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Harriet Tubman

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman     Artist: Dick Strandberg

Harriet Tubman


Harriet Ross was born in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1820. Her parents were from the Ashanti tribe of West Africa, and they worked as slaves on the Brodas plantation. In addition to producing lumber, Edward Brodas raised slaves to rent and sell. Life was difficult on the plantation, and Harriet was hired out as a laborer by the age of 5.

Harriet did not like to work indoors, and she was routinely beaten by her masters. By her early teens, Harriet was no longer allowed to work indoors and was hired out as a field hand. She was a hard worker but considered defiant and rebellious. When she was 15 years old, Harriet tried to help a runaway slave. The overseer hit her in the head with a lead weight, which put Harriet in a coma. It took months for her to recover, and for the rest of her life, Harriet suffered from blackouts.

In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman. Harriet remained a slave, but she was able to stay in Tubman's cabin at night. Although she was married, Harriet lived in fear of being shipped to the deep South, a virtual death sentence for any slave. In 1849, her fears were realized when the owner of the Brodas plantation died and many of the slaves were scheduled to be sold. After hearing of her fate, Harriet planned to escape that very night. She knew her husband would expose her, so the only person she informed was her sister.

Harriet made the 90 mile trip to the Mason-Dixon line with the help of contacts along the Underground Railroad. She had to hike through swamps and woodland. Harriet's trip was successful, and she settled in Philadelphia. She worked as a dishwasher and made plans to rescue her family. The next year, Harriet traveled back to Maryland and rescued her sister's family. She then returned to transport her brothers to the North. She went back for her husband, but he had remarried and did not want to follow her. In 1857, Harriet finally returned for her parents and settled them in Auburn, New York.

By this time, Harriet was becoming quite well known and huge rewards were offered for her capture. Harriet was the master of disguise A former master did not even recognize her when they ran into each other on the street. She was nicknamed the "Moses of her people" for leading them to freedom. In all, Harriet made 19 trips on the Underground Railroad and freed more than 300 slaves.

With the arrival of the Civil War, Harriet became a spy for the Union army. She later worked in Washington DC as a government nurse. Although Harriet won admiration from the military, she did not receive a government pension for more than 30 years. At the end of the war, Harriet returned to her parents in Auburn. She was extremely poor and the profits of a book by Sarah Bradford entitled Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, published in 1869 were a financial great help.

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In 1870, Harriet married Nelson Davis, who she had met at a South Carolina army base. They were happily married for 18 years until Davis' death. In 1896, Harriet purchased land to build a home for sick and needy blacks. However, she was unable to raise enough money to build the house and ultimately gave the land to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The church completed the home in 1908, and Harriet moved there several years later. She spent her last years in the home telling stories of her life to visitors. On March 10, 1913, Harriet died of pneumonia. She was 93 years old.

Harriet Tubman was not afraid to fight for the rights of African-Americans. Her story is one of dedication and inspiration. During her lifetime Harriet was honored by many people. In 1897, her bravery even inspired Queen Victoria to award her a silver medal.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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