Harriet Tubman’s Story

Tubman continues the kind of work begun many years ago by the agency’s namesake, Harriet Tubman, who helped free hundreds of slaves. We provide safe passage from violence for women and children and help them achieve their own freedom, just as Harriet helped so many people obtain their independence.

Born circa 1820, Harriet grew up tough and rebellious. Her master often beat her, and he made her work hard in the fields. She married John Tubman when she was 24, and told him she wanted to escape to the North. He told her he would not let her leave. But Harriet did escape from a Maryland plantation in 1849, leaving behind her husband, her parents, and her brothers and sisters.

She wasn’t alone for long. A kind Quaker woman took her in for a day and told her about the Underground Railroad, an ever-shifting route of homes and hideouts, run by people who risked their own safety to help slaves escape to the North. Harriet traveled on foot, or sometimes a friendly “railroad conductor” would hide her under a load of straw or vegetables and take her to the next safe resting place. Finally she got to Pennsylvania, a free state. She said, “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free … I felt like I was in heaven.” She had made the passage from slavery, but Harriet faced many challenges, and now she was alone in a strange place.

Harriet knew she must find a home and a job. She moved to Philadelphia and worked in a hotel kitchen. She found friends in an abolitionist group, and she learned more about the Underground Railroad. Harriet decided that since she was free, her family and other slaves should be free also. The Underground Railroad was their path out of slavery, and Harriet would show them the way.

Harriet TubmanHarriet made the dangerous trip south 19 times, and eventually rescued her parents, brothers, sisters, and many others. She taught them to hide during the day and travel quietly by night, following the “Dipping Gourd” – a pattern in the stars that always pointed North to freedom. Harriet never let anyone turn back. She was bold and fearless, and she never lost a single person during all those escapes.

During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army as a nurse and a spy. She led some daring military raids. She also helped homeless former slaves find homes and work. After the war, Harriet dedicated the rest of her life to helping those in need. She established a home for poor, elderly blacks. She advocated for women’s rights, saying, “Tell the women to stand together.”

Harriet died in her home in 1913 at the age of 93. Today we celebrate her life, which was devoted to helping others achieve freedom, peace and happiness.

Read the Harriet Tubman Wikipedia entry

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