Michigan) even though it was abolished in 1787.  Slave owners used loopholes or flat out ignored the law to maintain their ownership of the enslaved.

Continue reading “The Hidden History Of Slavery In Michigan”

The Southern Underground Railroad: The Saltwater Railroad

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The “Saltwater Railroad” is the name of the waterway traveled by enslaved persons fleeing from the South to Florida to reach freedom in the British-controlled Bahamas.  The Salt Water Railroad was similar to the Underground Railroad that the enslaved used to flee to northern states enroute to Canada.  The enslaved fleeing to the Bahamas began around the time that the U.S. invaded Spanish Florida.  Spanish Florida had been a location to which many seeking to escape slavery in the South would flee.  However, the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty finalized the U.S. takeover of Florida, making it an unsafe destination for those seeking freedom.    

Accessing freedom in the Bahamas via The Saltwater Railroad began as early as 1821 and continued for 40+ years.  It was primarily used by the enslaved freeing from Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. 

Continue reading “The Southern Underground Railroad: The Saltwater Railroad”

Harriet Tubman’s Letter of Endorsement From Frederick Douglass

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Harriet Tubman & Frederick Douglass

Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are perhaps two of the most well-known African Americas of the Civil War time period.  The two shared mutual respect and admiration for one another.  Tubman and Douglass were both born enslaved.  Both lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and escaped slavery as young adults; Douglass in 1838 and Tubman in 1849.  After escaping enslavement both sat about, in their own way, to liberate other enslaved peoples. Continue reading “Harriet Tubman’s Letter of Endorsement From Frederick Douglass”

Fab New Photo Of Harriet Tubman & 10 Amazing But Little Known Facts About Her Life

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harriet-tubman-younger
Harriet Tubman (1819?-1913) She is believed to be between 43-46 years old in this photo

 

A newly discovered photo of a “younger” Harriet Tubman (1819? – 1913) is getting lots of publicity in the media! The photo was discovered among other pictures belonging to a deceased friend of Tubman’s.  It is estimated that Tubman is in her early to mid 40’s in the picture.  Her photo along with 44 other photos will be auctioned on March 30 by Swann Galleries.  The photo was likely taken just after the Civil War.  Tubman was then residing in Auburn, NY on land that would later become the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

Tubman also made the news in 2016 after it was announced that her image would be added to the $20 bill beginning in 2030 replacing, President Andrew Jackson. While many of us are familiar with Tubman’s bravery and heroism in bringing hundreds of people to freedom, via the Underground Railroad, I’d like to share some lesser known facts about her life!

  1. Tubman’s was given the name Araminta Ross at birth (nickname: Minty). She adopted the name Harriet after running away to escape slavery to aid in disguising her identity. Harriet was her mother’s name. Her last name, “Tubman” was taken when she married her first husband John Tubman who was a free man.
  2. It is estimated that Tubman walked approximately 90 when she escaped slavery. No one knows exactly how long it took her to make the trip.
  3. Tubman’s husband was not interested in following her North. He remarried a free woman of color after Tubman’s escape and had several children with her; leaving Harriet heart-broken. She would later remarry Nelson Davis in 1869.  He was 22 years younger than Tubman.  They remained married for 19 years until his death.
  4. Tubman suffered from a health condition that would cause her to fall asleep suddenly without warning. She also experienced severe headaches, and seizures. The condition (possibly temporal epilepsy) was caused due to a head injury she received while enslaved at the age of 12. She was hit in the head with a 2 pound iron weight that was thrown at another enslaved African but hit Tubman instead. After her head injury she began to see visions which she believed were from God.
  5. Tubman never had any biological children.  However, she and her second husband Nelson Davis adopted a child (a girl), Gertie in 1874.
  6. When rescuing enslaved persons, she threatened to shoot any of her “passengers” who thought to turn back.
  7. Tubman was a soldier, spy, and nurse for the Union Army during the civil war. She was known for her ability to treat dysentery successfully using native herbs.
  8. She was the first woman to lead an armed war expedition during the Combahee River Raid with 300 other African American soldiers. 3 gun boats were used in the raid to liberate 700 enslaved blacks in South Carolina. She would later be denied payment for her war time service and was only able to collect a widow’s pension from her husband’s death which was $20/month. Ironically, in 2016, Tubman was selected to replace Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill which will be released in 2030.
  9. In the late 1890’s Tubman had brain surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital due to pain and “buzzing” in her head which made it difficult for her to sleep (likely related to her childhood injury). She refused to take anesthesia and instead chewed a bullet during the operation. This was something she had seen soldiers do during the civil war when their limbs were amputated.
  10. She established a home for the aged and indigent in Auburn, NY where she spent the last years of her life.

Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy is certainly one that deserves to be celebrated! She was truly a phenomenal woman.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/harriet-tubman-whos-being-recognized-more-and-more-is-a-total-10-in-rare-portrait_us_589b44c9e4b0c1284f29b3b9

http://www.harriet-tubman.org/death/

Harriet Tubman Home For The Elderly

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Harriet Tubman Home For The Elderly
Harriet Tubman Home For The Elderly

Many of us know about Harriet Tubman’s heroism as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and how she helped hundreds of slave escape to freedom in the north. But did you that she also established a home for the elderly? In 1896 Hariett Tubman purchased 25 acres of land adjacent to her home for $1,450 in Auburn, NY to build a home for elderly blacks. The Thompson AME Zion Church in Auburn, NY assisted her financially. That support along with a mortgage from a local bank helped her to pay for the property.

Unable to make tax payments on the property, she donated it to the AME Zion Church in 1903, with the stipulation that the church would continue to operate the home. It took 5 years to fully staff and equip the home.   On June 23, 1908 the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly was inaugurated. Tubman, herself, eventually was cared for in the home for the elderly when her health began to deteriorate in 1911. It was there that she died in 1913. All 3 properties, Harriet Tubman’s residence, Thompson AME Zion Church, and the Harriet Tubman Home For The Elderly are all considered National Historic Landmarks.  The Harriet Tubman Home for The Elderly continues to be operated by The AME Zion church in Auburn, NY.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

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