Harriet Tubman

American abolitionist and humanitarian

A great American icon, a bondwoman with exceptional qualities who was ‘Moses of her people’. She inspired countless people from every race and background.

Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to freedom in the North in 1849. But, she risked her own life and returned to lead family members and other slaves to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad, all while carrying a bounty on her head. The Underground Railroad was a lifeline for slaves escaping to freedom, and Harriet Tubman was one of its most famous “conductors” and she never lost a slave.

Harriet Tubman remained active during the Civil War. She worked for the Union Army as a cook, a nurse, an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.

After the Civil War ended, Tubman dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly. On March 10, 1913, Harriet Tubman died of pneumonia. She was buried with military honors in the Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery, in New York. USA.

Name:   Harriet  Tubman
Born:   15 March 1822
Star Sign: Pisces
Died:   10 March 1913
Birthplace: Dorchester County,
Country: Maryland (MD) United States
DetailsOther Names
Araminta, Minty, Moses
Ross Ben Ross
Harriet (Rit) Greene
John Tubman (m. 1844–1851) Nelson Davis (m. 1869; his death 1888)
Gertie (adopted)

Harriet Tubman was born, Araminta 'Minty' Ross to slave parents, Harriet Rit Green and Ben Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her exact date of birth is unknown, but it is believed about March 15, 1822. Harriet was one of nine children owned by Mary Brodess and Benjamin Ross - owned by Anthony Thomson.

At 5 years-old, young Harriet was frequently hired out by Brodess to nearby farmers, some of whom were cruel and negligent. One of her job was a nursemaid where she was violently and frequently beaten if she let the baby cry. She bore the scars of their whippings for the rest of her life. She was also hired to set muskrat traps. Because of the nature of the job, she fell ill and was sent back to Brodess.

Physical and Spiritual Experiences
Physical violence was a part of daily life for Harriet and her family. Early in her life, she suffered a severe head wound when she was hit by a heavy metal weight aimed at a runaway slave. The injury caused disabling epileptic seizures, headaches, powerful visions and dream experiences which occurred throughout her life.

As an illiterate child, Harriet heard Bible stories from her mother and acquired a passionate faith in God. Her faith in God gave her the strength to guide slaves later to freedom.

As Harriet grew older, she was assigned to field and forest work - driving oxen, plowing and hauling logs. Some of her siblings were sold to distant plantations, severing her family. Once a trader from Georgia wanted to buy her brother, Moses but Harriet's mother successfully resisted the further fracturing of her family, setting a powerful example for Harriet.

By the time Harriet reached adulthood, about half of the African-American slaves on the eastern shore of Maryland were free. It was not unusual for a family to include both free and enslaved people as did Harriet's immediate family.

Marriage and Name Changed
By 1840, Harriet's father Ben, was to be freed from slavery once he reaches the age of 45 as stipulated in his former owner's will. But, the Thompson family would not honour the will and so he remained a slave. Harriet's mother Rit and any children born to her after she reached 45 years of age were also legally free, but the Pattison and Brodess ignored this.

In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named, John Tubman. She changed her name from Araminta to Harriet, to honour her mother and took on her husband's surname, Tubman. But, the union was complicated because of her slave status.

Escape to Freedom
In 1849, Harriet became ill, which diminished her value as a slave. Brodess tried to sell her, but could not find a buyer. Angry at this, Harriett decided to escape. That year, she fled alone, leaving behind her husband and family. She followed the North Star by night, making her way to Pennsylvania then to Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, Tubman worked odd jobs and saved money to help free her family from slavery. In 1850, The U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, where heavy fines and punishments were imposed on anyone who abetted the escape of runaway slaves.

Dangerous Missions
After achieving her freedom, Tubman, in her late twenties, joined the Underground Railroad and learned all routes to free territory. Once accepted as an official conductor, Tubman started working with Quaker abolitionist, Thomas Garret and Frederick Douglass to free others.

She gave specific instructions to fugitives who escaped to the north. Tubman's work was dangerous and required tremendous ingenuity and techniques. She kept plans and movements to herself and always traveled by night; followed the North Star; escape during winter months; carried a drug for crying babies and she carried a gun for protection and to threaten any fugitives that would endanger their escape.

The Moses of Her People
Despite a bounty on her head, Tubman returned many times to lead her family and hundreds of other slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad network. One challenging journey was to rescued her 70 year-old parents. In 1851, she returned for her husband but, he refused to leave and chose to stay with his new wife.

Harriet Tubman became known as 'Moses' or the 'Mother of the Underground Railroad.' About her sojourns, Tubman merely said, 'In all my journeys, I never lost a single passenger or allowed one to turn back.' Little wonder she was regarded as the heroine of runaways.

During the Civil War
Tubman’s career in the Underground Railroad ended in 1860. After the outbreak of the Civil War, the government called upon her to go south and assist the Union Army. She helped escaped slaves form regiments of black soldiers. For three years, she cooked for the army, nursed sick and wounded soldiers in Florida and the Carolinas back to health.

Her most important mission was to setup an information network of black scouts and spies. Because of her skills in operations, she led several missions. She became a guerrilla warfare leader and successfully led the Combahee River raid. For three years of service to the Union Army, Tubman was paid a total of $200. It took 34 years when she was 78 years-old, before she received her veteran’s compensation that she had applied for. And it happened only after President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward’s intervention.

Later Life and Legacy
In 1857, Harriet Tubman bought seven acres of land and a house in Auburn, New York. It was a haven for Taubman’s family and others who needed refuge. In 1869, Tubman married a Civil War veteran named. Nelson Davis and adopted six year-old, Gertie.

Despite Harriet’s fame and reputation, she was never financially secure as she continued to give freely. In 1903, she donated a parcel of her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn to be converted into a home for the 'aged and indigent coloured people.' The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened on the site in 1908.

In honor of her life and by popular demand, in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill.

Marriage and Family
Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman married a free man, John Tubman. As a slave, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue others including her husband, John, but he had married another. In 1869, she married Nelson Davis, and adopted her daughter, Gertie.

Tubman’s code name was “Moses” and she was illiterate her entire life.

She suffered from narcolepsy. A head injury she had would often cause her to go into sleeping spells and was difficult for her to be woken.

Her work as “Moses” was serious business. She and her escapees slept in swamps and moved only at night.

She planned the escape carefully and secretly. She never lost a slave.

Tubman was a Union scout during the American Civil War. She also served as a nurse, cook, and spy to Federal troops from 1862 to 1865.

She cured dysentery. Tubman's knowledge of the local flora in Maryland led her to find a cure for Union troops suffering from dysentery. She also helped relieve symptoms of Chicken Pox, Cholera, and Yellow Fever.

She was the first woman to lead a combat assault. Tubman led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863. She led Union riverboats through Confederate torpedo traps, freeing 750 slaves and dropping off Union troops. She didn’t lose a single troop.

She had brain surgery to fix her sleep problems. She refused anesthesia. She opted instead to chew on a bullet, just like Civil War soldiers did when they had a limb amputated.

March 10, the day of Tubman's demise is observed as the Harriet Tubman Day in the United States. Many important institutes across the US have been named after Harriet Tubman.

Tubman was a strong advocate of women’s right to vote. In the 1890s, she worked for the cause of women’s suffrage.

"I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

"I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other."

"Twant me, 'twas the Lord. I always told him, 'I trust to you. I don't know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,' and He always did."

"Slavery is the next thing to hell."

"Never wound a snake; kill it."

"The Lord who told me to take care of my people meant me to do it just as long as I live, and so I did what he told me."

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

"I grew up like a neglected weed - ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it."

"God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens; He gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free."


By 1911, Harriet Tubman's health had deteriorated. She was admitted to the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. On March 10, 1913, Tubman passed away from pneumonia. Her long, historic life ended peacefully at about 93 years old. She was entombed at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York, USA. The rituals of her burial were performed with military honours.

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