1820 - 1913
Harriet Ross was born in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1820.
Her parents were from the Ashanti tribe of West Africa, and they
worked as slaves on the Brodas plantation. In addition to
producing lumber, Edward Brodas raised slaves to rent and sell.
Life was difficult on the plantation, and Harriet was hired out
as a labourer by the age of 5.
Harriet did not like to work indoors, and she was routinely
beaten by her masters. By her early teens, Harriet was no longer
allowed to work indoors and was hired out as a field hand. She
was a hard worker but considered defiant and rebellious. When
she was 15 years old, Harriet tried to help a runaway slave. The
overseer hit her in the head with a lead weight, which put
Harriet in a coma. It took months for her to recover, and for
the rest of her life, Harriet suffered from blackouts.
In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman.
Harriet remained a slave, but she was able to stay in Tubman's
cabin at night. Although she was married, Harriet lived in fear
of being shipped to the deep South, a virtual death sentence for
any slave. In 1849, her fears were realized when the owner of
the Brodas plantation died and many of the slaves were scheduled
to be sold. After hearing of her fate, Harriet planned to escape
that very night. She knew her husband would expose her, so the
only person she informed was her sister.
Harriet made the 90 mile trip to the Mason-Dixon line with the
help of contacts along the Underground Railroad. She had to hike
through swamps and woodland. Harriet's trip was successful, and
she settled in Philadelphia. She worked as a dishwasher and made
plans to rescue her family. The next year, Harriet travelled
back to Maryland and rescued her sister's family. She then
returned to transport her brothers to the North. She went back
for her husband, but he had remarried and did not want to follow
her. In 1857, Harriet finally returned for her parents and
settled them in Auburn, New York.
By this time, Harriet was becoming quite well known and huge
rewards were offered for her capture. Harriet was the master of
disguise A former master did not even recognize her when they
ran into each other on the street. She was nicknamed the "Moses
of her people" for leading them to freedom. In all, Harriet made
19 trips on the Underground Railroad and freed more than 300
With the arrival of the Civil War, Harriet became a spy for the
Union army. She later worked in Washington DC as a government
nurse. Although Harriet won admiration from the military, she
did not receive a government pension for more than 30 years. At
the end of the war, Harriet returned to her parents in Auburn.
She was extremely poor and the profits of a book by Sarah
Bradford entitled Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman,
published in 1869 were a financial great help.
In 1870, Harriet married Nelson Davis, who she had met at a
South Carolina army base. They were happily married for 18 years
until Davis' death. In 1896, Harriet purchased land to build a
home for sick and needy blacks. However, she was unable to raise
enough money to build the house and ultimately gave the land to
the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The church
completed the home in 1908, and Harriet moved there several
years later. She spent her last years in the home telling
stories of her life to visitors. On March 10, 1913, Harriet died
of pneumonia. She was 93 years old.
Harriet Tubman was not afraid to fight for the rights of
African-Americans. Her story is one of dedication and
inspiration. During her lifetime Harriet was honoured by many
people. In 1897, her bravery even inspired Queen Victoria to
award her a silver medal.
Harriet Ross Tubman (ca. 1820-1913) was a black American who, as
an agent for the Underground Railroad, a clandestine escape
route used to smuggle slaves to freedom in the North and Canada,
helped hundreds flee captivity.
Born in Dorchester County, Md., in the early 1820s, Harriet Ross
was a slave child who suffered the usual hardships of black
children during the period of Southern slavery. Her wasted youth
of hard work, no education, and sometimes harsh punishment led,
predictably, to a desire to escape slavery. In 1848, with two
brothers (who later became frightened and returned), she ran
away, leaving her husband, John Tubman, a free man who had
threatened to expose her, behind.
During the next 10 years Harriet Tubman returned to the South 20
times to help approximately 300 slaves, including her own
parents, to escape. Using a complicated system of way stations
on the route from the South to Canada, she is believed never to
have lost a charge. In 1850 the Federal Fugitive Slave Law was
reinforced with a clause that promised punishment to anyone who
aided an escaping slave. In addition, a price of $40, 000 was
set for Tubman's capture. Thus she began transporting some
slaves past the North to refuge in Canada.
Tubman supported John Brown's insurrection. Deeply disappointed
after it failed, she began an intensive speaking tour in 1860,
calling not only for the abolition of slavery, but also for a
redefinition of woman's rights. In 1861, when the Civil War
began, she served as a nurse, spy, and scout for the Union
forces. Well acquainted with the countryside from her days as a
"conductor" on the Underground Railroad, she was considered
especially valuable as a scout.
After the war, owing to government inefficiency and racial
discrimination, Harriet Tubman was denied a pension and had to
struggle financially for the rest of her life. To ease this
pressure, Sarah Bradford wrote a biography of Miss Tubman
(1869), and the profits from its sales were given to her. A
friend of many of the great figures of the day, she did finally
receive a small pension from the U.S. Army. Meanwhile, she
In 1857 Harriet Tubman had bought a house in Auburn, N.Y. During
her last years she turned it into a home for the aged and needy.
She died there on March 10, 1913, leaving the home as a monument
to her character and will.
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This web page was last updated on:
16 December, 2008