Harriet Tubman (circa 1822March 10, 1913), was an African-American abolitionist. As an escaped slave, she made thirteen missions to rescue over seventy enslaved friends and family members to freedom in Canada using the Underground Railroad. During her lifetime, she worked as a lumberjack, laundress, nurse, and cook. As an abolitionist, she helped liberate scores of slaves, and inspired many more to do so independently. During the American Civil War, she was responsible for several roles such as intelligence gatherer, refugee organizer, raid leader, nurse, and fundraiser. Tubman was the first American woman to plan and lead a military operation.

Early lifeEdit

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, and she was the fifth of nine children: four boys (Robert, Ben, Henry, and Moses) and five girls (Linah, Mariah Ritty, Soph, Araminta, and Rachel), of Ben and Harriet "Rit" Green Ross. The Ross family lived a relatively stable family life on the large plantation of Anthony Thompson, south of Madison and Woolford in Dorchester County. Thompson owned Ben Ross, and was the step father to Edward Brodess who legally owned Rit and all of her children. When Edward came of age and left his step father's house sometime around 1823, he moved to his own small farm near Bucktown, separating Rit and the children from Ben. Young "Minty", as she was then called, rarely lived with her owner, Edward Brodess, but from the age of six was frequently hired out to other masters. She endured inhumane treatment from some masters, bearing the scars of beatings until she died at age 91. As a young teen she was nearly killed by a severe blow to her head from a dry goods store weight, thrown by an overseer who was attempting to capture another runaway slave. As a result of the severe blow, she suffered intermittent epileptic seizures for the remainder of her life. During this period Edward Brodess sold three of Harriet's sisters, Linah, Soph, and Mariah Ritty.

When she was a young adult, she took the name Harriet, possibly in honor of her mother or due to a religious conversion. Around 1844, she married John Tubman, a free black man. When she escaped from Maryland, he chose not to join her, but rather continued his free life in Dorchester County without her. John Tubman was killed during a roadside argument near Cambridge, Maryland in 1867.

Edward Brodess died in early March 1849, leaving behind his wife, Eliza Ann Brodess, and eight children. To pay her dead husband's mounting debts and to save her small farm from seizure, Eliza decided to sell some of the family's slaves. Fearing sale into the Deep South (this was considered a death sentence by Upper South slaves), Tubman took her emancipation into her own hands. On September 17, 1849, Tubman and two of her brothers, Ben and Henry, ran away. Overcome with apprehension and fear, they returned two or three weeks later. Harriet, however, was determined to have her freedom, so soon thereafter she fled on her own, leaving behind her aforementioned husband. On the way to freedom in Philadelphia, she was assisted by members of the Abolitionist movement, both black and white, who were instrumental in maintaining the regional branches of the Underground Railroad.

Called "Moses" by those she helped escape on the Underground Railroad, Tubman made many trips to Maryland to help family and friends escape. According to her estimates and those of her close associates, Tubman personally guided about 70 slaves to freedom in about 13 expeditions and gave instructions to approximately another 70 who found their way to freedom independently. She was never captured and, in her own words, "never lost a passenger." Her owner, Eliza Brodess, posted a $100 reward for her return, but no one ever knew that it was Harriet Tubman who was responsible for spiriting away so many slaves from Dorchester and Caroline counties in Maryland.

Tubman worked as a spy for the North during the American Civil War. Tubman was the first American woman to plan and lead a military operation, the raid at Combahee Ferry, in early June 1863. This raid freed over 750 slaves.

Tubman was successful in bringing away her parents and her four brothers — Ben, Robert, Henry, and Moses — but failed to rescue her sister Rachel, and Rachel's two children, Ben and Angerine. Rachel died in 1859 before Harriet could rescue her. Moses disappeared, but Robert, Ben, and Henry changed their names to John, James and William Henry Stewart, respectively, and lived the rest of their lives in the North.

I had crossed the line. I was free;
but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom.
I was a stranger in a strange land.

Post Civil WarEdit

She was an activist for African American and women's rights. With Sarah Bradford acting as her biographer and transcribing her stories, she was able to have a brief story of her life published in 1869 as Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. This was of considerable help to her financial state — she was not awarded a government pension for her military service until some 30 years after the fact. That same year she married Nelson Davis, another Civil War veteran. They lived together in the home she purchased in Auburn, New York, from her friend, United States Secretary of State William H. Seward. Tubman was surrounded by family and friends who chose to settle near her in Auburn, NY after the Civil War.


Eventually, because of arthritis and fragile health, Harriet Tubman moved into a home for sick and aged African Americans that she had helped found. It was built on land which she had purchased in 1896, abutting her own property in Auburn. She told stories of her adventures until her death on March 10, 1913. She was given a full military burial. In her honor, a memorial plaque was placed on the Cayuga County Courthouse in Auburn, NY. Harriet Tubman is honored every March 10, the day of her death. She is also commemorated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on that same day. In 1944, a US Liberty ship named the SS Harriet Tubman was launched.

On February 1, 1978, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Tubman, as part of its longrunning Black Heritage Series. Designed by Jerry Pinckney, the design includes both a portrait and a cart carrying slaves, adapted from a photograph. [1]


See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • Humez, Jean. Harriet Tubman: The Life and Life Stories. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 2003
  • Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.
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External links Edit

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