Harriet Tubman risked arrest and hanging when she rescued slaves. She was born in the northern US state of Maryland around 1820. She was born into slavery and regularly beaten by her master. Her name at birth was Araminta. This cruel owner threw a heavy weight intended to injure a runaway slave and it hit Harriett instead. For years she had fits and saw visions which she attributed to God.
In 1844, Harriet married a free Negro man named John Tubman when she was still a slave. The law required that any children would take their mother’s status as slave and not be free. John got around this law by changing her name from Araminta to Harriet.
The Underground Rail Road
Five years into her marriage, Harriet decided to escape. Her husband feared for his own safety and refused to go with her. She was put into a wagon and covered with a sack and reached Pennsylvania. She met a man called William Still who introduced her to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society and the workings of the Underground Rail Road.
Harriet could have chosen to be free and far away from the southern states where she could be arrested, but she decided to make twenty trips back to help free other slaves. Her unselfishness and bravery led people to nickname her “Mother Moses” because like the Moses of the Bible, she led humans out of captivity.
She was also the heroine of her own family. Between 1850 and 1851, she recused a brother and sister and in 1854, she led her three elder brothers to freeom. Not content at these accomplishments, she freed her parents in 1857. It has been estimated that Harriet resuced over three hundred slaves in total.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Harriet worked for the US (Yankees) as a general cook, cleaner. She also worked as a nurse looking after traumatised soldiers. What is astounding is that Harriet acted as a spy behind Confederate lines.
In 1862, Harriet went to live in South Carolina, where she helped hundreds of Sea Islander slaves find their way north and to freedom.
Freed Slaves Need Educating!
Harriet campaigned for the right of free slaves to obtain a proper education. Her life had been one mission and she believed that this mission came from God.
“The Lord who told me to take care of my people, meant me to do it for as long as I live, and so I do what he told me to do”.
Harriet had many friends who encouraged her to write
to put her life in writing. She did this in 1869 in a biography written with the help of author Sarah Hopkins Bradford. In the same year, she married her second husband Nelson Davis, a man who was significantly younger than her. This marriage lasted for twenty years when Nelson died of complications due to Tuberculosis.
A Mission to the End of Life
When Harriet was in her seventies, she took up another cause – again, a fight for freedom. She campaigned for the suffragettes who wanted the vote for white women and black women, too.
Harriet purchased a plot of land near her home with the purpose of having an African Methodist Church built on it. Harriet became ill and her finances dwindled. Suffragette women came to the rescue and paid her a monthly pension that allowed her to not have her home or plot of land repossessed.