Harriet Tubman

Early Life:

Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross, was a 19th century abolition activist, civil war nurse / spy and a renowned humanitarian. She was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland. Both her parents were slaves and together had nine children. At the age of six she was hired out by her family’s owner as a nursemaid to another family. Her job involved taking care of a baby in the family.

She also worked on a plantation of a white man named James Cook. During her stay at Cook’s plantation, Harriet contracted malaria and became so ill that she was sent back to her owner by Cook. At the age of thirteen, she received a head injury which resulted in a lifelong medical condition that involved seizures and unconsciousness.

Escape from Slavery:

Harriet married John Tubman, a free black man in 1944. After her master died she was put up for sale by his family. Harriet escaped from slavery in 1849, using the famous Underground Railroad, a secret and organized movement that helped slaves in escaping to Free states or Canada through secret routes. She escaped to Pennsylvania and later made several trips to Maryland and helped many others escape, including her relatives.

She helped free almost 70 slaves in 13 different expeditions. She was so good at her job that she was never caught or lost a slave under her watch. Her reputation grew and many slave owners put reward on her capture. By now she had become a known activist of abolitionist movement. She even helped John Brown, the perpetrator of Harpers Ferry Raid, in planning his raid and recruiting men. She was also closely associated with famous writer, statesman and former slave Fredrick Douglass, who admired her courage and commitment to the cause of abolition.

Civil War:

During the civil war, Harriet Tubman fully supported the Union cause. She was convinced that for the slavery to end, Union must prevail over Confederation. She served Union in a variety of roles. Along with Union General David Hunter, a staunch abolitionist, she freed many slaves. She also served as a nurse and tended to wounded and sick Union soldiers. She also was a Union spy and directly participated in combat. She was the first woman to lead an armed assault during Combahee Raid and freed some 750 slaves.

Later Life:

After the war ended, Harriet returned to her estate in Auburn, New York and took care of her parents and family. She also continued her humanitarian work and married a second time. Her second husband, Nelson Davis was a civil war veteran and was 22 years younger than her. She also worked for the women suffrage.

Tubman was not paid any pension for her services rendered during the civil war till 1899. She lived an impoverished life as she had to support many members of her family and participated in welfare oriented projects. She also donated a part of her estate to a church that built a home for aged in her name.


In her later years, Tubman became very weak and ill. She spent her last two years in a nursing home because she had become so frail that she needed round the clock care. Harriet died of pneumonia on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York. Tubman, though known and respected during her life, became much more famous after her death. Her contribution to the cause of civil rights, women suffrage and her service during civil war was widely acknowledged.