Araminta Ross, who we know today as Harriet Tubman. She was born in 1820, Dorchester County, Maryland. She was born a slave and the owner did not record their birthdates. Harriet’s ancestors had been brought to America from Africa during the early time period of the 18th Century. Harriet was the 11th child born to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, slaves of Edward Brodas, at birth her given name was Araminta. By the time she was older, she was calling herself Harriet (after her mother’s name). When Harriet was five or six years old, she began to work as a house servant. Harriet also was a by nursemaid for a small baby she had to stay awake all night, so that the baby wouldn’t cry and wake the mother. If Harriet fell asleep the baby’s mother would wipe her. Harriet had the Courage to get her freedom from a very young age. Harriet was raised under very harsh conditions.
She did not work in the fields though. Edward Brodas sent her to a couple who first put her to work weaving. When she no longer wanted to do that job the couple gave her the duty of checking muskrat traps. Araminta caught the measles while doing this work. They thought she was incompetent and took her to Brodas. When she got well, she was taken in by a woman as a housekeeper and baby-sitter. Araminta was whipped during the work here and was sent back to Brodas after eating one of the woman’s sugar cubes. At the age of 12 she was very badly injured by a blow to her head by a white man, for refusing to tie up a man who had escaped. She never fully recovered from the blow, which led her to fall into very deep sleep.
In 1844 at the age of 25, she married John Tubman, a free African American who did not share the same dream as her. Since she was a slave, she knew there could be a chance that she could be sold and her marriage would be split apart. Harriet wanted to travel north. There, she would be free and would not have to worry about having her marriage split up by the slave traders. But, John did not want her to go north. He said he wanted to stay where he was and that there was no reason for moving north. She said she would go by herself. He told her that if she ran away, he would tell her owner. She did not believe him until she saw his face and then knew he really meant it. Her goal to become free was too large for her to give up though. So in 1849 she left her husband and escaped to Philadelphia. With the help of other members of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, she learned about the workings of Railroad. In 1850, Harriet helped her first slaves escape to the North.
She sent a message to her sister’s oldest son that said ‘for her sister and family to board a fishing boat in Cambridge’. This boat would sail up the Chesapeake Bay where they would meet Harriet. When they got to Bodkin’s Point, Harriet guided them from house to house in Pennsylvania (which is a free state) until they reached Philadelphia. In September 1850 later that year, Harriet was made an official ‘‘conductor of the UGRR’’. This means that she knew all the routes to free places and she had to take an oath of silence so the secret of the Underground Railroad would be kept secret in the group. She made a second trip to the South to rescue her brother James and her other close friends. They were already in the process of running away so Harriet helped them across a river and to the home of Thomas Garret. He was the most famous Underground “Station -master” known in history.
Harriet’s third trip was in September 1851. . She went to get her husband, John, . But instead she found that he had married another slave (women). So she went back North. Harriet went to Garret’s house and found there were more runaways. That did not stop her though. She gave a baby a sedative so he would not cry and took the passengers into Pennsylvania. The trip was long and cold but they did reach the safe house of Frederick Douglas. He kept them until he had collected enough money to get them to Canada. He received the money so she and her eleven passengers started the longer trip to Canada. To get into Canada, they had to cross over Niagara Falls on a handmade dangerous bridge.
The winter of 1852, Tubman was ready to return to the U.S.A to help free more slaves. In the spring, she worked in Cape May and saved enough money to go to Maryland. By now, Harriet had led so many people from the South – the slave’s called the “land of Egypt” – to freedom, she became known as “Moses.” She was also known by the plantationer’s for her efforts and of $40,000 was posted. The state of Maryland itself posted a $12,000 reward for her capture.
The spring of 1857 was the time when Harriet set out on her most daring rescue to free her elderly father, Ben Ross. Harriet bought a train ticket for herself and traveled in daylight which was dangerous considering the injury of her head. When she reached Caroline County, she bought a horse. She took her father and mother to Thomas Garrett who arranged for their passage to Canada.
In Canada, she met John Brown, an abolitionist, who had heard much about Harriet. When he came to St. Catherine, he asked J.W. Loguen to introduce them. When Brown met Harriet, he was overwhelmed by her intelligence and bearing and said “General Tubman, General Tubman, General Tubman.” From then on he would refer to her by this name. Brown called Harriet, “one of the best and bravest persons on this continent.” She worked closely with Brown, and reportedly missed the help of Harper’s Ferry only because of illness.
Harriet Tubman’s life in the Railroad was ending by December 1860. She made her last rescue trip to Maryland, bringing seven people to Canada. In the ten years she worked as a “conductor” on the Railroad, Harriet managed to rescue over 300 people. She had made 19 trips and never lost a passenger on the way. For Tubman’s safety, her friends took her to Canada.
In 1861 Harriet returned to the U.S. from living in Canada in 1861. The Civil War had begun and was enlisting all men as soldiers and any women who wanted to join as cooks and nurses could join for that first time. Harriet enlisted into the Union army as a “contraband” nurse in a hospital. Harriet nursed the sick and wounded back to health but her work did not stop there. She also tried to find them work. When the army sent her to another hospital in Florida, she found white soldiers and contrabands “dying off like sheep”. She treated her patients with medicine from roots.
During the summer of 1863, Harriet worked with Colonel James Montgomery as a scout. She put together a group of spies who kept Montgomery informed about slaves who might want to join the Union army. After she and her group people had done the groundwork, she helped Montgomery organize the River Raid. The purpose of the raid was to harass whites and rescue freed slaves. They were successful in the rebel outposts and gathering about 500 slaves. Just about all the freed slaves joined the army.
After the war, Harriet returned home to Auburn. Later in 1869, she married Nelson Davis. Together they shared a calm, peaceful 19 year marriage until he died. She never had any children. This quote echoing Patrick Henry, “The Moses of Her People,” of Harriet Tubman: “Harriet was now left alone . . . She turned her face toward the north, and fixing her eyes on the guiding star, and committing her way unto the Lord, she started again upon her long, lonely journey. She believed that there were one or two things she had a right to, liberty or death.”