Harriet Tubman was born a slave on a plantation in Maryland. Historians think she was born in 1820, or possibly 1821, but birth records weren't kept by most slave owners. Her birth name was Araminta Ross.
Life as a slave was difficult. Harriet lived in a one-room cabin with her family that included eleven children. When she was only six years old, she was loaned out to another family where she helped take care of a baby. She was sometimes beaten and all she got to eat was table scraps.
Harriet's sister were sold to southern farmers. She dreaded getting separated from her family.
At the age of thirteen Harriet received a horrible head injury. It happened when she was visiting the town. A slave owner tried to throw an iron weight at one of his slaves, but hit Harriet instead. The injury nearly killed her and caused her to have dizzy spells and blackouts for the rest of her life.
Harriet learned that there were states in the northern United States where slavery was outlawed. Slaves could escape to the north using the Underground Railroad. This wasn't a real railroad. It was a number of safe homes, called stations, that hid slaves as they traveled north. The people that helped the slaves were called conductors.
Slaves would move from station to station at night, hiding in the woods or sneaking onto trains until they finally reached the north and freedom.
In 1849 Harriet decided to escape. She would use the Underground Railroad. After a long and scary trip she made it to Pennsylvania and was finally free. Her owner put out this poster offering a reward for her capture.
Fugitive Slave Act
In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This meant that slaves could be taken from free states and returned to their owners. In order to be free, slaves now had to escape to Canada. Harriet wanted to help others to safety in Canada. She joined the Underground Railroad as a conductor.
Harriet became famous as an Underground Railroad conductor. She led nineteen different escapes from the south and helped around 300 slaves to escape. She became known as "Moses" because, like the Moses in the Bible, she led her people to freedom.
Ride for Liberty
Harriet was truly brave. She risked her life and freedom to help others. She also helped her family, including her mother and father, to escape. She was never caught and never lost a slave.
Harriet's bravery and service did not end with the Underground Railroad, she also helped during the Civil War. She nursed injured soldiers, served as a spy for the north, and even helped on a military campaign that led to the rescue of over 750 slaves.
Slaves that made it to the Union lines during the Civil War were called contrabands. Harriet did what she could to help contrabands adjust to their new life.
Combahee River Raid
Harriet served as a spy during the Civil War. She led the Combahee River Raid which helped to free over 750 slaves.
Where did she live?
Harriet lived in a number of places in the Northeast United States throughout her life.
This picture shows Harriet with some of the many slaves she helped to rescue.
Harriet continued to help the poor and needy in her later life.
This plaque serves as a memorial to Harriet in the town of Auburn, New York.
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More pictures of the American Civil War:
Battle of Fort Sumter
Battle of Antietam
Battle of Gettysburg
Harpers Ferry Raid
Confederate States of America
African Americans During the Civil War
Women During the Civil War
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