Harriet Tubman

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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman circa 1885
Born Araminta Harriet Ross
1820
Dorchester County, Maryland
Died March 10, 1913 (aged 93)
Auburn, New York, US
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York, U.S.A
Residence Auburn, New York, U.S.A
Nationality American
Other names Minty, Moses
Occupation Civil War Nurse, Suffragist, Civil Rights activist
Employer Edward Brodess
Religion Christian
Spouse John Tubman (md.1844–1851)
Nelson Davies (1869–1888; his death)
Children Gertie (adopted)
Parents Harriet Greene
Ben Ross
Relatives Modesty (grandmother)
Linah (sister)
Mariah Ritty (sister)
Soph (sister)
Robert (brother)
Ben (brother)
Rachel (sister)
Henry (brother)
Moses (brother)

Harriet Tubman (born Armana Ross; c. 1820 or 1821 – March 10, 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. She was born into Slavery but managed to escape from slavery and made more 19 plans to help more than 300 slaves escape.[1][2] She used the help of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a series of houses where slaves could go to as they made their way to the northern United States where they would be free.

When she was a child in Maryland, Tubman was whipped and beaten by many different masters. When she was very young, an angry overseer threw a heavy metal weight at another slave, which accidentally hit her. This hurt her head very badly causing her disabling seizures, narcoleptic attacks, headaches, and powerful visionary and dream experiences, which occurred throughout her life. A devout Christian, Tubman ascribed the visions and vivid dreams to revelations from God.

In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia but returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Large rewards were offered for the return of many of the fugitive slaves, but no one then knew that Tubman was the one helping them.

  • When the American Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combehee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. After the war, she retired to the family home in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. She became active in the women's suffrage movement in New York until illness overtook her. Near the end of her life, she lived in a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped found years earlier.

Early life and education[change | change source]

Her mother Rit (whose father might have been a white man)[3][4] was a cook.[5] Her father Ben was a talented woodsman who did the timber work on a plantation.[3] They married around 1808. According to court records, they had nine children together. Linah was born in 1808, Mariah Ritty in 1811, Soph in 1813, Robert in 1816, Minty (Harriet) in 1822, Ben in 1823, Rachel in 1825, Henry in 1830, and Moses in 1832.[6]

Childhood[change | change source]

Because Tubman's mother was assigned to "the big house" and had very little time for her family, thus Tubman took care of a younger brother and a baby, this was typical in large families.When she was five or six years old, Brodess hired her out as a nursemaid to a woman named "Miss Susan". Tubman was ordered to keep watch on the baby . Tubman was whipped. She later recounted a particular day when she was lashed five times before breakfast. She carried the scars for the rest of her life. She found ways to resist such as running away for five days,wearing layers of clothing as protection against beatings, and fighting back. As a child, Tubman also worked at the home of a planter named James Cook. She had to check the muskrat traps in nearby marshes, even after contracting measles. She became so ill that Cook sent her back to Brodess, where her mother nursed her back to health. Brodess then hired her out again. Tubman spoke later of her acute childhood homesickness, comparing herself to "the boy on the Swanee River", an allusion to Stephen Foster's song "Old Folks at Home". As she grew older and stronger, she was assigned to field and forest work, driving oxen, plowing, and hauling logs.

Head injury[change | change source]

One day, the adolescent Tubman was sent to a dry-goods store for supplies where she met a slave owned by another family, who had left the fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that Tubman help restrain the young man however she refused, and as the slave ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at him but it struck Tubman instead, which she said "broke my skull". She later explained her belief that her hair – which "had never been combed and ... stood out like a bushel basket" – might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, Tubman was returned to her owner's house and laid on the seat of a loom, where she remained without medical care for two days. She was sent back into the fields, "with blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn't see." Her boss returned her to Brodess, who tried unsuccessfully to sell her. She began having seizures and would seemingly fall unconscious, although she claimed to be aware of her surroundings while appearing to be asleep. These episodes were alarming to her family, who were unable to wake her when she fell asleep suddenly and without warning. This condition remained with Tubman for the rest of her life; Larson suggests she may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as a result of the injury.

Family and marriage[change | change source]

Around 1844, Tubman married a free black man named John Tubman. Although little is known about him or their time together, the union was complicated because of her slave status. Since the mother's status dictated that of children, any children born to Harriet and John would be enslaved. Such blended marriages - free people marrying enslaved people – were not uncommon on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where by this time, half the black population was free. Most African-American families had both free and enslaved members. Larson suggests that they might have planned to buy Tubman's freedom. Tubman changed her name from Araminta to Harriet soon after her marriage, though the exact timing is unclear.

References[change | change source]

  1. Larson, p. xvii.
  2. "Harriet Tubman". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Larson, p. 10.
  4. Clinton, p. 6.
  5. Humez, p. 12.
  6. Larson, p. 311-312.

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Anderson, E. M. (2005). Home, Miss Moses: A novel in the time of Harriet Tubman. Higganum, CT: Higganum Hill Books. ISBN 0-9776556-0-1.
  • Bradford, Sarah (1961). Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People. New York: Corinth Books.
  • Bradford, Sarah (1971). Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press. ISBN 0-836-98782-9.
  • Clinton, Catherine (2004). Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-14492-4.
  • Conrad, Earl (1942). Harriet Tubman: Negro Soldier and Abolitionist. New York: International Publishers. OCLC 08991147.
  • Douglass, Frederick (1969). Life and times of Frederick Douglass: his early life as a slave, his escape from bondage, and his complete history, written by himself. London: Collier-Macmillan. OCLC 39258166.
  • Humez, Jean (2003). Harriet Tubman: The Life and Life Stories. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-19120-6.
  • Larson, Kate Clifford (2004). Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-45627-0.
  • Lowry, Beverly (2008). Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life. Random House. ISBN 9780385721776
      . http://books.google.com/books?id=dIm7Mk75OOUC&pg=PT180.

Other websites[change | change source]