Harriett Tubman and the Underground Railroad A short biography
Tubman, Harriet Ross (1822-1913). Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Tubman gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian. After escaping from enslavement in 1849, Tubman dedicated herself to fighting for freedom, equality, and justice for the remainder of her long life, earning her the biblical name "Moses" and a place among the nation's most famous historical figures.
Working as a field hand while a young teen, Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer at another fleeing slave. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures and sleeping spells that plagued her for the rest of her life. During the late 1830s and early 1840s, Tubman worked for John T. Stewart, a Madison merchant and shipbuilder, bringing her back to the familial and social community near where her father lived and where she had been born. About 1844 she married a local free black named John Tubman, shedding her childhood name Minty in favor of Harriet.
In the late fall of 1849 Tubman took her own liberty. She tapped into an Underground Railroad that was already functioning well on the Eastern Shore: traveling by night, using the North Star and instructions from white and black helpers, she found her way to Philadelphia. She sought work as a domestic, saving her money to help the rest of her family escape. From 1850 to 1860, Tubman conducted between eleven and thirteen escape missions, bringing away approximately seventy individuals, including her brothers, parents, and other family and friends, while also giving instructions to approximately fifty more who found their way to freedom independently.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 left most refugee slaves vulnerable to recapture, and many fled to the safety and protection of Canada. Indeed, Tubman charges to St. Catharines, Ontario, where they settled into a growing community of freedom seekers. Her dangerous missions won the admiration of black and white abolitionists throughout the brought many of her North who provided her with funds to continue her activities.
In total, Tubman made 19 trips to Maryland and helped 300 people to freedom. During these dangerous journeys she helped rescue members of her own family, including her 70-year-old parents. At one point, rewards for Tubman's capture totaled $40,000. Yet, she was never captured and never failed to deliver her "passengers" to safety. As Tubman herself said, "On my Underground Railroad I [never] run my train off [the] track [and] I never [lost] a passenger."