Harriet was born into slavery in the tiny village of Bucktown, in Dorchester County, Maryland, probably in the year 1820. The middle child of a family of eleven children, Harriet was exposed to the cruelty and injustice of the slave system at a very early
stage of her life. At the age of five, she was sent to work in the house of her mistress and was expected to perform domestic chores without any guidance. Although she was only a child, her mistress would beat Harriet about her face and neck with a whip whenever she made a mistake.
Her childhood, if it truly can be said that she had one, was spent working in the houses of different mistresses: cleaning, performing their chores, taking care of their babies, and absorbing their cruelty. These harsh experiences endured by Harriet as a young girl, would serve to forge in her a fierce spirit of rebellion that would ultimately set her free.
As she grew older, her resistance became stronger, and she would refuse to learn certain tasks like weaving, because she did not want to work in the confinement of a house. Harriet preferred to work outdoors in the fields. Being in the fresh air of the countryside gave her a sense of freedom that she could never have working indoors.
At about the age of twelve, her wish was granted, and from that point on she worked exclusively outdoors: cutting and hauling wood, plowing fields, and driving oxen. The chores she performed were tasks usually reserved for men, yet despite her slight five-foot tall frame, Harriet was able to perform them well, and she even became known for her physical strength.
Working in the fields allowed Harriet to interact with other slaves. Through them she would hear the stories about slaves escaping to freedom by following the “North Star” to Canada. She became fascinated with the stories of uprisings and slave rebellions, and they were of great influence in helping her decide to make an escape.
A crucial incident occurred in Harriet’s life during her early teenage years. When she was about 13 years old, she interfered with an overseer to prevent another slave from being beaten. The overseer, in a fit of rage, struck Harriet on her head with a 2-pound weight and fractured her skull. It took several months before she eventually recovered, but she would continue to suffer complications from the injury throughout her life.
This event became a turning point for Harriet as it dramatically increased her determination to become free, and it foreshadowed the great compassion that she would show for her fellow slaves.
In 1844, at around the age of twenty-four, Harriet married John Tubman, a freed slave. She lived together with her husband for five years until she made her escape.
In 1849, after the death of her master, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and went to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad, without her husband.
Long before her actual escape, she had made a connection with a white woman, a local abolitionist who gave her directions to the first safe house. She traveled exclusively at night, moving hundreds of miles through dense forests and swamp country. Despite the aid she received along the way, her success was largely due to her own initiative and resourcefulness.
Upon experiencing freedom for the first time in her life, Harriet vowed that she would return to Maryland to help other people to escape. Knowing that her efforts would require money, Harriet worked part-time jobs until she had saved enough for her first mission. She made her first trip back shortly after Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it a crime for anyone to help a runaway slave. On her first return, she rescued her sister and her two children.
Two years after she first fled, Harriet returned to Dorchester County to see her husband and take him back with her to the North. She then discovered that he was married to another woman, and he did not wish to leave her.
In 1857, after freeing many of her brothers and sisters, Harriet was finally able to lead her father, Benjamin Ross, and her mother, Harriet Green, to freedom in Auburn, New York.
During the Civil War, which lasted from 1861-1865, Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse, scout, and a spy, for the Union Army in South Carolina. Her efforts during this time were of great value to the North as she provided the army with crucial information that helped them to plan their attacks on the Confederate Army in the South. Harriet also acted as a liaison between northern soldiers and Blacks in the South, helping to recruit them to the Union ranks. She was well respected by the Union soldiers, and she received several official commendations by Union officers.
After the war ended, she returned to Auburn, where she devoted her efforts to raise money for Black schools, and became involved in the struggle for women’s rights.
In 1908, Harriet established a home in Auburn for elderly and needy Black people, which became known as the Harriet Tubman Home. The people of Auburn built a plaque in her honor, and she lived there until her passing in 1913.
In total, Harriet Tubman made an estimated 19 trips, and rescued at least 200 slaves. She never was caught, despite having a $40,000 bounty on her head, and she never lost a person on any of her missions. The reason for her success was her expert skill at masterfully planning each operation down to the finest detail. She made sure to plan for food, clothing, train tickets, and even carried a sedative for crying babies. The fact that she never lost a passenger is a testament to her fierce determination. She carried a gun and threatened to kill anyone who tried to turn back.
Harriet Tubman was revered among her contemporaries. Her reputation for freeing slaves made her a legendary figure among the slave community. She was often compared to Moses, who in the Biblical story led the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom.
To this day, her legacy stands as a shining example of courage, dedication, and compassion for humanity.