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Harriet Tubman Biography

Harper's Ferry and the Civil War Begins

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John Brown

Harriet Tubman met abolitionist John Brown while living in Canada in 1858. She claimed to have had visions and dreams of John Brown prior to meeting him. Brown had big plans to end slavery in the South. He would start a revolution among the enslaved and they would fight for their freedom. Like Harriet he had a strong faith in God and believed that slavery was evil. After years of fighting slavery, Brown had come to the conclusion that only violence could bring about its end.

Harriet and John Brown became friends and allies. Brown looked at Harriet as one of his more important recruits and dubbed her "General Tubman." Harriet provided Brown with anti-slavery contacts in Maryland and Virginia in addition to information about trails and escape routes through the region. She also recruited potential soldiers from the escaped enslaved in Canada and spoke in New England to help Brown raise money for his raid.

Drawing of Harriet standing and holding a gun
Harriet Tubman
Source: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman
Harper's Ferry

After significant planning, John Brown commenced his raid on the Harper's Ferry arsenal on October 16, 1859. He planned to take the arsenal and then arm the local enslaved people in revolt. He was sure that thousands of the enslaved would revolt once he had control of the arsenal. Brown had been unable to convince abolitionist Frederick Douglass to join his rebellion and Harriet Tubman had become ill, making it impossible for her to join. As a result, Brown only had around 22 men with him on the raid.

The raid began well, but ended in disaster. Brown took the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, but didn't get any local support. Brown and his men were soon surrounded by a company of U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Many of Brown's men were killed. Brown was captured and sentenced to death.

Harriet would later say of Brown's sacrifice that "He done more in dying, than 100 men would in living."

Auburn, New York

In 1859, Harriet and her parents moved to Auburn, New York where she purchased a home from Senator William Seward. This was a dangerous move for Harriet as the Fugitive Slave Act was still in place, but she was defiant and confident that she could continue to elude capture. In addition, Harriet was familiar with Auburn as it was a hub of the Underground Railroad and a reasonably safe place for escaped enslaved people.

Civil War Begins

Although John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a military disaster, it did bring attention in the North to the cause of slavery in the South. For the next year or so, Harriet continued her missions to the South, but was eventually convinced by fellow abolitionists that she was more valuable speaking and gathering support against slavery in the North.

As the tide began to swing against slavery, a candidate for president from the new Republican Party rose to prominence. His name was Abraham Lincoln. In November of 1860, Lincoln was elected president. His stance against slavery angered the South and in April of 1861 the Civil War began with the Battle of Fort Sumter.

Once the Civil War broke out, Harriet immediately wanted to help. Her first stop during the war was at Fort Monroe in Virginia. Harriet helped wherever she could working as a cook, laundress, and nurse at the fort. She also helped newly arrived runaway enslaved people (called "contraband") to acclimate to their new lives.

Soon, however, Harriet's skills and knowledge would be put to use in the battle for freedom.

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Harriet Tubman Biography Contents
  1. Overview and Interesting Facts
  2. Born into Slavery
  3. Early Life as an Enslaved Person
  4. Wounded!
  5. Dreaming About Freedom
  6. The Escape!
  7. The Underground Railroad
  8. Freedom and the First Rescue
  9. The Conductor
  10. The Legend Grows
  11. Harper's Ferry and the Civil War Begins
  12. Life as a Spy
  13. Life After the War
  14. Later Life and Death
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Harriet Tubman
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Works Cited

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