Chapters 1–6

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, escaped to freedom, and worked to liberate countless other enslaved people. Learn more about Tubman's life by reviewing these words from Ann Petry's acclaimed biography.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. quell
    suppress or crush completely
    The local militia and Federal troops were called in to quell this unplanned and unrehearsed insurrection.
  2. ebb
    the outward flow of the tide
    In these streams the ebb and flow of the tide is visible for miles inland—hence the name Tidewater Maryland.
  3. cultivated
    prepared for raising crops by plowing or fertilizing
    Beyond this lay the fields, the clear cultivated land bordered by the forest.
  4. crude
    not carefully or expertly made
    There was a crude fireplace with one or two black iron pots standing in front of it.
  5. hearth
    an open recess in a wall where a fire can be built
    The hearth was merely a continuation of the dirt floor.
  6. manumit
    free from slavery or servitude
    If they were faithful and hardworking, the master would set them free, manumit them, when he died.
  7. covert
    secret or hidden
    This was said with a covert glance at the tiny new baby, Minta or Minty, who lay close by Old Rit’s side, in a corner of the cabin.
  8. dispirited
    showing no enthusiasm
    One of the sad dispirited slaves said that freedom lay only in death.
  9. recalcitrant
    stubbornly resistant to authority or control
    To the slaves those words, sold South, sold down the river, carried the sound of doom. The master used it as a threat to recalcitrant slaves.
  10. vigor
    forceful exertion
    Though she was very old, she could still switch a small child with vigor, using a tough young shoot from a black gum tree, to enforce obedience.
  11. haphazard
    without care; in a slapdash manner
    The children were fed in a haphazard fashion, a bit of corn bread here, a scrap of pork there; occasionally they received a cup of milk, sometimes potatoes.
  12. degrading
    characterized by dishonor
    He said that it was degrading for a colored man to bow to a white man.
  13. insurrection
    organized opposition to authority
    Finally, he planned an insurrection, in which he and his followers were to kill all the white people in Charleston, South Carolina, and free the slaves.
  14. servile
    relating to or involving slaves
    Two slaves standing talking would be whipped. They might be plotting servile insurrection, those long hard words that meant death to the master, death to the slave, too.
  15. surreptitiously
    in a secretive manner
    The summers were warm, and there were creeks and inlets and streams in the nearby woods where they could catch fish, surreptitiously, of course, because they weren’t supposed to.
  16. bequeath
    leave or give, especially by will after one's death
    The Latin dictionary was the first of thirteen thousand volumes which he would eventually buy and, at his death, bequeath to the Boston Public Library.
  17. incur
    receive a specified treatment
    Years later, Theodore Parker incurred the wrath of the pro-slavery forces in the country.
  18. prophesy
    predict or reveal, as if through divine inspiration
    The other slaves were rather in awe of Ben because he could prophesy about the weather.
  19. absolute
    perfect or complete or pure
    All through the plantation, from the Big House to the stables, to the fields, he had a reputation for absolute honesty.
  20. plague
    a swarm of insects that attack plants
    Rit told about Moses and the children of Israel, about how the sea parted so that the children walked across on dry land, about the plague of locusts, about how some of the children were afraid on the long journey to the Promised Land, and so cried out: “It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.”
  21. lilt
    a jaunty rhythm in music or speech
    Then came harvest, one of the best times of the year, when the big full moon lit the fields and the slaves worked late, singing songs that had a lilt in them, songs that were like a thanksgiving for the abundance of the crop.
  22. earthy
    of or consisting of or resembling the soil
    She knew and liked the damp earthy smell of the dirt floor, even though they slept on the floor, huddled under thin ragged blankets, aware of the chill.
  23. philippic
    a speech of violent denunciation
    His original draft of the Declaration contained a “vehement philippic against Negro slavery.”
  24. unalienable
    incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another
    But these words were left intact: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
  25. incompatible
    not in harmonious or agreeable combination
    This idea, part of Jefferson's legacy to America, written down in one of the country's noblest documents, was incompatible with the idea of legalized slavery.
  26. skiff
    a small boat propelled by oars or by sails or by a motor
    As she walked the length of Cook’s trap line she saw an occasional gunning skiff, heard the wild free crying of the water birds, watched them fly up, wings spread wide.
  27. musky
    resembling the smell of a deer secretion or odorous perfume
    They had an unpleasant musky smell but she still didn’t like to see them held fast in the traps.
  28. timbre
    the distinctive property of a complex sound
    It lent an added timbre to her speaking voice.
  29. plantation
    an estate where cash crops are grown on a large scale
    She did not know how to reach the Brodas plantation, did not know in which direction to walk, assuming that she could have got away from the house.
  30. interminable
    tiresomely long; seemingly without end
    It had seemed an interminable journey when the overseer brought her to Miss Susan’s in a wagon.
  31. stipulation
    a restriction insisted upon as a condition for an agreement
    After five months had gone by, the Canadians said: “It is utterly impossible to agree to a stipulation for the surrender of fugitive slaves.”
  32. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Old Rit sniffed her contempt for Miss Susan when she saw Minta.
  33. wallow
    a puddle where animals go to roll around
    She was as filthy as though she’d been living in a hog wallow, and her neck and back were covered with scars, old scars crisscrossed with fresh ones from the beating Miss Susan and her husband had given her because she ran away.
  34. deftly
    in an agile manner
    She wound it around her head, deftly, smoothly, and then tied it in place, pulling the knots tight and hard.
  35. refractory
    stubbornly resistant to authority or control
    Sometimes this short, straight-backed young girl hummed under her breath, or sang, while she hoed the corn or tugged on the reins when a refractory mule refused to budge.
  36. relish
    vigorous and enthusiastic enjoyment
    The slaves told it with relish, the masters with distaste.
  37. deliver
    free from harm or evil
    On the night of August 20, 1831, he said to six of his followers: “Our race is to be delivered from bondage, and God has appointed us as the men to do His bidding
  38. dread
    fearful expectation or anticipation
    The slaveholders lived in dread because the most faithful house slave might at any moment become another Nat, attacking the master, in the dead of night, with no warning.
  39. emancipation
    freeing someone from the control of another
    The subject of slavery was introduced because some of the counties, alarmed by the Nat Turner insurrection, had petitioned for the gradual emancipation of the slaves or for abolition of slavery.
  40. tyranny
    dominance through threat of punishment and violence
    “We talk of freedom while slavery exists in the land, and speak with horror of the tyranny of the Turk; but we foster an evil which the best interests of the community require shall be removed and to which we trace the cause of the depression of eastern Virginia.”
Created on October 14, 2015 (updated July 16, 2018)

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