Best known as: A leader in the Underground Railroad
Where did Harriet Tubman grow up?
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland. Historians think she was born in 1820, or possibly 1821, but birth records weren't kept by most enslavers. Her birth name was Araminta Ross, but she took the name of her mother, Harriet, when she was thirteen.
Life as a Slave
Life as an enslaved person was difficult. Harriet first lived in a one-room cabin with her family that included eleven children. When she was only six years old, she was loaned out to another family where she helped take care of a baby. She was sometimes beaten and all she got to eat was table scraps.
Harriet Tubman by H. Seymour Squyer
Later Harriet worked a number of jobs on the plantation such as plowing fields and loading produce into wagons. She became strong doing manual labor that included hauling logs and driving oxen.
At the age of thirteen Harriet received a horrible head injury. It happened when she was visiting the town. An enslaver tried to throw an iron weight at one of his enslaved, but hit Harriet instead. The injury nearly killed her and caused her to have dizzy spells and blackouts for the rest of her life.
The Underground Railroad
During this time there were states in the northern United States where slavery was outlawed. The enslaved in the South would try to escape to the North using the Underground Railroad. This wasn't a real railroad. It was a number of safe homes (called stations) that hid the enslaved as they traveled north. The people that helped enslaved people along the way were called conductors. The enslaved would move from station to station at night, hiding in the woods or sneaking onto trains until they finally reached the north and freedom.
In 1849 Harriet decided to escape. She would use the Underground Railroad. After a long and scary trip she made it to Pennsylvania and was finally free.
Leading Others to Freedom
In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This meant that the formerly enslaved could be taken from free states and returned to their owners. In order to be free, formerly enslaved people now had to escape to Canada. Harriet wanted to help others, including her family, to safety in Canada. She joined the Underground Railroad as a conductor.
Harriet became famous as an Underground Railroad conductor. She led nineteen different escapes from the south and helped around 300 of the enslaved to escape. She became known as "Moses" because, like the Moses in the Bible, she led her people to freedom.
Harriet was truly brave. She risked her life and freedom to help others. She also helped her family, including her mother and father, to escape. She was never caught and never lost one of the enslaved.
The Civil War
Harriet's bravery and service did not end with the Underground Railroad, she also helped during the Civil War. She helped to nurse injured soldiers, served as a spy for the north, and even helped on a military campaign that led to the rescue of over 750 enslaved people.
Later in Life
After the Civil War, Harriet lived in New York with her family. She helped poor and sick people. She also spoke out on equal rights for blacks and women.
Interesting Facts about Harriet Tubman
Her nickname as a child was "Minty".
She was a very religious woman having learned about the Bible from her mother.
Harriet bought a house in Auburn, New York for her parents after helping them to escape from the south.
Harriet married John Tubman in 1844. He was a free black man. She married again in 1869 to Nelson Davis.
She usually worked the Underground Railroad in the winter months when the nights were longer and people spent more time indoors.
There is a story that slaveholders offered a reward of $40,000 for the capture of Harriet Tubman. This is likely just a legend and not true.
Harriet was very religious. When she led fugitives across the border she would exclaim "Glory to God and Jesus, too. One more soul is safe!"