Remembering Harriet Tubman’s Raid on the Combahee @GullahGeechee

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by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

Woke up dis mawnin wid my mind, stayed pun freedum! is ringing in my soul today because that is what my spirit has been moving to since I awakened.  I rose early in order to finish my work online and proceed out to my work in the field.  I also didn’t want to miss the meeting of the Friends of Fort Fremont because this particular fort has been a space that I connected to when my family first told me that we had a fort on my home island of St. Helena.  Not long after that, I worked with someone who was then a journalist in Beaufort County, SC to bring enlightenment and awareness to this historic treasure that was beneath graffiti and vines at the island’s end.  Given that the fort had not been active in ages, destructioneers had set their eyes on the area that encompassed it and wanted to subdivide it into lots and create a planned unit development.  So, we needed to act to insure that this place and space was remembered, restored, and not demolished.  The county heard the firing off of the letters and emails and the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Board purchased this historic space for everyone to learn from and enjoy.

The Friends of Fort Fremont have now assembled to build an interpretive center at the location of the fort.  I listened closely to every word of its story on this historic date that tends to unfortunately go by without the history  of it being told much less having it interpreted at historic spaces and placed on kiosk for others to be aware of.  June 2nd is the date that Mama Moses Harriet Ross Tubman also known as “General Tubman” worked shoulder to shoulder with Colonel Montgomery as they led the “Combahee River Raid” just up the road a piece and along the waters that now flow under the only bridge in the world named in her honor.

I thought about the many awards that I have been presented with bearing Harriet Tubman’s name and image.  I remembered when I first uncovered the records of her living in the City of Beaufort, SC and having a laundry co-op and a bakery.  I remember when it appeared that no one else knew or took much interest in this aspect of Beaufort history, but me.  I remember being a re-enactor in the parade in Beaufort and I walked as Harriet Tubman along side two men who were there to portray Nathaniel Heyward and Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls.  We ended the parade teaching the children at Beaufort Elementary who each of these people were and their significance to our county and to the history of America.  I remember going home each of those times with songs in my soul.

3345f3491e324332d7428527f0e90d86As I continued to work with other historians around the country to get the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom established, we continued to discuss the strength and multifaceted roles of Harriet Tubman and how these have been down played and ignored.  We would no longer allow her significance to be ignored!  So, we pushed on as she would have done and finally we got the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom established and proceeded with getting her recognized nationally via the Harriet Tubman Study as well.  The study now gave us a chance to revisit all that I had uncovered before and to bring it to the table with the records of her work in Maryland and New York.

As more and more pages were amassed about this powerful woman, amongst these were the records of what took place on June 2, 1863.  On this date, Harriet Tubman became the first woman to plan and guide a significant armed raid during the United States Civil War. Harriet Tubman and the 2nd Regiment South Carolina Volunteer Infantry which was an all Black regiment that contained many native Gullah/Geechees destroyed millions of dollars worth of Confederate supplies and freed close to 800 people from bondage in the rice fields along the river which divides Beaufort and Colleton Counties today.

According to the dispatch which appeared on the front page of a Boston newspaper called, The Commonwealth on Friday, July 10, 1863:

Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemy’s country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton and lordly dwellings, and striking terror into the heart of rebeldom, brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch. It was a glorious consummation. 

After they were all fairly well disposed of in the Beaufort charge, they were addressed in strains of thrilling eloquence by their gallant deliverer, to which they responded in a song. “There is a white robe for thee,” a song so appropriate and so heartfelt and cordial as to bring unbidden tears. 

The Colonel was followed by a speech from the black woman, who led the raid and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted. For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created a great sensation… 

Since the rebellion she had devoted herself to her great work of delivering the bondman, with an energy and sagacity that cannot be exceeded. Many and many times she has penetrated the enemy’s lines and discovered their situation and condition, and escaped without injury, but not without extreme hazard.

Mama Moses Harriet Tubman surveyed the area herself as she was known to do as the true scout that she was.  She was willing to lead the 150 “Negro troops” in the raid as long as Colonel Montgomery was in charge of it.  According to “Scenes in  the Life of Harriet Tubman” (p. 39.):

The Combahee strategy was formulated by Harriet Tubman as an outcome of her penetrations of the enemy lines and her belief that the Combahee River countryside was ripe for a successful invasion.  She was asked by General Hunter “if she would go with several gunboats up the Combahee River, the object of the expedition being to take up the torpedoes placed by the rebels in the river, to destroy railroads and bridges, and to cut off supplies from the rebel troops. She said she would go if Col. Montgomery was to be appointed commander of the expedition…Accordingly, Col. Montgomery was appointed to the command, and Harriet, with several men under her, the principal of whom was J. Plowden…accompanied the expedition.”

megan-africanamericanwomen-image-combahee-river-raid

The success that this united force had together turned the tide of the Civil War and allowed Harriet Tubman and the troops to return to Beaufort County, SC.  Although they never provided her an appropriate military title after this, we could easily call her “Colonel Tubman” since that was the leading role that she played in this triumphant journey up the river.   Accounts of that day even state that she also made her way to her station at my home island of St. Helena.  So, it is not surprising that the flow of the tide onto St. Helena’s shores awoke me this morning with songs of freedom in my mind just as Colonel Mama Moses Harriet Tubman sang a song of freedom upon the Combahee.  I pray that these sounds from our souls get into the hearts and the minds of others.  Not another day should sail by without the story of her outstanding role as a soldier that went to the front lines for the freedom of our people-of Gullah/Geechee people-is told!  Like the fort, Harriet Tubman’s story still stands strong and the songs of freedom flow on!

Tenki Tenki Colonel Mama Moses Harriet Ross Tubman!


Tune in to the Gullah/Geechee TV coverage of the celebration in honor of 150 years after the Combahee River Raid:

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