The Abolitionists: Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

(1820 - 1913)

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross to slave parents. She began her work as a house slave at age five or six on a plantation in Maryland. As a teenager she became a field slave. When defending another slave, she was hit in the head, and the injury affected her for the rest of the life. She later married and took her husband’s name of Tubman, adding the first name of Harriet, her mother’s name.

In 1849, Tubman ran away from her master’s Maryland plantation. She moved from one safe house to the next along the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North. Over the next several years Harriet returned to the South again and again to escort slaves to freedom. Each time she risked being caught and thus, her own freedom. “I was free, and they should be free,” she said. “I would make a home in the North and bring them here.”

Once she was free, Harriet could not rest until others in her family and beyond were free as well. She earned the nickname ‘Moses’, escorting over three hundred slaves to freedom. She made trips in the winter when the nights were long and people stayed mostly indoors. She used the stars to guide her, with the North Star leading the way, and she never let a slave turn back. In fact, if one became afraid, she would point a gun at their head to persuade them to move on. “I never ran my train off the track. I never lost a passenger,” she declared many years later.

During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913.