Harriet Tubman, Gunslinger


The Christmas program I wrote was performed last Friday night. It went okay! But the performers were not actors, and I realized some written stage direction was necessary.

Below is a snippet from one of the monologues.

In my head, Harriet is feisty, bold, charismatic. But that’s not the way she came across in the production.

I’ve never written a play before. How would you write stage directions? Character personality, emotion, delivery, etc. OR, which plays/screenplays would you recommend I read to get a feel for how it’s done?

It wasn’t long before I knew the mission the good Lord was calling me to. I was to go down, and maybe instead of telling old Pharaoh to let my people go, I could sneak ‘em a few at a time over the Jordan when the master wasn’t looking.

Harriet Tubman

The Underground operates mostly in the winter. We conductors’d go down, pick up our load of cargo on a Saturday night in the dead cold, when folks who’ve got houses stay in ‘em. Nobody knows they’re gone until Monday morning come, and by then we’d be miles up the railroad. If anybody did know what become of us, nobody breathed a word, even them good white folks who helped us along.

One trip I made, there was this fellow Thomas, and he took to doubting just like old Thomas in the scripture. He’d whine, and fuss, and I’d say, “Thomas, you shut that mouth until you got some praising to do in the Promised Land.” And he’d be quiet for a while, but then he’d get scared again, and say, “I’m going back. I can’t bear the thought of a beating. I can’t bear it.”

Now what I can’t bear is a coward. If Thomas went back, he’d tell everything he knew.

(Harriet pulls out her gun.)

So I pulled my revolver out of my pocket, walked over to where he was sitting against a tree, and with all them other men watching wide eyed, I put that gun up to Thomas’ head, and he looked so scared I thought he’d pass right out. And I said, “Thomas, you ain’t gonna die by your old master’s hand. You gonna die by mine.”

You mamas know what it’s like. You wield a wooden spoon at the children, knowing all along you don’t intend to beat nobody cause of you know how it is to be beat, but you also know if these men get antsy and turn back, all of ya might as well shoot yourselves now because ain’t nobody surviving a turncoat.

Moses in the Bible had his ten commandments on two tablets of stone, but this Moses got one commandment– thou shalt not run scared– and I got one way of keeping folks quiet on the road to the Promised Land. And you know, old Thomas didn’t say one more word until we got all the way to Canada, when finally he knew he was free and he begun singin’ and shoutin’. You never saw so much joy!


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