Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross) was an African-American humanitarian who is remembered for her abolitionist efforts during the America Civil War. Tubman was born into slavery to Harriet Green and Ben Ross, who had a total of nine children including Harriet. Her father was owned by Anthony Thompson and her mother by his wife Mary Brodess. The exact year of her birth is unknown but it is speculated to be between 1820 and 1825. She suffered many hardships during her life. She had to care for her two younger siblings while still a child herself. At the age of five, she was hired out as a nursemaid where she had to watch the baby while it slept. If the baby awoke and started crying, Harriet was often whipped. Some of the beatings were so harsh that she had scars on her body for the rest of her life. Three of Harriet’s sisters were sold and never seen by the family again. One trader approached Mary Brodess about buying Harriet’s youngest brother but her mother was so violently opposed to the idea that the sale was not made.

Her mother’s behavior set an example for Harriet, and she proved to be brave and resilient in the face of misfortune. She would wear layers of clothing to protect herself from beatings, resisted bodily assaults and once ran away for 5 days before she was found. The most severe injury she received was at a dry goods shop where she was shopping for supplies for her mistress and met a slave who was trying to run away. When his master asked Harriet to help secure him, she refused and the man threw a heavy metal weight at her which hit her in the head. The injury was so severe that Harriet blacked out. However, she did not receive any medical attention, and when she recovered she was sent back to work. The head injury caused her to have epileptic seizures and blackouts for the rest of her life. She sometimes had vivid dreams and visions, and being a devout Christian, she ascribed these as signs from God.

In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman, but very little is known about the marriage. Around this time she changed her name to Harriet from her given birth name of Araminta. She escaped from slavery in 1849 after the death of her owner. She would have been sold to another owner but instead she ran away to Philadelphia, braving a distance of 90 miles by making use of a secret network known as the Underground Railroad. Two of her brothers initially tried to escape with her, but they eventually returned to their owners whereas Harriet did not wish to return to slavery.

The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, stating that even free slaves could be recaptured and returned to slavery. Following this, she made tremendous efforts to rescue her family and friends who were still living in slavery. She would often disguise herself in order to avoid recognition and recapture, and in all made 13 journeys in order to rescue more than 60 family members including her nieces, nephews, brothers and friends. There was even a $300 reward for her life but she managed to stay safe despite the risk to her life and freedom. Her husband, however, had remarried and did not wish to return with her.

During the American Civil War, Harriet worked as a spy for the Union Army. She also became the first woman to lead an armed expedition, and helped liberate more than 700 slaves in South Carolina during the Combahee River Raid. In 1869, she married Nelson Davis, who was a Civil War veteran and the couple adopted a baby girl named Gertie. Despite her fame, Harriet was financially unstable. One of her admirers wrote a biography of her life, with the proceeds of the book going to Harriet and her family. In later life, the head injuries sustained in her youth became extremely painful, and she underwent brain surgery in Boston. Harriet Tubman died in 1913 around the age of 90. She was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. A plaque was erected on the courthouse to commemorate her life, struggles and achievements. She is now remembered as a hero, with dozens of schools, museums and mementos in her name.

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