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Harriet Tubman

c.1820 - 1913


             Student Biography of Harriet Tubman

Kara G.  -- Wheeling Park High School -- Dan Wilhelm, Teacher


            Harriet Tubman was born around 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland.  She was one of eleven children to Benjamin and Harriet Ross, her parents.  She was born into slavery, and by the age of five, she was hired out as a laborer.  She hated to work indoors, so by her early teens, she was forbidden to work indoors and was hired out as a field hand.  When Harriet was fifteen years old, she tried to help a runaway slave.  She was caught by the overseer and beat on the head with a lead pipe, which put her in a coma that lasted for months.  After that, Harriet suffered from frequent blackouts.

            In 1844, Harriet married a free black man, John Tubman, and for the next five years, she lived in a state of semi-slavery.  She remained a slave legally, but her master allowed her to live with her husband.

            Around 1847, Harriet's master died, and two years later, in 1849, his son died also, which meant that Harriet had to be sold.  Because of her frequent blackouts, Harriet knew that it was not likely that she would get sold, and if she did, then the chances of death were very high, so she made plans to escape.  Since she knew that her husband would expose her, Harriet told only her sister, and later that year, Harriet made her first ninety mile trip to the Mason-Dixon line with the help of contacts from the Underground Railroad.  She settled in Philadelphia where she worked as a dishwasher.  The next year, she traveled back down to Maryland and rescued her sister's family.  Later, she returned for her brothers and transported them back into the north.  She went back another time for her husband, John Tubman, but he had remarried, and refused to follow her.  Finally, in 1857, Harriet returned to the south for her parents.  They were too feeble to walk the whole trip, and eventually, Harriet was forced to hire a wagon, which made her journey very dangerous, but she was never caught.  When they reached the north, Harriet's parents decided to settle in Auburn, New York.

            By this time, Harriet was becoming very well known, and rewards of up to forty-thousand dollars were being offered for her capture.  She also became known as the "Black Moses," because she freed over three hundred slaves in her nineteen trips on the Underground Railroad.

She was never caught for many reasons.  Harriet constantly changed her route and her methods of operation, and she always carried sleeping powder to stop babies from crying. She also carried a pistol to prevent the slaves from backing down once the journey had begun.  Another method that Harriet used was that she would always begin her escapes on Saturday nights.  One reason was because most masters didn't make slaves work on Sundays, so they probably wouldn't notice that they were missing until Monday.  Another reason was that the newspapers would not be able to advertise the escape until later in the week, and by that time, Harriet and her slaves would have been very close to the north.  The last method that Harriet used was the method of disguise.  Sometimes she even tried to dress like a man.   A former master of Harriet's didn't even recognize her when she ran into him on the street. 

            When the Civil War started, Harriet became a spy for the Union Army.  She was a nurse and a scout as well.  Then she began to prepare food for a regiment in Massachusetts that was composed of all black people.  Later, before the war ended, she worked in Washington D.C. as a government nurse.  She received approval from the government, but they never paid her for her efforts. 

            After the Civil War, she returned to Auburn to be with her parents.  In 1870, Harriet married Nelson Davis, an African American war veteran.  They were married for eighteen years, until he died.  In 1896, Harriet purchased land to build a home for sick and needy blacks.  She had to give the land to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church because she did not have enough money to finish her project.  The church completed the home in 1908, and several years later, she had to move in.  She spent the last few years of her life in the home, telling her life stories to the visitors.  On March 10, 1913, at the age of ninety-three, Harriet died of pneumonia.

            In 1974, more than sixty years after her death, the Department of the Interior made Harriet's former home in Auburn a national historic landmark.  Harriet also has a school that was named after her (Harriet Tubman High School), and the John Brown Home for Aged and Indigent Colored people is still around today


"Harriet Tubman."  <>   (9 February 2001). 

Cativo, Karina. "Harriet Tubman."   <> (9 February 2001) 

Smith, Russell. "Harriet Tubman: Moses of the Civil War."         <> (10 February 2001)

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