During her long life, which began in slavery and saw her free herself and hundreds of others via the Underground Railroad, Tubman exhibited these principals:
- Stoke your fervor. As a slave in Maryland, Tubman feared being sold deeper into the South, where the labor was much more difficult. She feared abuse from her owners. On the run, she feared being caught. Instead of freezing with fear, Tubman used it as a prod. She led 19 rescues — about one a year — helping some 300 slaves escape.
- Gin up a strategy. Tubman would stay in a new area until she’d won over local blacks, then alert them of an upcoming “train” north. She planned each escape fastidiously, including Saturday-night departures so they wouldn’t be written up in Monday’s newspaper.
- Outfox the enemy. Tubman would disguise herself as an old woman and carry a book to pretend she could read. (Her wanted posters noted that she was illiterate.) Sometimes, she’d borrow the master’s buggy for the first leg of a flight to feign running an errand.
She encouraged the use of her nickname—“ Moses”—because it duped some foes into believing she was a man.
- Use marketing. Tubman played up her “wanted” status, including a $40,000 reward for the capture of “Moses,” to generate money from wealthy abolitionists.
- Forge backup plans and improvise. Tubman would devise several escape routes plotted out in advance. But when plans melted away in the heat of pursuit, she made it up on the spot. Once, she and her escapees hid in a dung pile and breathed through straws.
- Lead by example. When two men objected to crossing a rushing stream, she hiked up her skirts and slogged to the opposite bank.
- Keep raising the bar. After the Civil War began, Tubman went to South Carolina to serve as a nurse, spy and guide. As a Union tracker, she helped free about 800 more slaves.
- Believe in your mission. Tubman so cherished her cause that she banished fear, saying, “The Lord will take care of me until my time comes.”