Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 40

Tubman stands as a prime example of the difficulty of creating accurate public and geographical tributes for historical figures whose deliberate intention to stay out of public view and record within a particular location was necessary for their survival. Tubman’s temporary status in Baltimore as a fugitive, as well as her illiteracy, make her unable to be completely and/or accurately portrayed in today's public realm. Scholars, therefore, must choose their own deliberative communicative routes when attempting to find proper "words" to address Tubman and other written voids in history. James A. McGowan and William C. Kashatus, authors of Harriet Tubman: A Biography, add details to recreate Tubman’s unwritten story, stating that “Kessiah’s husband, John Bowley, a free black ship carpenter, sent word to Harriet hoping to enlist her help” (28). 3 Obviously, “word” could have been oral and/or written, and “word” could have been received through a third party reader. 4 McGowan and Kashatus regularly draw from Larson’s Bound for the Promised Land, in describing how, “[s]heltered by a family in the free black enclave of Fell’s Point, Kessiah and her children were met by Harriet, who guided them safely [up the Chesapeake] to Philadelphia” (30). 5 Additional returns and rescues by Tubman from Baltimore are only briefly mentioned by McGowan and Kashatus, including a rescue “a few months later to bring [Tubman's] brother, Moses, and two other runaways to freedom” (30). In addition, McGowan and and Kashatus mention evidence of other Baltimore sites Tubman used for hiding refugees, such as the Orchard Street African Methodist Episcopal Church (43). Larson acknowledges her inability to accurately recount Tu bman's history through the repetitive use of “perhaps” and “likely” throughout her biography. While admitting the uncertainty of Tubman’s personal actions and words, Larson is certain in describing the Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument [A National Park Service Unit], the self-guided driving tour routes the places where Tubman grew up, worshiped, labored, and led others to freedom. 3 McGowan and Kashatus highlight the reason for Tubman’s entrance into Baltimore: the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which “allowed slave hunters to seize alleged fugitive slaves without due process of law and prohibited anyone from aiding escaped fugitives or obstructing their recovery” (“Fugitive Slave Law”). 4 “Word,” for Tubman, and for others who could not rely on a traditional literary system for safe communication, embodied a language not necessarily written not on paper, but within the private circles of friends and family members. 5 Baltimore, and Fell's Point in particular, was a (relatively) safer hiding place for Bowley and his family (compared to the Eastern Shore) because of its large free African American population, even though slavery was still in full practice in the city, as “[t]here [Bowley and his family] would circulate among the city’s 36,000 blacks— 29,000 of them free—and become indistinguishable to slave catchers and federal marshals alike” (McGowan and Kashatus 30). Forty years earlier Fell's Point had been labeled "a nest of pirates" by former British merchant ship captains ("Baltimore and the War of 1812"). McGowan and Kashatus explain that “[f]rom Baltimore, [Tubman] could continue north on the Chesapeake, secreted on a steamship by African American stewards, until she reached the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal” (43). 35