–A Note from KrisAnne: One of our missions at KrisAnneHall.com is to bring truth back into history. History is our greatest teacher, our founders often referred to history and experience as being an invaluable oracle used to make a better tomorrow. Consistent with that effort, our friend Kate Dalley has written a wonderful article on the History of the Underground Railroad & Harriet Tubman’s role in that era of history. With Kate’s permission we are publishing it in our Guest Article series.
Truth In History – The Underground Railroad
by Kate Dalley
I’m not sure how to put this, so I’ll just hope people realize I’m not looking to disparage anyone but our American history is grossly inaccurate and I’d like to correct one historic exaggeration that is affecting our nation right now in major headlines. Even if history bores you, please take two minutes and read this.
This is one of the reasons I do my daily radio show. Is to find the truth and hopefully get the truth out there. Had they told the following story accurately, I doubt this race war context would be a big headline.
When you think of the Underground Railroad (secret slave escape routes before the Civil War), what comes to mind? Probably the name Harriet Tubman. They have made her into an icon and called her the “Moses of Her People”. Most of us think she founded the Underground Railroad and if you google it – it all but proclaims her to be the founder. But, if you look a little deeper, they use odd language when describing her as the “actual” founder. They don’t really say that- they just heavily insinuate it in every way possible. They say she’s the “face” of the railroad, or the “spirit” of the movement.
And it’s not true.
She wasn’t born until 1820 and didn’t escape until 1849 using the UR herself -when a white neighbor gave her the name of a location to run to and a white family gave her a ride in their wagon. At that time, already 100,000 slaves used the UR to escape! 100,000!
The Underground Railroad actually started right after our country’s founding- in 1787.
Slaves couldn’t read or write and could hardly speak to other slaves living in other towns so coordinating the concept and on -the-ground locations would have been impossible for them to do under such oppression. So, who came up with all the safe houses, the secret code name concept of the “railroad terminology” like “stockholders” ( those who funded it) “conductors” (those who guided people from location to location “Station master” (Regional coordinator)and so on, back in 1787? Who built up this huge network all the way to Canada? Who put in all of the time, money and resources and kept it secret? As soon as the ink was dry on the Constitution, there was a huge movement to stop a widely accepted horrible practice of slavery and who had a love for mankind strong enough to risk losing everything to help free the slaves?
It was the white Quakers.
The man known to operate the first cell of the railroad, was a WHITE man named Issac Hopper- a Quaker in his late teens even, who risked everything to liberate over 1000 slaves himself and that number is modest.
Also the “President” of the UR was Levi Coffer. A WHITE Quaker who, along with his wife helped over 3300 slaves acquire freedom. Thomas Garrett several decades later, also a Quaker helped over 2700 slaves. They got entire Quaker congregations to hide people, pay money to help out and to create safe houses. There were at least 8 wealthy white men noted in history who were behind it but there were thousands more who helped. They made sure to compartmentalize the big plan so that no one person knew the whereabouts of all the safe houses -so they couldn’t be coerced into giving info if in-prisoned.
Harriet Tubman didn’t use the railroad herself until it was in its final 15 years of existence – the UR had already been going for almost 65 years strong.
She made 13 runs on the railroad with small groups that included her own family members and is responsible for freeing about 70 people.
Some of those 13 runs were only partly aiding those that were already in the process of escaping already. I’m not saying that isn’t wonderful or wasn’t brave- it was-but why she is called Moses and referred to in text as the founder or face of the movement? This is very inaccurate.
White Quakers, Native Americans, and Free Blacks worked together to free slaves. Those entire Quaker congregations knew they were risking their lives and wealth to participate but did it anyway.
The reason Harriet Tubman was recognized for this was because a friend of hers wanted to raise money for her and wrote a book about her in the late 1800’s about her efforts- a very glowing account that exaggerated her efforts into claiming she had rescued thousands and thousands and William Still wrote about her because he joined the movement at the end as well and wrote about several people involved.
I’m glad they acknowledge the following in the African American Experience (source)-
“The exact year in which the system began is unknown, but it is believed the Quakers started it in 1787. By the time Mrs. Tubman made her escape in 1849, escape via the Underground Railroad had become a frequent practice and it involved a much larger network of people….
By 1857, she had helped free dozens of slaves (not the hundreds often touted in history books; Tubman believed the figure was closer to 70), including her own parents and other family members”. Source-AAE
Books claimed that she sheltered people on her property as a philanthropist- but she actually ran a boarding business and charged people. They said she was a political activist in the women’s vote but if you look deeper, they said she “felt strongly about women voting and “LIKELY worked among those LIKE Susan B Anthony”- they don’t exactly say she did. There aren’t any actual accounts of this. They said she worked as a spy for the military and risked her life in battle as the first black woman to do so. Well, truth be told she found a couple of scouts for them to bring them into battle because she didn’t know the areas and wasn’t on the front lines.
I mean it’s great – she helped out, but they have grossly exaggerated her biography. She has since had museums, bridges, a naval ship, a postage stamp, streets, parks, statues- all named after her, movies made about her starring Cicely Tyson and also almost landed on our 20 dollar bill. And does anyone remember hearing about Issac Hopper in history class as the founder and inventor of the UR? I’m guessing not so much.
A writer in 1940 tried to write the truth – Earl Connor – and received threats and condemnation for wanting to write the truth. ( This makes sense knowing that our public education system was hijacked by the Carnegie Foundation to change our American history in the early 1900’s- as found right in their meeting’s written notes from 1908 and exposed in Congress hearings later on. Their main directive was to “re-educate” teachers with watered down and completely altered American history. By 1920, our nation was touting Tubman as the name associated with the UR- source Norman Dodd sent to investigate Carnegie Foundation by Congress).
They wanted a black woman to be the face of the Underground Railroad and that was that- regardless of true history. Apparently they also wanted to make it appear as though all white people were racist and loved slavery.
Can you imagine what our conversations would be like right now in America if we were constantly sharing this info about all of the White people that wanted to free those in slavery, risked it all and THEY made it happen- all along?
To make sure the UR was successful, many different religions, Methodists, Presbyterians and all kinds of clergy risked their lives. It took so many people from all over that cared about ensuring freedom and changing the (sadly) widely accepted practice of slavery. There were white slaves, Irish slaves and yes, black owners of black slaves.
By the way, this is also NEVER talked about, but starting in the 1600’s black AND white slaves were brought over together by ship and “indentured or “Durante vite”-meaning- in order to “pay for their voyage” – they had to be a slave for 4-7 years to pay for the voyage they didn’t want to take and work it off as a slave. They were also called “redemtioners”- they were the poorest amongst us and sold poor orphans too.
At the end of their pay back period they got 3 bushels of corn and some clothes when set free. Horrifying? Yes. But our history.
You can find all of this online. It is written about. But with today’s headlines and political posturing – you’d never guess that anyone ever read about this.
Ironically and shockingly, the first slave to be given “for life” instead of 4-7 years, was to a BLACK SLAVE OWNER in 1640’s – Anthony Johnson – who had black and white slaves by the way- and argued to the court that John Casor of the Virginia’s Colony , a black slave that he purchased, was to be for life and the court/Judge sided with Johnson that he would be his slave for life. A BLACK slave owner and his black Slave. “Johnson, insisting he knew nothing of an indenture, fought hard to retain what he regarded as his personal property, stating, “hee had ye Negro for his life.” On March 5, 1655 the presiding judge, Captain Samuel Goldsmith, ruled that “the said Jno Caster Negro shall forthwith bee returned to the service of his master Anthony Johnson.”
Johnson was one of the original “20” black slaves brought over from Africa and ironically, paid off his own indentured servitude and the bought slaves for himself- among them John Casor. – (source- Smithsonian Magazine Horrible Fate of John Casor).
Our media never mentions this though.
Harriet Tubman was a brave black woman who endured a lot in a very difficult time. No doubt. But she was hardly the face of or founder or “Moses” of her people. Many others sacrificed so much more, for so many decades and in a time when this practice had become so accepted, they also were brave in dedicating their lives and prosperity for the love of their “neighbor”. George Washington also was the first to say he would give up his own slaves and help this cause as he felt slavery was wrong.
I just want us to give history it’s due. Right from the start of America, we sought to correct accepted wrongs and America was the only land that espoused the religious and economic freedom for anyone to come and make a better life. Not every white person was a racist slave owner nor was every black person was a slave, either. We didn’t just passively let slavery happen for a 80 years- as soon as we declared our Independence – whites, blacks and Native Americans sought to end slavery. We are not a racist nation now and were not then. Only a select group – not our entire nation- were considered truly racist (full of hatred toward other human beings for skin color only) and saw others as non-human. To most it was horrible yes, but just economical to them. White Irish slaves (over 300K) were indentured slaves as well. They never talk about this.
The truth matters and our history book lies and misinformation have shaped our thinking of this country and it’s so unfortunate.
Had this been taught all along- how different would the last 100 years have been for us? How different would our headlines be right now and how different would our perceptions be for people of all color. How would this have impacted what became the Civil Rights Movement in the South?
We need to start educating people about the truth. It matters. The truth matters.
Kate Dalley is a cutting-edge nationally recognized radio host! She is nationally syndicated in multiple markets -live -including Chicago and on Red State Talk Radio in drive time ( the world’s largest political online 24 hour station with 1 million listeners) along with other online outlets as well. Listeners from around the globe listen and stream her daily 3-hour political talk show (First hour Utah topics, followed by the 2 hour nationally syndicated show). http://katedalleyradio.com/