Harriet Tubman

From Academic Kids

Harriet Tubman in 1880, Image provded by Classroom Clipart (
Harriet Tubman in 1880, Image provded by Classroom Clipart (

Harriet Tubman (born 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland, died March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York), also known as Black Moses, was an African-American freedom fighter. An escaped slave, she worked as a guerrilla, farmhand, lumberjack, laundress and cook, refugee organizer, raid leader and intelligence commander, nurse and healer, revival speaker, feminist and fundraiser, all as part of the struggle for liberation from slavery and racism.


Early life

She was born into slavery in Maryland. Usually it is thought that she was born in around 1820, but that data cannot be authenticated because there are no records of her birth. Harriet herself claimed she was born around 1825. Born Araminta Ross, she later took the name Harriet after her mother. Around 1844 she married John Tubman, a free man. She endured years of inhumane treatment from her various owners, including an incident where an overseer hurled a two-pound weight in her direction, striking her in the head. As a result of the blow, she suffered intermittent bouts of narcolepsy the rest of her life.

Escape and abolitionist career

On hearing that the slaves of the plantation were to be sold, she took her emancipation into her own hands, and escaped northward, leaving behind her husband who did not want to follow. On her way she was assisted by sympathetic Quakers, members of the Abolitionist movement who were instrumental in maintaining the Underground Railroad. She herself was later to become famous as "Moses", one of the most successful guides of the Underground Railroad (Underground Railroad "conductor") ; she made many trips South to help other slaves escape. With 19 expeditions where she personally guided around 300 slaves to freedom, she was never captured and, in her own words, "never lost a passenger" despite the combined bounty for her which totalled $40,000, the highest amount for any conductor. During the American Civil War, in addition to working as a cook and a nurse, she served as a spy for the North, and again was never captured. And she guided hundreds of people trapped in slavery up to the free states, during the Civil War.


The reason for her success in her adventures was partly due to her cunning, daring and ruthlessness in following well developed plans for her expeditions. For instance, when Tubman scouted an area, she sometimes took the precaution of carrying two chickens with her. Whenever she felt that the people in the area were getting suspicious of her, she would release the chickens and chase them to recapture them. This would amuse the whites who would assume the ineffectual chicken chaser could not be the cunning slave stealer.

One time at a train station, she found that slave-catchers were watching the trains heading north in hopes of capturing her and her charges. Without hesitation, she had her group board a southbound train, successfully gambling that the retreat into enemy territory would never be anticipated by her pursuers and later resumed her planned route at a safer location.

In addition, she had a strict policy that while she would respect a slave foregoing the risk of accompanying her to the north when offered, anyone who joined her and then wanted to go back en route would be shot dead to prevent the dissenter from betraying the group.

Post American Civil War life

Harriet Tubman continued as an activist for African-American and women's rights. With Sarah Bradford acting as her biographer and transcribing her stories, she was able to have the story of her life published in 1869 as Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. This was of considerable help to her sad financial state - she was not awarded a government pension for her military service until some 30 years after the fact. That same year she married Nelson Davis, another Civil War veteran.

Eventually, she settled in the home for needy blacks that she herself had helped to found in Auburn, New York. It was built on the land in upstate New York sold to her by her famous friend William H. Seward, former secretary of state of the United States of America. She died there in 1913. She told stories of her adventures until the end of her days.

Quotes by Harriet Tubman

  • "If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more."
  • "I never lost a passenger."
  • "I can't die but once."

Quotes about Harriet Tubman

  • John Brown was to refer to her as "General Tubman" and called her "one of the bravest persons on this continent."
  • "Excepting John Brown... I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people." -- Frederick Douglass
  • "I never met any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God." -- Thomas Garrett

See also

List of African-American abolitionists, Slave narrative


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