By: Lisa Breininger
“I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to freedom…. I was a stranger in a strange land.”
– Harriet Tubman
Araminta Ross ‘Minty’ (Harriet Tubman) was born into slavery in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland on the plantation of Anthony Thompson. Harriet was the fifth of nine children to be born to Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin Ross who were both slaves. She escaped enslavement in 1849, which lead her to fight for justice, freedom, and equality.
Harriet and her family worked on the plantation until a sudden change that split their family apart. A man named Edward Brodess took her mother Rit and five of her children, one of whom was Harriet, to his farm in Bucktown. Brodess later illegally sold her family to out-of-state buyers. He also rented her to other neighbors to do work for them such as nursing children, housekeeping, winding yarn, loading timber, checking muskrat traps, and splitting fence rails. Harriet was often beaten or sick and was sent home early because she had displeased her employers.
Harriet was 15 when she was nearly killed when a slave was fleeing his owner. His owner threw and iron weight that nearly hit her on the head. After that day she suffered from seizures, headaches, and sleeping spells that haunted her for the rest of her life.
In 1844 she was married to John Tubman, who was a local free black. That is when she changed her name from Minty to Harriet. In 1849 Harriet and her family were in risk of being sold for debts that Edward Brodess had before he died. Even though she was married to a free slave, she was forced to keep the status of a slave. Harriet was afraid that her husband would betray her like he said he would, so she left him one dark night. That same year she traveled by night through the Underground Railroad, looking for the north star to guide her path. Her path led her to Philadelphia, where she worked inside households in the hope that she could help her family escape.
She saved all the money she made until 1850 – 1860 where she created escape missions to save her family, friends, and other enslaved black people. Many refugee slaves fled to Canada when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 became set. At this time Harriet lost her status as a free person which changed to a fugitive.
In 1851, Harriet returned to her birthplace in Maryland and began the journey that would bring her family to freedom. As she helped retrieve blacks to safety, she noted that: “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.” (Gale Biography in Context) During the years that she traveled to the south and brought black people up to the north, she never had anyone captured.
[NOTE: Due to our licensing agreement, access to Gale Biography in Context is restricted to the students, staff, and faculty at Kutztown University.]
Harriet went down south to rescue her aging parents in 1857. Later, a biographer named Earl Conrad described her travel as: “Harriet’s abduction of her parents was an event in Underground annals. It was significant, not only because rarely did aged folks take to the Road, but because Harriet carried them off [in a 'patched together wagon'] with an audaciousness and an aplomb that represented complete mastery of the Railroad and perfect scorn of the white patrol. Her performance was that, at once, of the accomplished artist and the daring revolutionary.” (Gale Biography in Context)
John Brown was impressed by Harriet’s actions during the escapes from the south, that he wanted her to join him when the Civil War began and wanted to raid Harpers Ferry in Virginia. He believed that was the place to end slavery in the United States. Before they could head down, Harriet fell ill and was not able to join John Brown in the mission.
Harriet traveled for around three years where she received a call from the Union Army asking her if she wanted to become a nurse and teacher. Later she led men into enemy territory to seek out information. She was recognized as “the first and possibly the last woman to lead U.S. Army troops in battle.” (Gale Biography in Context) When the war ended Harriet went back to New York to care for her parents. She married a younger man named Nelson Davis in 1869. She met Nelson in South Carolina at the army base.
With the help of a woman named Sarah Bradford, Harriet spent years working on her autobiography. She also participated in organizations for black women, some of which include; the National Association of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. She was a strong supporter of voting rights for women and suffrage. Harriet was affiliated with Susan B. Anthony.
Harriet obtained 25 acres of land in 1896 to live out her dream of creating a home for the poor, disabled, and elderly. She later died at the age of 93 on March 10, 1913 in New York.
Books Harriet Tubman has written:
- Harriet Tubman, the Moses of Her People in 1869
Photograph by Gale Biography in Context
To find out more about Araminta Ross ‘Minty’ (Harriet Tubman) please visit the Rohrbach Library for books about her or click here to browse some of the titles. One item, Guide to Freedom by Sam and Beryl Epstein, is located in the Library Science Collection on the ground floor.
Always if you need assistance locating materials, ask a librarian at the Research Help Desk.