Araminta Harriet Ross was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820. As a child, she was hired out as a baby minder (whipped if the baby cried) and later worked in the fields and forests, plowing and hauling logs. She was severely beaten by her masters, and early on, suffered a head wound when hit by a metal weight, leaving her with seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. Harriet had a deep faith and experienced frequent dreams and visions from God. She married John Tubman in 1844.
In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped to Philadelphia. She later recalled, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” The following year, she learned that her niece, Kessiah, was about to be sold with her two young children. She helped the family escape, and returned to rescue other family members from the plantations. Slowly, she brought all her relatives out of Maryland and subsequently made more than 19 rescue mission guiding more than 300 to freedom. Called “Moses,” she traveled by night and used the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to bring them out, never losing a “passenger.”
Although large rewards were offered for the return of the fugitive slaves, no one realized that Harriet Tubman was the one responsible their escape. When Congress passed an act requiring law officials in free states to recapture slaves, she helped the rescued slaves travel further north into Canada where slavery was already abolished.
During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, but then as a scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the war. She helped lead the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina which rescued more than 700 slaves.
After the war, she went home to look after her aging parents, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. She died of pneumonia in 1913.
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Harriet Tubman