More on Harriet Tubman
In response to your review of Catherine Clinton's biography of Harriet Tubman (Jan 20), I would like to clarify a couple of factual errors. Based on an account record (located at the Maryland State Archives) of a payment to a midwife on March 15, 1822, for services rendered to Tubman's mother, Rit Greene, we now know that Harriet was born sometime during late February or early March 1822. Also, modern researchers now believe that Tubman suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, brought on by the severe blow she received to her head as a young teen, not narcolepsy.
While we may not know Tubman's innermost thoughts because she was illiterate (though there are several letters written for her by friends that are now preserved in various archives), there are hundreds of primary documents, including diaries, letters, and journals of many of Tubman's black and white friends, and other public and private records that give us an amazing view into Tubman's remarkable life, records which Clinton did not use. Many of these records can be found in Jean Humez's new biography, "Harriet Tubman: The Life and Life Stories" (University of Wisconsin), and my own recently released biography, "Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero" (Ballantine).
In fact, some of these records reveal that the woman Tubman became was not so much a function of "the radical abolition movement," as your reviewer suggested, but rather, the vibrant free and enslaved African-American community within which she was raised and nurtured, which ultimately succeeded in creating one of our nation's most remarkable freedom fighters and a true American hero.