Listen to the podcast episode about Minty Ross, later known as Harriet Tubman, by clicking this link.
Where was Harriet Tubman born?
Well, that’s only partly true.
Harriet Tubman was the daughter of Benjamin (Ben) and Harriet (Rit) Ross. Ben was an enslaved person on the Thompson farm just outside Dorchester County, and archeologists are currently working the land on and around the location of the Thompson farm trying to get a more solid understanding of where Rit gave birth to Araminta, who would later be known as Harriet Tubman. It is largely believed Araminta was born in Ben’s cabin.
But one thing is for sure…
Harriet Tubman’s early years were spent in Dorchester County as an enslaved person under the ownership of Edward Brodress. Today, Dorchester County – Church Creek, Maryland specifically – is the location of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.
I live about 50 minutes southeast of the park, and I take route 50 east to get there. I left early on the morning of my scheduled interview with Lawson Nwakudo, a guide at the park, because I didn’t want to be late. I gave myself an extra hour just in case there was a traffic backup or other unplanned event that would cause my delay.
There wasn’t. There rarely is in this part of the world.
Knowing it was unlikely I’d meet any delay, I planned for a detour – a scheduled stop – on the way to the museum. I wanted to see the Bucktown General Store. In learning about her, I’d come to believe there was no more pivotal moment in her life than the one that happened at the grocery store on Bucktown Road when Minty was 12 years young.
Terrible Aim and a Terrible Wound
She’d been sent to the store by the person she was working for that day. Her owner, Edward Brodess would often rent out Araminta and the other people he held enslaved. It’s been said that Minty preferred the outdoor work rather than that of the household. This allowed for her to be out and about more. This was the case at the store on Bucktown road.
As the story goes, upon arrival she found a an enslaved boy in the midst of a confrontation with another man. The boy had left his plantation without permission and his overseer had caught up and was engaged in a heated argument with him. When the boy tried to flee, the overseer demanded Minty help prevent him from escaping. She refused. At this point, the overseer picked up a 2-pound weight used to weigh produce and threw it at the boy. His aim was terrible, apparently, and the weight hit Minty in the head, cracking her skull and causing damage to her brain.
From this point on, Araminta (later Harriet) would suffer from seizures or would fall asleep at a moment’s notice. In the his podcast episode with Delmarva’s Own, Nwakudo explained it is widely believed by scientists and doctors that the damage to Minty’s brain caused her to suffer from narcolepsy and epilepsy for the remainder of her life.
To be sure, these challenges would have been difficult for anyone to overcome. Not only did Minty have to deal with the physical damage, she also dealt with the additional denigration of her owner who told her, as a young child, that she wasn’t worth any more than a sixpence to him. He tried unsuccessfully to sell Araminta. Nobody wanted a little slave-girl with a brain injury who kept falling asleep on the job.
Eventually Araminta was able to work hard at the same physical jobs she’d had as a child. Further, she learned how to drive oxen and fell timber, all the time learning to adjust to her new episodes of seizures. Perhaps this is because while some looked at the seizures as physical oddities, Minty began to experience them as communications with God. She insisted it was during these times that she spoke with God and God spoke with her.
We know that Minty eventually married a man with the last name Tubman. She then took her mother’s name, Harriet, and became Harriet Tubman.
One might wonder what would have become of Harriet if she’d not suffered a brain injury as a child. Perhaps she would have done everything she did even without the injury.
Much has been made about Tubman’s work as a conductor on the underground railroad, and rightly so. She personally guided over 70 souls to freedom as a conductor. Her work continued during the Civil War when “General” Tubman guided over 700 enslaved people to freedom as a part of an operation during the Civil War.
Nwakudo and I focused on the life of Tubman before her escape. It seemed appropriate for a podcast about Delmarva.
You can listen this episode here, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.