Harriet Tubman, who will soon be the first African-American to grace a U.S. currency note, spent her whole adult life raising money either to rescue slaves or help them start life afresh on free soil. While her abolitionist friends in the North were generous contributors to the cause, Tubman also self-funded her heroic raids through an activity she enjoyed and excelled at: cooking.
Tubman’s role as a professional cook, which provided her with a much-needed source of money in her long and poverty-stricken life, has often been overlooked.
Tubman was the daughter of a cook. Her mother, Rit Ross, worked in the “big house” on the plantation in Dorchester County, Md., where Tubman was raised. An early food-related incident is testimony to the future General Tubman’s strong-willed character. When she was about 6, Tubman was hired out to a neighboring farm – a common practice at the time – run by James and Susan Cook. When she got there, writes biographer Kate Clifford Larson in Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, the hungry little girl was so nervous in the company of a white family, she refused the milk offered by her new mistress.
“I was fond of milk as any young shoot,” Tubman later said to her first biographer, Sarah Bradford. “But all the time I was there I stuck to it, that I didn’t drink sweet milk.”
She spent almost two unhappy years with the family, during which she was regularly flogge…