Harriet Tubman was born into northern slavery in Maryland in 1820 and her sense of independence led her to escape in 1849. She devoted her life to helping to rescue other slaves, including her own family and non-family members. She worked with the ‘Underground Railroad’ which included hidden routes and homes to let escaped slaves move from location to location, offering food, shelter and clothes as they headed to freedom. Tubman played a major role in the abolitionist movement to allow Black Americans their freedom.
As part of a slave family, Harriet witness and experienced a lot of violence as well as the separation of her various family members as they were sold into slavery to other plantations. The violence that she experienced caused her to have severe seizures and headaches the rest of her life, based on a head injury she received when she refused to help a slave owner capture another slave.
Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, using the Underground Railroad for her escape. Once she was there, she set about a personal mission to help other members of her family to escape, which eventually became a mission for all other slaves. She was given the title of ‘Conductor’ of the Underground Railroad and was so successful that many called her “General Tubman” as well as “Moses” for her leadership qualities.
By 1850, there was a passage of the “Fugitive Slaves Law” which allowed punishment for anyone who assisted in the escape of a slave and allowed slaves that escaped to the north to be captured and returned to their owners. The change in dynamics meant a change in the ways that they had to help in freeing slaves. Tubman changed the route for the Underground Railroad so that it was moved to Canada, where slavery was against the law.
During her time as an abolitionist, Harriet became friends with other members such as Frederick Douglass, who was also known to help in the Underground Railroad effort. John Brown was another abolitionist that she came to know, although he promoted more violent methods for freedom than Tubman.
Harriet helped in the Civil War effort as a cook and a nurse and helped by being an armed scout and spy for the Northern troops. Tubman was the first woman to be the leader of an armed expedition and she led a group in the Combahee River Raid which freed over 700 South Carolina slaves.
Although Harriet became a famous voice for the abolitionist movement, she never did well financially. In 1859, Senator William H. Seward, also an abolitionist, sold Tubman some land in the country area of Auburn, New York. The home became the haven for her family and friends as she cared for as many people as she could.
When author and admirer, Sarah H. Bradford, wrote Tubman’s biography “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman”, the proceeds when to Harriet and her family. Even with her poor economic condition, Tubman freely gave to those in need. In 1903 she donated a piece of her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and in 1908 The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged was opened on the site.
In a survey taken nearing the end of the 20th Century, Tubman was listed as one of the most famous civilians in the pre-Civil War American history. The first two were Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. When Tubman passed away she was buried with full military honors at Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery. There are dozens of schools across the country that bear her name along with the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn and the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge.