Last Updated September 5, 2023.
One of the major themes in Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton is symbiotic and collaborative nature of faith and freedom. Clinton uses multiple Biblical allusions to describe Harriet Tubman and her numerous treks back and forth from the North to the South and back again to liberate hundreds of enslaved people.
First, Tubman often is described as Moses, the Messianic-like leader of the Israelites that led his people from bondage in Egypt to the precipice of the Promised Land in Canaan. Next, Tubman and the slaves of her day often referred to the North and Canada as “Canaan” or “Canaan Land.” This allusion signifies how the concept of emancipation from physical bondage was so intertwined with the Biblical faith and traditions of the enslaved people. Finally, abolitionists in the North gave Tubman the nickname of “Prophet” and John Brown, lead instigator of the Harpers Ferry revolt, called her General Tubman. These monikers emphasize the admiration for Tubman’s leadership among her peers as well as the religious, and almost mystical reverence in which she was held.
The fact that Clinton gives so much weight and credence to the legends, folklore, and mystique of Tubman makes Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom read more like an entertaining and adventurous historical narrative rather than a traditional historical biography. However, it is precisely this intentional focus by the author that communicates the sentiment of many of Tubman’s peers that her success as a conductor on the Underground Railroad was a manifestation of divine intervention.