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Picture courtesy of Cayuga Museum
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Harriet Tubman
"The Conductor"
By Carl A. Pierce
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Harriet Tubman Plaque

Harriet Tubman Plaque, Cayuga County Courthouse, Auburn, New York

Submitted by: Jill Fandrich




Emma Paddock Telford Says City Is Honored in Perpetuating Story of a Great Life.

Mayor Brister has received an eloquent tribute to the memory of Harriet Tubman from Mrs. Emma Paddock Telford, a former resident of this city. It relates to the memorial tablet to be unveiled on Friday evening at the Auditorium. The letter follows:

“The City of Auburn, is accepting the unusual and artistic memorial commemorating the life work of one of the most noted of American women, honored in perpetuating the story of a great life, and the tremendous epoch in our national history with which she was so closely associated. She came to us first in the middle ‘50’s, a runaway slave herself, but already the ‘Moses’ or leader of her people whom she was taking by the ‘underground’ railway to Canada.

“Auburn was one of the prominent stations on that route, for here we have many strong anti-slavery folk, as well as Quaker abolitionists whom Lyman Abbott has recently described as making up inability, eloquence and dogmatism what they lacked in numbers.’ Many of these people were personal friends of Gerritt Smith, Wendell Phillips, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Governor Andrews of Massachusetts, William Lloyd Garrison, the Emersons, Alcotts, Whitneys, Beechers, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mrs. Horace Mann, all of whom admired and respected Harriet and the work she was doing for her people. It was during this time that many Auburn homes were opened for the fugitive slaves, as older residents will recall. Here the fleeing blacks were fed, often made comfortable over night, then reinforced as to actual necessities, before starting on again to the Canadian frontier—their longed-for ‘land of freedom.’

“Quick to recognize the friendly spirit of this place, and encouraged by the kindness of Gov. William H. Seward, his family and friends who not only found places and work for many of the refugees here, but paid car fare for fugitives to Suspension Bridge and Canada, Harriet decided by way of celebrating the Dred Scott decision in 1857 to bring her aged parents here for refuge. A little place on South Street was provided on easy terms for Harriet and here they were left, while she went on they were left, until she went on her first trip to Boston to see about raising more money for her work.
Services in Civil War.

“Here she met Captain John Brown who communicated his plans to her and asked her to aid him by obtaining recruits and money among her own people. This she did, and he always spoke of her with greatest respect, declaring that ‘General Tubman’ was a better officer than most whom he had seen, and could command an army as successfully as she had led her small parties of fugitives. This was soon proved. With the breaking out of the Civil War, Harriet was called by Governor Andrews of Massachusetts to act as spy, scout and nurse, the only woman who filled such a role. During the four years of the war, she drew for herself but twenty days’ rations, meanwhile nursing thousands of our soldiers, white as well as black, on battlefields and in hospitals.

“When the war was over, Harriet returned unobstrusively to her little home here, where her doors were kept open to the most friendless and helpless of her race. The aged, forsaken by kith and kin, the babe deserted, the demented, the blind, the epileptic, the paralyzed, all found not shelter alone, but welcome. Harriet Tubman’s Charity.

“At no one time did this little home shelter less than six or eight wrecks of humanity, entirely dependent upon Harriet for their support. An Auburn woman in whose home Harriet was always welcomed told me this little incident the other day. Going over to Harriet’s one morning, she said, I found her in great cheer.

“ ‘How do you think de Lawd has answered my pray’, de yere mawnin,” She said.
“ ‘De meal ches’ was empty las’ night, so I prayed all night, “Lawd, sen’ me dy bleassin’. Thou knows what dy servan’ needs, sn’ me a blessin.” And den I started out to get de blessin’ acomin’, and what you think it was? A pore blin’ woman, bad off with consumption an’ her six children, one of ‘em jus’ a baby.’

“And what did you do? I queried aghast at the magnitude of the blessing.
“Oh, I did just what de Lawd meant me to do. I scummaged roun’ ‘mong de good people on Souf Stret, a’ got ‘em somethin’ to eat an’ some clothes for dem children who was mos’ as naked as when dey was bawn.’

“While Harriet never begged for herself, the cause of the needy at once sent her out with a basket on her arm to the kitchen of her friends, and this without a shadow of hesitancy. She always took thankfully, but never effusively, whatever was given her.
“I tell de Lawd what I needs,’ she used to say, ‘an’ he provides.’
Pension Granted by Congress.
“From here and there as her story was known there came small sums of money to be used in the furtherance of ‘her last work’—the establishment of a permanent home for the friendless aged of her race. For years, considered ineligible for a pension at the hands of a paternal Government on account of her sex, it was not until a few years ago that through the efforts of Sereno Payne, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the House, she was granted by special act of Congress a pension of $20 a month in recognition of her ‘valuable services as nurse and scout during the War of the Rebellion.’
“To help out this pittance, a small amount of money was raised through the sale of a little book which contained the story of her life written by Sarah H. Bradford and published through the liberality of Auburn friends. As needs arose, Harriet met them by indefatigable efforts on her own part and the kindness of people who knew her and her wonderful work.

“Because of lack of funds, however, the permanent incorporation of what Harriet wished to call the ‘John Brown Home,’ could not be achieved until 1903 when she deeded the 25 acres comprising her home to the A. M. E. Zion Church. In 1908 the home was formally opened under the name ‘Harriet Tubman Home,’ and the first inmates were received and made comfortable. Five years longer Harriet remained with us, guiding and counseling in the management of the Home that had received her name. Then she gently fell asleep, her last words being ‘Give my love to all the Churches. I go away to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also.’

“Her worn body, bowed and spent in nearly a century’s faithful intelligent, devoted service for others, not only of her own race but of our soldier boys, to which the late General McDougall bore witness, sleeps today on our green hillside. But the wonderful spirit that animated it, brave, invincible, like that of her old friend, John Brown, still ‘goes marching on,’ deathless in its influence and one of the ‘immortals.’

Note. Several phrases in this article were written in broken English dialect. This was a common writing style of writers doing enslavement. Severe punishment was the penalty for enslaved persons caught trying to learn how to read and write. Article retyped because of blurred text. Not necessarily for research but perhaps as a window into the past and everyday life of Harriet Tubman in Auburn.





     Exercises in Honor of Heroine of Civil War Times to Be Held in Auditorium Tonight—Mayor Brister to Accept Tablet on Behalf of City—Doctor Washington to Arrive This Afternoon.


     Booker T. Washington, who will deliver an address at the unveiling of the Harriet Tubman Davis memorial in this Auditorium this evening, will arrive in this city at 5:25 o’clock this afternoon. He so wired C.G. Adams, secretary of the Business Men’s Association last evening, from Chicago. Doctor Washington will come here directly from the latter place and as he will have to make close connections to catch the afternoon train at Rochester, Mr. Adams asked the Central officials to hold the train on the Auburn branch for him in case he met with delay. This will be done, Mr. Adams was promised.

     Doctor Washington will be met by a committee and taken at once to The Birches, where he will be the guest of Mr. and Mrs. E. Clarence Aiken, during his stay in the city. They will give a luncheon in his honor Saturday at 1 o’clock.

     Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock the distinguished visitor will attend a reception given by the colored people of the city at the First M.E. Church in his honor. At this reception Mary B. Talbert, the president of the Colored Women’s Federation of the Empire State, also will be a guest of honor.  Saturday night Doctor Washington will speak in Skaneateles.  Sunday morning at the prison he will probably speak from the steps at the west end of the main hall. The scarlet fever quarantine making it impossible to speak in the prison. It will be an open air meeting. T.M. Osborne will take care of Doctor Washington while he is at the prison, it is announced. The visitor will speak later at Zion Church. Sunday night he will address a meeting at Geneva.

Program of Exercises.

     The memorial exercises tonight will be notable in character. The address of Doctor Washington will be but one of the features. There are many distinguished visitors in the city for the occasion and the colored people of the country and their friends are cognizant of the event which is to honor the name and perpetuate the memory of the noble woman who did so much for the men and women of her race when they needed a helping hand. Harriet Tubman’s activities to better the conditions of the freed slaves following the war and her tireless efforts during the war to guide refugees from the South to safety are well known. A notable audience is expected to witness the memorial exercises this evening.  E. Clarence Aiken will preside and Mayor Brister will accept the tablet on behalf of the city.

     The Festival Chorus will sing and a number of other attractive features are on the program. A beautiful twelve page souvenir booklet will be presented to each person who contributes the price of admission, 25 cents.  The receipts will go toward the balance required to pay the expenses connected with the unveiling of the memorial.

     “Many have contributed to the fund and a good many more have not,” said the secretary of the Business Men’s Association. “All should go tonight and encourage the committee that has worked so hard to bring the project to so satisfactory a termination.  Auburn is getting the public spirit, but we need more of it. Other memorials of a similar character should follow this one and they will if the citizens of Auburn will give these efforts the encouragement they are worthy of.”

     The chorus held its rehearsal last evening with the orchestra and some fine music can be expected tonight. This will be the last appearance this season of the Festival Chorus.

     The theater boxes are all taken for this evening except the top tiers which will probably be disposed of before evening. The Boy Scouts will have seats reserved for them in the gallery, and the colored organizations, St. Peters’s Lodge, No. 3,970, G. U. O. of O. F. and the Rizpah Household of Ruth, will attend in a body and a section of the Auditorium has been reserved for their use.  Except for these reservations the seats are unreserved.

Doctor Washington to Be Principal Speaker.

      Dr. Booker T. Washington who delivered the oration at the Tubman Memorial exercises this evening at the Auditorium is equally as noted as a writer as a gifted orator. Some of the books from his pen are “Up from Slavery,” “Sowing and Reaping.”  “Future of American Negro,”  “Character Building” and other books.  In his autobiography he says:

     “The first knowledge that I got of the fact that we were slaves and that freedom of slaves was being discussed, was early one morning before daylight, when I was awakened by my mother kneeling over her children and fervently praying that Lincoln and his armies might be successful and that one day she and her children might go free. I cannot remember a single instance during my childhood or early boyhood when our family sat down to the table together, and God’s blessing was asked and the family ate a meal in a civilized manner. The first pair of shoes I recall wearing were wooden ones.

     “In the part of Virginia where I lived it was common to use flax as a part of the clothing for slaves. A flax shirt is almost equal to the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burs in contact with his flesh. Even to this day I recall the torture I underwent when putting on one of these garments, and until I had grown to be quite a youth, this single garment was all that I wore. My brother John would sometimes generously put it on when I had a new one and wear it for a few days until it was ‘broken in.’ I had a feeling when a boy that to get into a schoolhouse and study would be about the same as getting into paradise.

Ambition of Doctor Washington

     “Years ago I resolved that because I had no ancestry myself I would leave a record of which my children would be proud and which might encourage them to still higher effort.  I have learned that success is not to be measured so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.  How often I have wanted to say to white students that they lift themselves up in proportion as they help to lift others. I have found that the happiest people are those who do the most for others.  No man whose vision is bounded by color can come into contact with what is highest and best in the world.” 


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