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Cover image for Harriet Tubman : imagining a life
Harriet Tubman : imagining a life
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, ©2007.
Physical Description:
x, 418 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Araminta -- Dorchester : birth -- Childhood -- At Polish Mills : a shower of fire -- The weight : at the Bucktown Crossroads -- Sold and carried away : the slave-holder's choice -- Marriage -- Over the line -- Family -- Rescues, promises -- Becoming Moses -- With John Brown : dreams, metaphor -- Last rescue -- The General -- Beaufort, South Carolina -- The proclamation, the raid -- Raining blood -- Auburn, last days -- March 13, 1913.
Recreates the life of escaped slave Harriet Tubman, portraying her life as a slave, lumberjack, laundress, raid leader, nurse, Underground Railroad organizer, and abolitionist.
Geographic Term:


Call Number
923 Tubman, Harriet
921 Tubman, Harriet 2007

On Order



"I am at peace with God and all mankind."
--Harriet Tubman to Mary Talbert, on the occasion of their last visit, 1913

Now, from the award-winning novelist and biographer, an astonishing reimagining of the remarkable life of Harriet Tubman--the "Moses of Her People."

During her lifetime Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave, lumberjack, laundress, raid leader, nurse, fund-raiser, cook, intelligence gatherer, Underground Railroad organizer, and abolitionist. She was known both as Moses and as General Tubman.

In Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life , Beverly Lowry goes beyond the familiar tales to create a portrait of Tubman in lively imagined vignettes that, as Lowry writes, "catch her on the fly" and portray her life as she herself might have presented it. Lowry offers readers an intimate look at Tubman's early life firsthand: her birth as Araminta Ross in 1822 in Dorchester, Maryl∧ the harsh treatment she experienced growing up--including being struck with a two-pound iron when she was twelve years old; and her triumphant escape from slavery as a young woman and rebirth as Harriet Tubman. We travel with Tubman along the treacherous route of the Underground Railroad and hear of her friendships with Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and other abolitionists. We accompany her to the battlefields of the Civil War, where she worked as a nurse and a cook and earned the name General Tubman, join her on slave-freeing raids in the heart of the Confederacy, and share her horror and sorrow as she witnesses the massacre of Colonel Shaw and the black soldiers of the 54th Regiment at Fort Wagner.

Integrating extensive research and interviews with scholars and historians into a stunningly rich and mesmerizing chronicle, Lowry brings Tubman to life as never before.

With 62 photographs, illustrations, and maps

Author Notes

BEVERLY LOWRY is the author of six novels and the nonfiction works Crossed Over and Her Dream of Dreams. The recipient of the 2007 Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award, Lowry teaches at George Mason University. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

No escaped slave's story grips the American imagination as deeply as Harriet Tubman's, with the melodrama and near mythic grandeur of her frequent returns to slave territory to rescue her family members and scores of others. Since Tubman (1822-1913) never learned to read or write, her story comes second or third hand, offering researchers a challenge and creative nonfiction writers an opportunity. Lowry, a novelist and author of a re-creation of the life of the first African-American woman entrepreneur, Madame C.J. Walker (Her Dream of Dreams, 2003), "reimagined" Tubman's life in four parts: her childhood as a field slave called Araminta; her marriage, escape and early "rescues" when she was known as Harriet; her legendary Underground Railroad years when she was called Moses; the Civil War years when she was scout and courier for the Union army (John Brown dubbed her "the General"); and her postbellum work with emancipated slaves. Lowry carries the reader through the milestones without slipping into a morass of detail, through legal thickets (largely created by treating persons as property) and Tubman's encounters with many abolitionists without meandering. Tubman's life invites imagining, and Lowry's reader-friendly book, which "does not pretend to be a work of intense scholarship," presents her story with a novelist's sense of pace, suspense and speculation. (Apr. 17) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A speculative biography, told mostly through imagined scenes, of the Underground Railroad's most famous conductor. Tubman (c. 1819-1913) never learned to read or write; her memories have all been recorded and interpreted by others. Lowry (Creative Nonfiction/George Mason Univ.; Her Dream of Dreams, 2003, etc.) deals with the documentation problems this creates by acknowledging inconsistencies in the records, considering their sources and then choosing what seems most probable to her. Words like "presumably," "may have," "might" and "probably" appear frequently. Throughout, the reader learns as much about slavery, the Underground Railroad, abolitionists, the Civil War in the Carolinas and emancipation as about Tubman. We do learn that she was struck in the head as a child on Maryland's Eastern Shore and thereafter experienced narcolepsy, had visions and heard voices. We see her as an overworked child, as an enterprising young woman and as a determined runaway who escaped to the North in 1849. Once there, she saw it as her responsibility to help others. Confident that God was directing her work, she made numerous trips back, acting as guide and commander to hundreds of slaves. How she accomplished this without being captured remains unclear, although she seems to have established a large network through which she could send messages and raise funds. During the Civil War, Tubman put her organizational, navigational and intelligence skills to use as a nurse, spy and scout for the Union in the Carolinas. After the war, she spent 30 years trying to obtain retroactive pay and a pension, finally succeeding when she was 77. Lowry swiftly moves through Tubman's later years. It is for her midlife feats that she is remembered, and those accomplishments and the circumstances surrounding them are well depicted here. Creative nonfiction from a writer well-versed in the genre. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Because Tubman could not write and render her own account of what she thought, felt, and did, her life story necessarily has been told from the perspective of others. Lowry examines those perspectives as they reflect on the life of an extraordinary woman and the chroniclers of the time. Lowry begins in 1900, when Tubman lived with her brother in Auburn, New York, where she was occasionally interviewed by her biographer, Sarah Bradford. Although Bradford recognized the historical significance of her subject, she was influenced by the racial attitudes of her time and could sometimes be too precious, Lowry notes. Lowry draws on previous biographies, archival material, and new findings, including a runaway-slave ad that mentioned Tubman, found in a Dumpster by a determined researcher. Between the details she gleaned from historical sources and her obvious affection and respect for her subject, Lowry delivers a richly imagined biography of a woman who risked her life repeatedly to free slaves and to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

BEST known as a hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman has been the subject of hundreds of books for young people. Full-scale biographies, however, have been scarce, though three - by Jean Humez, Catherine Clinton and Kate Clifford Larson - have appeared since the year 2000. "Harriet Tubman," the novelist Beverly Lowry's contribution, is labeled a biography, but the subtitle, "Imagining a Life," qualifies that claim. In an author's note, Lowry painstakingly explains her decision "to emphasize the visual elements of Harriet's story - what things looked like, places and clothes, faces, plants, the sky - and to thread information from the sources" listed in her bibliography "in order to come up with one version of what life, might have been like for the American hero Harriet Tubman." She also makes us aware that Tubman was one of the first American celebrities to market her own story for profit, so the first full record of her life contains material that she and her original biographer, Sarah Hopkins Bradford, thought would sell. Fictionalized biographies are troubling to readers who want to know at all times what's fact and what's invention. Lowry signals, unobtrusively but clearly, when she is gliding into the imagined phases of her narrative. Particularly in the first half of the book, this method produces vivid scenes of Tubman's life as she (might well have) lived it. Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross around 1822, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. She was the property of Edward Brodess, an unprosperous farmer who staved off bankruptcy by hiring out or selling his slaves. First hired out at the age of 6, Minty, as she was known, was beaten for poor performance of housework she'd never been taught to do. Her hire-masters tried using her to check muskrat traps, and kept her wading through cold water during a bout of measles until she collapsed. Still, she preferred outdoor labor. In her early 20s, she made a deal with one of her hire-masters, Brodess's stepbrother A.C. Thompson, which permitted her to find her own jobs and keep whatever earnings were left after both Thompson and Brodess had satisfied their claims. When Tubman was 13, her skull was fractured by a two-pound lead weight launched in a dispute between an overseer and another slave. Brodess promptly tried to sell his damaged property, but found no takers. Minty recovered but soon began having visions and conversations with God. She had witnessed the Leonid meteor shower of 1833, a revelation of falling stars that many thought portended a great upheaval in the order of things. In later life, Tubman would claim she had always known how to follow the North Star, which led to freedom. On the non-astral plane, she also learned, much later in life, that a term in Brodess's great-grandfather's will should have set her mother, and her mother's children, free at age 45. As it happened, she did not have to wait that long. At 26, when she heard that Brodess was trying to sell her again, she asked God to kill him. He died about a week later. His widow was still more desperate to raise money by selling slaves. Minty, now married to John Tubman, tried to escape with three of her brothers in September 1849, but they lost their nerve. A few days later she went alone. After crossing to freedom she took her mother's name, Harriet. A year later, Harriet returned to rescue family members who had been put up for sale. Slaves who were not her relatives asked her to help them escape too. The recent passage of the Fugitive Slave Act meant that escapees could be recaptured even in the North. The Underground Railroad ramped up in response, now conveying fugitives all the way to Canada. Relying on her visions, her sixth sense for danger and her colloquies with God, Harriet ran extraordinary risks in her numerous returns to slave territory, once (in an episode rendered well by Lowry) brushing elbows with her former master A.C. Thompson. Slaves began calling her Moses, after her habit of singing "Go Down Moses" to discreetly announce her presence. John Brown, with his more maniai bent, called her "General Tubman." By the outbreak of the Civil War, Tubman had gotten most of her family north, and become a symbol of the possibility of freedom to a great many more. Though she would become a star on the abolitionist lecture circuit, she always had to struggle to finance her expeditions and to support the growing circle of family and friends she had helped establish in Canada and upstate New York. Though she served in the United States Army as a scout and spy, the government would repeatedly deny her a pension. In 1865 she was severely beaten for refusing to leave a whites-only car on a train from Philadelphia to New York. After a slow recovery, she returned to her large dependent household, begging for food when she couldn't find work. Under these circumstances, in 1868, she began collaborating with Sarah Bradford in the marketing of her legend. Lowry, a white Southerner, makes painfully sure we know she knows that slavery was a Bad Thing. The hardships Harriet Tubman suffered in the North come through just as clearly through uncommented description. Though she insists her work is not scholarly, Lowry's dramatic retelling seems thoroughly researched, and she succeeds in animating the icon that Tubman helped to make of herself. "I am as proud of being a black woman," she told the conductor of the train where she was beaten, "as you are of being white." That pride shines through in the marvelous photographs of Tubman that illustrate the book - images that, amplifying Lowry's words, show forth her indomitable desire to be herself in freedom. Lowry imagines her way into the life of the woman John Brown called 'General Tubman.' Madison Smartt Bell is the author, most recently, of "Tousaint Louverture."

Library Journal Review

Tubman's life with the Underground Railroad-and beyond. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.