Harriet Tubman created the Underground Railroad, a network of safe homes and passages for runaway slaves. She knew firsthand what it felt like to be a slave and was willing to risk her freedom and even her life to help others.
- Harriet Tubman was born in Maryland around 1820. Her parents named her Araminta Ross and called her Minty. She changed her name when she ran away from her slave owner.
- When Harriet was five or six, she was sent away from her mother to work in another house. Imagine how homesick she must have been! Her job was to take care of the baby. If the baby cried, Harriet was whipped. She carried scars on her back for the rest of her life.
- Another owner sent her out to check muskrat traps along the river, even when she was very ill with the measles.
- As a teen, she did hard work like driving oxen and plowing fields.
- Maryland sat on the border between the North and the South. Some people kept slaves, but other blacks were free.
- Harriet married John Tubman, a free black man, in 1844. Later, she fled to Pennsylvania to be free. Her husband did not come with her.
- Harriet went back and forth to Maryland 13 times. She helped family members and others gain freedom, eventually aiding over 70 people. They traveled secretly at night.
- The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 called for severe punishment for anyone caught helping slaves reach freedom. Harriet knew she could get in big trouble, but she kept helping other slaves anyway.
- Her nickname was “Moses,” after Moses from the Bible who led the Israelites to freedom.
- When she was a teenager, an angry slave owner threw an iron weight at another slave. The weight hit Harriet, causing a traumatic brain injury. For the rest of her life, she sometimes experienced headaches, dizziness, seizures, and sleeping spells.
- Harriet was very religious. She said she had visions from God, which helped her have courage.
- Harriet worked during the Civil War as a nurse, cook, and spy. She also led a military raid, freeing 700 slaves! After the war, she and her second husband adopted a girl, Gertie, their only child.
Questions and Answers
Question: What happened to Harriet after the Civil War?
Answer: Harriet went right on working to end injustice. She helped Susan B. Anthony in her fight for women’s rights. She established a home for elderly African Americans (a home she would later live in), and she returned to the family farm she had purchased earlier in New York.
When she died, Harriet was buried with semi-military honors. Today she is viewed as a great hero and patriot. Her portrait is planned to appear on 20 dollar bills.
Watch a short video about Harriet Tubman.