Women In Slavery: Harriet Tubman, Ellen Craft, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth

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Slavery is defined as “a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom.” (MiriamWebster) Slavery was an act of dominance by people who viewed themselves more superior in every way to the African American community. They lived through hardships, that most of us today couldn’t fathom. Among this group of enslaved people were the faces of women who endured and helped defeat slavery and earn the freedom that meant everything to them. Slavery in America was started in the early 16th century. During their time in slavery, African Americans spent most of their time working on tobacco and rice plantations that bordered the East coast where the soil was perfect for the crops. Then later spent time on cotton plantations in the South. Slavery was mainly concentrated in the South, in later times, where slavery was most endorsed. Slave owners wanted their slaves severely dependent on them and saw them as barbaric inferiors. They often enforced strict rules upon the slave population. Learning to read and writing was not afforded to slaves and their whereabouts and their lives were closely monitored. Not to mention the sexual abuse that was handed to slave women and the brutal beatings that both men and women endured. This often led to slave rebellions which slave owners feared. Slaved wanted freedom so deeply and were often made false promises of freedom by slave owners. The North soon learned that they did not agree with slavery and started the abolitionist movement. During this time many African Americans ran away to join or made moves to endorse the abolitionist movement. In the face of this, there were many women who stepped up and fought for the freedom they deserved.

Let’s begin with one of the most notable women in slavery, Harriet Tubman. Harriet was known as “the most remarkable woman of her day”.(Humez,3) Tubman was born into slavery in the state of Maryland. Tubman’s mother and father were owned by two different families and when her father was freed, he was eventually able to purchase her mother from the family in which she was owned. As many young slaves do, Tubman took care of her younger brother, and as many slaves encountered and feared Tubman had to watch her sisters be sold away. Although Tubman was owned by the Brodess family, she was also hired out to help many other families. During that time Tubman faced many of the brutal beatings that were bestowed upon slaves for the indiscretions. Despite her marriage to a freeman, Harriet remained childless throughout her life. When Tubman’s owner died and left Tubman as the property of his widow, she decided enough was enough. She took the underground railroad system despite the dangers that were probable in such an escape and landed in Philadelphia.

Once in Philadelphia, Tubman met her allies. She was able to connect with Northerners who were able to help Tubman in her years to come as and avid aide in slave freedom. Tubman set out first to rescue her whole family first and later worked on friends and other slaves as well. Tubman spent decades risking her own life to save those she loved. “Her strong attachment to her family, rather than an abstract idea of liberating “her people,” drove Tubman to run such great risks” (Humez, 24) Tubman is quoted saying, “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can't seem to get over that line.” Tubman’s willingness and desperation are shown in this quote, how she wanted to help her people so badly and succeeded in doing so with many, how she saw a world where she would be accepted. It was so close but so far away.

Tubman’s contributions are still widely noted today. Her heroic and selfless acts of rescue made her not only a celebrity of her own time but as well as many years to come. Tubman’s valiant efforts in the abolishment movement and her life as a slave is an incredible case of women in slavery.

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Ellen Craft was another notable woman in slavery and her escape has been recorded by many authors including her own husband’s account. Ellen and William had had enough and planned to escape. Ellen who was light-skinned enough due to her father who was a white slave owner pretended to be a white male, while her husband posed as her slave. 'Men disguised in female attire and women dressed in the garb of men have under very trying circumstances triumphed in thus making their way to freedom' (McCaskill) Ellen was not keen on the idea and would have rather gone about her freedom another way than dressing as a male, but in the end freedom was worth any cost. Unlike Tubman, the Crafts were able to go by steam car instead of the underground railroads in secrecy. Once they had reached the North the Crafts spent no time making a life for themselves from scratch. Eventually, Ellen helped her husband open a school for the African Americans who had escaped to freedom. Even though Ellen Craft was mixed race and had “white blood” in her she was still ostracized and not accepted. It truly goes to show just how far racism and hate was willing to go in the days of slavery. Ellen went on to be a feminist, of sorts, really showing white women and colored women their oppressions. She broke the mold as a woman dressing as someone other than her gender and race.

There was another Harriet that is known widely for efforts in the abolitionist movement, Harriet Jacobs. Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1813(Yellin, 3). Her innovative work, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is the most widely read pre-civil war slave narrative. Her personal experience and struggles become her motivation in her movement for civil rights and the freedom of slaves. Her literary work along with many of her supporting roles in the anti-slavery movement, makes Harriet Jacob’s one of the most influential abolitionists of her time. Jacobs’s book truly allows us to see just what life was like as a slave. In Jacob’s book, she talks much of her life of a slave girl from early years on. We get a peek at the life of a slave and how inhumane it was, especially for women slaves. In her book, Jacobs says, “I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing. I had felt, seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the motives, of those around me. The war of my life had begun; and though one of God's most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered.” (Jacobs, 4) Think about the average American girl at 14. She is going to worry about friends, which boy likes her, how she can convince her parents to let her stay out a little later. Jacob’s really puts into perspective just how different things were, and she was going to take on the entire slave system. Jacobs was truly one of the first women to talk about sexual harassment as a slave by her slave owner. This opened doors for people to truly see just how degrading and horrific being a woman in slavery was.

In addition to her book, Jacobs as truly dedicated to her work for freed slaves, She also fed and helped runaway slaves and once slaves were freed she worked hard to obtain supplies and relief for freed slaves who had nothing and were starting their lives from the beginning as free people. She didn’t stop there, Jacobs worked to build churches, schools, hospitals, and homes for slaves who had been freed. She fought hospital for black patient rights and promoted the welfare of poor blacks. She spent a lot of these efforts in a team effort with her daughter. She spent time working with philanthropists as well as keeping a connection to freed slaves in the North and refugees in the South. Jacob’s also traveled to Europe to gather funds for orphaned African Americans.(Yellin,120,156,167) Jacob’s worked for an antislavery reading room, Jacobs never divulged how she escaped only saying, “The opportunity presented itself” (Yellin, 63)

Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree into slavery in New York she was one of ten children. (McLeod) Truth’s mother instilled a very spiritual purpose into her, that she encouraged Truth to use throughout the difficult times they faced as slaves. However, that wasn’t what drove her through the hard times. Truth had learned to be self-reliant and strength that she had found that guided her through the rough times. Being sold at the tender age of 9, Truth often endured the beatings and lashes that came from slave owners. Truth had a hard time talking to her masters and this often found her at the other end of torture. Due to this as she got a little older she was eager to please and often worked overtime to gain favor over her masters. Something not mentioned yet that Truth endured was forbidden love, Truth was in love with a neighbor slave but was forbidden from seeing him. She was later forced to marry a man she did not love. Truth like many others was promised freedom, but at the last minute was refused and her son was sold away. This was the last straw for Truth and she escaped. Once free a light was burned underneath Truth, she sued for custody of her son and won.

Truth like many escaped and freed slaves, went on to fight slavery. She spoke motivationally about the injustices of slavery in many states even speaking in Washington D.C. (McLeod) Truth was cross joined with the women’s rights movement as well. Trying to bridge together abolitionists and women’s rights supporters. One of Truth’s speeches, “Ain’t I A Woman”, is a widely known speech where Truth spoke publicly to white women and urged them to not only support women but women of color, who were seen as even more inferior to white women. In her speech, Truth says,

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

This quote shows how Truth’s speaking patterns had a way of trying to bridge the gap between abolitionists and women’s rights supporters. Truth’s narratives went on to be published and are some of the most notable narratives of a slave known today. Truth used her experiences and her public speeches to draw crowds and educate them on the injustices of slavery. Using her own accounts and hardships as a tool against slavery.

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Women In Slavery: Harriet Tubman, Ellen Craft, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth. (2020, December 24). WritingBros. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/women-in-slavery-harriet-tubman-ellen-craft-harriet-jacobs-sojourner-truth/
“Women In Slavery: Harriet Tubman, Ellen Craft, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth.” WritingBros, 24 Dec. 2020, writingbros.com/essay-examples/women-in-slavery-harriet-tubman-ellen-craft-harriet-jacobs-sojourner-truth/
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