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Harriet Tubman

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Harriet Tubman

When you hear the name Harriet Tubman, what do you think of? Most likely, you’re thinking of her role in the Underground Railroad. But did you know that Harriet Tubman also served as a Union spy in the Civil War? Or that she was an advocate for woman’s suffrage? Read on to learn more about the fascinating life of Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman Biography

Harriet Tubman Portrait StudySmarterPortrait of Harriet Tubman, commons.wikimedia.org

Harriet Tubman Biography: Early Life

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland around 1820 to parents Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross. Her birth name was Araminta Ross but she later changed her name to honor her mother. In her time as a slave, she worked various jobs, both outside in the field and inside the home.

A defining moment in Harriet’s life occurred when she was around 12 years old. Although the exact details are unclear, it seems that Harriet was attempting to defend a slave who was being attacked by an overseer. When the overseer went to throw a heavy weight at the slave, Harriet was struck instead. This incident would have lasting impacts on her health and demonstrated her strong sense of right and wrong.

overseer

an individual who was in charge of supervising slaves

In 1840, her father received his freedom. Harriet, her mother, and her siblings worked for another family. They were supposed to be set free once their owner died, but his family refused to honor his wishes, so they remained in bondage. In 1844, Harriet married John Tubman and took his last name.

Harriet Tubman Biography: Escape from Slavery

In 1849, the family received news that Harriet Tubman’s brothers, Ben and Henry, were going to be sold to a different plantation. This prompted Harriet and her brothers to plan an escape. On September 17th, they set out along the Underground Railroad.

Underground Railroad

a network of routes and safe houses that escaped slaves used to travel to freedom

While on their journey, her brothers decided to return to the plantation, but Harriet Tubman refused to go back. She reached Pennsylvania where she was finally free, and she worked as a housekeeper for a period of time before she decided she had another calling. She was going to return to Maryland and help her friends and family escape to freedom as well.

Harriet Tubman Biography: The Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman became a conductor of the Underground Railroad, helping as many people as she could to escape. She was a tough woman who understood the dangers of the Underground Railroad and would do what was needed to keep herself and her group safe, even if it meant threatening someone with a gun if they were having second thoughts.

conductor

an individual who guided slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman Timeline

Date

Event in Harriet Tubman’s Life

Approx. 1820

Born

1833

Struck with heavy weight by overseer

1840

Father freed from slavery

1844

Married John Tubman

1849

Escaped slavery

1850

Fugitive Slave Act passed

1850-1860

Served as conductor of Underground Railroad

1859

Harper’s Ferry Raid

1861

Beginning of Civil War

1863

Combahee River Raid

1865

End of Civil war; settled in New York

1869

Married Nelson Davis

1898

Became involved in the woman’s suffrage movement

1903

Founded the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People

1913

Died of pneumonia

Harriet Tubman in the Civil War

As we know by this point, Harriet Tubman was a woman of great strength and courage. When the Civil War began, she was not afraid to step up and support the Union in any way she could. Her skills and experience were particularly useful, allowing her to contribute in numerous ways. For example, her knowledge of herbal medicine made her a valuable nurse.

A couple of years into the Civil War, Harriet Tubman began working as a spy for the Union army, using skills she learned as a conductor of the Underground Railroad. Her knowledge of the land was better than most and she was better able to form relationships with slaves and free Blacks in order to gain information. In 1863, she became the first woman to lead a battalion in the Civil War during the Combahee River Raid that freed around 700 slaves.

Harriet Tubman’s Accomplishments

Today, Harriet Tubman’s name is synonymous with the Underground Railroad and it’s no surprise. In a little over 10 trips, Harriet Tubman was able to help around 70 people escape slavery via the Underground Railroad and claimed to have never lost a “passenger.”

passenger

someone traveling the Underground Railroad

However, Harriet Tubman did far more than serving as a conductor for the Underground Railroad. In 1858, for example, she met John Brown who nicknamed her “General Tubman” for her role in recruiting supporters for the Harpers Ferry Raid.

Harper's Ferry Raid

On the night of October 16th, 1859, John Brown led a raid on Harpers Ferry, a federal armory, supported by a group of armed abolitionists. Their goal was to incite a slave riot that would bring an end to slavery. They were not successful, but the impact of the raid cannot be understated as it had a large role in heightening tensions that would lead to the Civil War.

Once the Civil War began, Harriet Tubman served in various roles that each, on their own, would have made her a war hero. But, even after the Civil War, she continued to work to better her community and the nation. She began work with the woman’s suffrage movement in 1898 and founded the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People (also referred to as Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged or Harriet Tubman Home for Aged & Indigent Negroes) in 1903.

Harriet Tubman - Key takeaways

  • Harriet Tubman was born into slavery but escaped in 1849 via the Underground Railroad.
  • She returned to the South multiple times and served as a conductor of the Underground Railroad to free her friends and family.
  • Harriet Tubman served in the Civil War in various capacities (e.g., nursing and espionage).
  • After the Civil War, Harriet Tubman settled in New York where she opened the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People.

Frequently Asked Questions about Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman freed around 70 slaves via the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman was a conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman died in 1913.

Harriet Tubman died of pneumonia.

Harriet Tubman was born around 1820. The exact date is unknown. 

Final Harriet Tubman Quiz

Question

Around what year was Harriet Tubman born?

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Answer

1840

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Question

When did Harriet Tubman escape slavery?

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Answer

1849

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Question

Around how many slaves did Harriet Tubman free via the Underground Railroad?

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Answer

70

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Question

What was the name of the Civil War raid where Harriet Tubman helped to free around 700 slaves?

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Answer

Harpers Ferry Raid

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Question

Why did Harriet Tubman earn the nickname "General Tubman"?

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Answer

She helped recruit supporters for the Harpers Ferry Raid.

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Question

Where was Harriet Tubman born?

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Answer

Maryland

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Question

Where did Harriet Tubman settle after the Civil War?

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Answer

New York

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Question

What was the name of Harriet Tubman's role in the Underground Railroad?

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Answer

conductor

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Question

When did Harriet Tubman die?

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Answer

1913

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Question

What is the name of the charity home Harriet Tubman founded?

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Answer

Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People

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