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Harriet Tubman: The Courageous Woman Who Led Hundreds to Freedom

As a lifelong scholar and avid admirer of Harriet Tubman, I‘m delighted to share a detailed profile and overview of this American icon who courageously led hundreds of enslaved people to liberation.

Full Name Araminta "Minty" Ross
Born March 6, 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland
Died March 10, 1913 (age 93) in Auburn, New York
Cause of Death Pneumonia
Resting Place Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York
Occupation Abolitionist, humanitarian, spy, soldier, suffragist
Spouse(s) John Tubman (m. 1844-1851)
Nelson Davis (m. 1869-1888)
Parents Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross
Siblings Linah, Mariah Ritty, Soph, Robert, James, Rachel, Henry, Moses, and Ben
Notable Relatives Kessiah Bowley (niece), James Bowley (nephew)
Known for Guiding the Underground Railroad, serving as a Union spy and military leader during the Civil War
Historical Sites Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, NY
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland
Awards and Honors Inducted into National Women‘s Hall of Fame (1973)
Awarded the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (2000)
Will appear on the U.S. $20 bill (projected 2028)

Harriet Tubman‘s Early Life in Slavery

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery as Araminta "Minty" Ross in 1820 on a plantation owned by Anthony Thompson in Dorchester County, Maryland. She was one of nine children born to enslaved parents, Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross. From age 5, little Minty was hired out to neighbors as a domestic servant, enduring brutal work conditions and savage beatings.

A life-altering head injury at 13 left her suffering from disabling seizures and powerful vision states for the rest of her life. She later adopted her mother‘s name, Harriet. In 1844, she married a free African American named John Tubman, though they lived apart when she was hired away. Desperately longing for freedom, Tubman seized her chance in 1849, escaping alone to Philadelphia where she was aided by Quakers and free blacks.

Guiding the Underground Railroad and Outwitting Slave Catchers

Never one to rest on her laurels, Tubman immediately began planning return trips to Maryland to liberate her remaining family members from bondage. In 1850, she brought away her niece and her niece’s two children to freedom. The following year, she returned for her beloved husband, only to find he had remarried. Undeterred, she found other slaves seeking liberty and guided them safely north.

Word of Tubman’s daring exploits spread and she earned the biblical nickname “Moses” for leading her people to freedom. Slave catchers desperately wanted to capture the infamous conductor who eluded them at every turn. Tubman cleverly used disguises, ingenious tactics, coded spirituals and her deep knowledge of the terrain to travel the perilous Underground Railroad undetected.

By 1860, brave Harriet had rescued approximately 70 slaves – including much of her own family – from the clutches of slavery. She also transported runaways to Canada, knowing they were still vulnerable in the northern U.S. Her parents, Benjamin and Harriet, gratefully spent their last years in freedom thanks to their heroic daughter.

Harriet Tubman: Spy, Soldier and Suffragist

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Tubman put her skills to work for the Union Army as an armed scout and spy. She recruited former slaves to spy on Confederate camps and fortifications. The insights she provided were crucial in aiding Union victories.

In 1863, Tubman guided the legendary Combahee River Raid, leading three Union steamboats up the river toraid plantations and free over 700 slaves in South Carolina. This brilliant military operation made Harriet Tubman the first woman in U.S. history to mastermind and lead a military raid.

After the war, Harriet settled in Auburn, New York where she would spend the rest of her long life. She remarried a Union army veteran named Nelson Davis in 1869. Tubman championed women’s suffrage by speaking at rallies and petitioning Washington for female voting rights. Despite financial hardship, she opened a rest home for elderly African Americans in 1908 that provided food, shelter and comfort.

Fascinating Facts about Harriet Tubman

  • She stood just 5 feet tall but had incredible strength from years of harsh physical labor.
  • Epileptic seizures caused by her childhood head trauma led to vivid dream states that she considered spiritual visions.
  • She was the first woman to lead an armed military operation during the Civil War.
  • To fund her Underground Railroad trips, she worked odd jobs and relied on donations from abolitionists.
  • She used spirituals like “Go Down Moses” as code to warn slaves she was helping escape.
  • Tubman bravely went back south nearly twenty times despite a huge bounty on her head.
  • She fiercely threatened to shoot any runaway who lost their nerve on the journey north.
  • John Brown referred to her as “General Tubman” for her prowess at military operations.
  • She passionately opposed female suffrage being tied to that of black males after the Civil War.
  • Her second husband Nelson was 22 years younger than her when they wed in 1869.

Harriet Tubman‘s Legacy

After a lifetime spent aiding African Americans and others in need, Harriet Tubman died at age 93, surrounded by loved ones and fellow activists. She was given full military honors at her funeral. Tubman‘s remarkable bravery and leadership captured the public’s imagination and she became one of the most acclaimed heroines and admired public figures of her time.

Today, Tubman continues to inspire generations with her lasting legacy. Her likeness has appeared on a commemorative stamp, in works of literature and art, and in media from children’s books to movies. Educational institutions proudly bear her name, from schools to a Suffolk University residence hall.

In 2000, Tubman was honored with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park which spans parts of New York and Maryland featuring historical sites from her life. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced that Tubman will be the new face of the $20 bill when it is redesigned. She will be the first black person featured on U.S. currency in over a century and the first-ever African American on paper money. More than 150 years after leading slaves to liberty along the perilous Underground Railroad, the long-overdue honor recognizes this remarkable woman‘s enduring legacy of freedom and justice for all.