Friday, August 19, 2011

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad. She made a total of 19 trips between the north and the south over 10 years and brought 300 slaves to freedom, including her own family. Known as a fearless and determined conductor, Harriet risked her own life and freedom many times to give others the freedom they sought.


Harriet Tubman's name at birth was Araminta Ross. She was the 11th child of two slaves named Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene. Tubman's parents were the descendants of slaves brought from Africa in the mid-1700s. Harriet went by the nickname “Minty” in her youth and did not begin calling herself Harriett until she was an adult.

Harriet was born on a plantation owned by Edward Brodas near Bucktown, Maryland in 1819 or 1820. Her exact birth date is unknown because slave owners did not keep records of their slaves birth dates. At the age of six, Tubman began working as a house servant at a nearby plantation. Then at the age of 12 she was sent to work in the fields on Brodas' plantation. Tubman suffered a long-term brain injury as a teenager when an overseer knocked her to the floor after she tried to protect another slave from being beaten. Her injury caused her to faint and lose consciousness often.


In 1844, at the age of about 25, Harriet met a man named John Tubman. John was a freeman who lived in a nearby cabin. Harriet gained permission from her master to marry him and live in his cabin but she had to continue working for her master. Harriet worried she may one day be sold and her marriage would be split apart. She considered escaping with her husband and traveling north to a free state. John did not support this plan and said he wanted to stay in the south. When Harriet stated she would leave without him he threatened to tell her master.


In 1849, realizing her husband didn't support her dream of attaining freedom, she left him behind one night and headed north. With the assistance of a local abolitionist, Harriet was given the address of the closest station on the underground railroad. There she was hidden in a wagon and driven to her next destination. She continued following the underground railroad until she hitched a ride with a married couple who took her to Philadelphia. After reaching Philadelphia, Harriet later explained, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything ... and I felt like I was in heaven." Once in Philadelphia, Harriet found work cooking and cleaning and saved her money so she could return to Maryland and rescue her sisters and brothers.


Harriet met many station masters and conductors of the underground railroad while living in Philadelphia. She learned everything she could about how the system of safe houses worked and made her first trip back to Maryland in 1850 to rescue her sister and her sister's two children. Harriet sent a message for them to take a boat and meet her at Bodkin's Point in Maryland. From there, Harriet lead them from station to station along the underground railroad until they finally reached Philadelphia.
Wanted Poster for "Minty" AKA Harriet Tubman

Later that year, Harriet was made an official conductor on the underground railroad. She returned to Maryland again to rescue her two brothers. Harriet made her third trip in 1851 when she went to her husband's cabin to bring him north with her. She discovered her husband had remarried and did not want to return with her so she went to Thomas Garrett's house, a busy station on the underground railroad, and found slaves looking to head north. The recent Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 led to heightened security on the underground railroad and forced the slaves to head to Canada where slave masters could not follow them. Harriet led the slaves to Frederick Douglass' house, where they stayed until they saved enough money to reach Canada. Once in Canada, Harriet found work and continued to save money for future trips back south.

Harriet made 11 more trips between Maryland and Canada between the years 1852 and 1857. She carried a rifle during her trips which she used to threaten slaves who wanted to turn back. She also used tricks to prevent them from getting caught such as running away on a Saturday night so the runaway posters wouldn't be posted in the newspapers until Monday morning and sedating babies with a drug to prevent them crying and alerting slave hunters to their location.

Harriet quickly became a well-known conductor and by 1856 slave hunters put a price on her head of $40,000. Wanted posters with her face were posted all over the south but she continued to escape capture.

Harriet Tubman in 1885
By 1860, Harriet made 19 trips to the south and even rescued her own 70-year old parents from slavery. She earned the nickname “Moses” and “General Tubman” and was praised as one of the bravest people on earth.

Civil War

In the early part of the civil war, Harriet worked as a spy for the Union army. She helped identify potential targets for the Union army in South Carolina, such as cotton stores and ammunition storage areas. She then went to Virginia and nursed wounded soldiers back to health at the local hospital for black soldiers. After the war, she settled in Auburn, New York and published her autobiography, titled “Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People” with the help of a local school teacher in 1868.

In 1869, Harriet married a civil war veteran named Nelson Davis. Davis was half her age and met Harriet when he was a boarder living in her house. They remained married until he died of tuberculosis in 1888. The U.S. government denied Harriet a pension for her work as a spy nurse during the civil war but she earned a widow's pension when Davis passed away.

Harriet got involved in the suffragist movement in the 1890s and became a delegate for the National Association of Colored Women. In 1911, Harriet moved into a nursing home. Harriet died of pneumonia in 1913 and was given a full military funeral at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

Harriet Tubman with her 2nd husband and family
Harriet Tubman in 1911
Harriet Tubman's grave in 1915

 Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People”; Harriet Tubman; Sarah Bradford

America's Library: Harriet Tubman

University at Buffalo: Harriet Ross Tubman

Lakewood Public Library: Harriet Tubman

PBS: Harriet Tubman

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