Black History Month

Harriet Tubman is arguably the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad “conductors”. Over a 10 year period, Tubman made 19 trips into the South and brought over 300 slaves to Freedom. As she once pointed out to Frederick Douglass – in all of her journeys, she “never lost a single passenger”.

Harriet was born a Slave in Maryland’s Dorchester County around 1820. At the age of five or six she began work as a house servant. Seven years later she was sent to work in the fields, where she learned how to follow geographical directions, and which plants were useful, from her father and brothers. While in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her for the rest of her life. Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from an angry overseer. The overseer picked up a two pound weight, threw it at the field hand and missed, hitting Harriet on the head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which caused sleep spells and seizures.

In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named Jon Tubman and took his last name (Harriet was born Araminta “Minty” Ross. She later changed her first name to Harriet after her mother.) In 1849, in fear that she and the other slaves on the plantation were to be sold, Tubman resolved to run away. With the assistance of a sympathetic white woman, she set out on foot, following the North Star by night. She made her way to Pennsylvania and then to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. While in Philadelphia she learned about the connections of the Underground Railroad.

Tubman returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister’s two children to safety. Harriet then made another trip to save her brother and two other men. On her third trip back to the south, she looked for her husband, who by this time had remarried. Undeterred, she found other slaves seeking freedom and brought them safely to the North. Initially, Tubman and her charges were safe in the northern United States, but the Fugitive Slave Act forced her to move to Canada. Tubman then began using St. Catherine’s as a base of operations. Harriet lived in St. Catherine’s for eight years. Tubman had many tricks, such as leaving on a Saturday night because the runaway notices couldn’t be posted in the papers until Monday. Harriet Tubman even carried a gun and would tell runaways who were tired or wanted to go back, “you’ll be free or you’ll die”. By 1856, there was a forty thousand dollar bounty on her head. Tubman made 19 trips into the south to free slaves. However, the most difficult challenge was retrieving her 70 year old parents.

During the civil war, Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, nurse and even a spy. After the war, she settled in Auburn, New York, where she spent the rest of her life. Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913.

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