Born to slaves Harriet Ross, ( who was known as Old Rit), andher husband Ben Ross, Harriet Tubman entered the world around1820 on a farm in Maryland. At the time she was known as Araminta“Minty” Ross. Old Rit cared for Minty and her 8 siblings. Minty lovedher life, even though she was a slave. She played with other slavechildren. She listened to her father’s stories of the forest and hermother’s stories from the bible. One story was about Moses who ledthe Hebrews to safety. When Minty turned six, her happy life haltedto a stop. Mr. Brodas, Minty’s owner hired her out. Back during theslave era, to “hire” a slave out meant that slaves were given by theirmaster to different people far away from their families. These peopleusually couldn’t afford to buy their own slaves and were sort of“borrowing” the slaves. This meant Minty had to leave her family andher home. She cried on the day the wagon came to take her. Shedidn’t want to leave like some of her siblings had. But of course, itdidn’t matter what slaves had to say. They were treated like animals.Sadly, Minty had to leave and work for a lady named Mrs. Cook.Harriet’s Childhood
Mrs. Cook , Minty’s new owner, was a mean weaver. Minty’s jobwas to wind yarn on a loom. Sometimes Minty dropped the yarn andcouldn’t do the job. Like most slave owners, Mrs. Cook punished Mintyby harshly whipping her. Mr. Cook also used Minty. He made her checkhis muskrat traps near the cold river. Once, Minty was sick. She had themeasles. Thinking she was faking, Mr. Cook made her go anyways. WhenMinty returned, he realized she really was ill. Mr. Cook sent her back toOld Rit who took care of her. After 6 weeks, Minty went back to theCooks. Soon, she was sent back to Mr. Brodas because the Cooks saidshe was lazy and useless. Next, she was hired out to a lady named MissSusan. Minty, still a little girl, had to watch Miss Susans baby. If the babycried, she got whipped. One day, she tried to grab a lump of sugar justto see what it tastes like. Miss Susan caught her and furious, she grabbedher whip. Before she could crack the whip on Minty, she ran as fast as alightning bolt out the door. For 5 days, she stayed in a pigpen, fearing togo back to Miss Susan. Gradually, due to hunger and filth, Minty headedback to Miss Susan. Instead of a new slave owner, returned to Mr. Brodas.Being a Slave
The Head InjuryMinty worked in the Mr. Brodas’ fields which made herstrong. Most of the time, she heard a lot of slaves talking aboutescaping and wanting to be free. One day, she saw a slave try torun away. He was halfway across the field when the overseer,(theperson who watches the slaves), ran after him with Minty followingclose behind. They ran until the slave was cornered into a store. Theoverseer asked Minty to help tie up the slave. Instead, Minty quicklylet the slave out the door. The overseer tried to pick up a hugeheavy weight and threw it out the door at the slave. He missedand the weight hit Minty. She collapsed to the floor, bleeding, andher world went black. Minty was brought back to Old Rit, whonursed her carefully. No one thought Minty would live, buteventually she recovered, leaving a scar on her forehead. Peoplenow treated her with respect. After all, she was only 14 and hadrebelled against an overseer. Minty took her mother’s name,becoming “Harriet”. She wasn’t a child anymore. However, Harrietnever recovered fully. She suffered from headaches and sleepingspells. Sleeping spells meant she would be wide awake onemoment and fast asleep the next. It is said that she sometimereceived messages from God. These traumas stayed with her forthe rest for her life.
John Stewart and the North StarHarriet heard rumors that Mr. Brodas was going to sell her andher brothers. She feared being sent down south. Being sent southmeant harder work because of the cotton plantations. Cotton washard to harvest, especially in the south heat . Another problem wasthat going south meant going farther away from the free north states.Harriet desperately wanted to be free. She prayed for Mr. Brodas’death. A few weeks later, he actually did get sick and passed away.Harriet felt bad for him but at least she got a new slave owner, Dr.Thompson. Dr. Thompson hired out Harriet and her father to a buildernamed John Stewart, who was a nice man. Sometimes he even paidHarriet money for her hard work with the men. She spent the next fiveyears cutting down trees, splitting logs, and plowing fields. Her fathertaught her many things to help her escape. For example, he taught herto move through the woods silently, to use moss for direction, and howto find the North Star . The North Star guided slaves to freedom. Harrietremembered Ben’s words because in time these things would help her.She knew she was going to escape soon…
John Tubman and EscapingWhen Harriet was around 23, she met John Tubman and fell in lovewith him. John was born free unlike Harriet. Soon, they made plans to getmarried. Before they got married, Harriet made a pretty, colorful quilt for herwedding. She brought it with her to John’s house after they got married.John loved Harriet and his life with her. Harriet asked John many times toescape with her to the north. She wanted to be free like him. John refusedand even threatened to tell the master about her plans. Harriet realizedthat she’d have to go without him. Sometimes, a white Quaker womantalked with Harriet when she was working. Quakers were people whostrongly hated slavery and war. Soon, Harriet received news that she andher family were going to be sold. Now it was nearly mandatory to escape.She and her brothers created a plan. When nighttime came, they met atthe woods. Harriet’s brothers were too afraid and forced her to return withthem. The next night Harriet decided to leave quietly by herself. With Johnasleep, she packed her quilt and a little food then took off. Harriet walkedsilently through the woods like Ben taught her to. He also told her to gothrough water so she wouldn’t leave a scent. Harriet reached the Quakerlady’s house. To thank the woman for helping her, Harriet gave herwedding quilt. Next, Harriet traveled along the river at night. She hid duringdaylight. Then she traveled on the underground railroad – a series ofabolitionists’ houses that gave food and shelter to slaves as they escaped.
Leading Others to SafetyNow a free woman, Harriet was in a free state. But shewasn’t sure what to do. Where to start? All her friends and familywere back home in Maryland. So Harriet just got a job cooking andcleaning. At least this job was better than being a slave. Harrietheard that her sister Mary and her family were going to be sold. Sheknew had to go save them. She sent John, Mary’s husband who wasa free man, a plan. But they were already at the slave auction.However, they weren’t sold yet. John told the auctioneer that Maryand her children had already been bought and handed him a fakeletter from Marys “master.” Quickly, John led his family to a Quakerman’ house. That night, he had to row his family to shore up theriver. There John found a white woman who asked him who he was.“ A friend with friends,” he replied. The Underground railroad hadmany different codes so white people wouldn’t get suspicious. Thewoman drove them to a brick house in Maryland. There was Harriet,who arranged this whole plan. Then she led them north through theforest quietly. Harriet had a pistol which made John and his familyfeel safer. She knew the ways through the forest and helped hersister’s family on the Underground Railroad. Soon, they were inPhiladelphia . But Harriet wasn’t done with bringing slaves to safety.
A new law was passed to make sure runaway slaves came backto their masters no matter what state. Harriet planned to bring otherrelatives to safety, but now she had to travel to Canada , across theborder where there would be no slavery. Harriet planned to bring herhusband, John, but sadly he already found another wife and refuses.After her relatives, Harriet started to bring random slaves to freedom. Sheworked in a hotel to make money, and each year had 2 visits downsouth. Each visit Harriet would rescue more and more slaves to bring toCanada. Sometimes, she taught slaves how to escape themselves.Harriet now had lots of experience about where to go. She also usedsome tricks. She dressed slaves their opposite gender. She also escapedon Saturday. Sunday wasn’t a work day so slaves wouldn’t be misseduntil Monday. Soon, rumors were spread about Harriet. Most of themabout her cleverness. There was also a huge reward on finding her andcapturing her. At one point, 40,000 dollars was the reward! Once, twomen thought that they saw Harriet next to them. It was her, but she knewthe posters said she couldn’t read. So, she outsmarted the men bygrabbing a book and pretending to read. Harriet finally went back tosave her parents and gave them a house and money. She gave manyspeeches and knew it was too dangerous to continue being aconductor. Sadly, she retired. But her help didn’t stop there.Clever Plans as a Conductor
Nursing the Civil WarHarriet Tubman also helped in the Civil War. The Civil War was awar between the north and the south for many reasons. One wasbecause of slavery. Just because she wasn’t a conductor on theUnderground Railroad anymore, didn’t mean that she still couldn’t helpend slavery. After all, she strongly was against it. Before the war, shemotivated the slaves to feel like they weren’t slaves anymore and to workwith the white soldiers. As a nurse for the Civil War, she healed manywounded soldiers all day. Harriet even cured people with dysenterywhich was a horrible stomach cramp that caused death. The war wenton for years. 2 years later, Abraham Lincoln issued the EmancipationProclamation. But still the war didn’t end! But now Harriet was a spy. Shecould talk to blacks who were still down south and easily get information.Soon, Harriet had 9 scouts in her command and was in charge of a largearea from South Carolina to Florida. It was dangerous being a spy, butHarriet was used to danger. She led her scouts to blow up the south’sbridges so they couldn’t get supplies. They also kidnapped southernsoldiers. 2 years later, Harriet went back home because she was tired andwanted to see her parents. The government owed Harriet 1,800 dollarsbut she was never paid. Afterwards, she returned and worked at ahospital to care for black patients. In April 1865, the Civil War ended. ThatDecember, slavery was finally abolished.
Sarah Bradford and Nelson DavisHarriet returned to her house because her parents needed her.Not only her parents, but black former slaves also needed her help. Therewas still discrimination of the blacks. They weren’t given the same rights asthe whites. For example, blacks were not allowed to live in the sameareas as whites, shop in stores owned by whites, or pray in the samechurch that white people prayed in. Harriet took them all in under herwing and took care of them. But she needed money to do that. Shereceived help from a white woman named Sarah Bradford. Sarah visitedHarriet and listened to her stories about the Underground Railroad , andbeing a nurse and spy Civil War. In 1869, Sarah Bradford published abiography about Harriet Tubman, entitled, Scenes in the Life of HarrietTubman. All the money earned from its sale would go to Harriet. Thatsame year, on March 18, 1869, Harriet married a handsome man namedNelson Davis who was 22 years younger than her. John Tubman had diedbefore so Harriet couldn’t raise a family with him, but Nelson gave heranother chance. Sadly, Nelson was later diagnosed with tuberculosis.Nelson was a bricklayer and gave his wife her much-needed money totake care of people. Sarah Bradford published another biography ofHarriet to help her. It was entitled Harriet Tubman: The Moses of HerPeople. Money came from the new book, but it still wasn’t enough.
Unfortunately, Nelson Davis died. It was a few years later afterHarriet’s parents died. Poor Harriet was all alone, but she didn’t stopworking hard. She still took care of the blacks in her house, but wanted tocare for more people who needed help. For that, Harriet needed biggerland for a bigger house. But she specifically wanted a hospital and a resthome for blacks. More money was needed! Harriet now sold crops door todoor. Sometimes, people let her come in and listened to her tell stories ofthe Civil War, President Lincoln’s assassination , and about slaves comingto America on slave ships. Harriet also earned money by giving speeches,once with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These womenwere women’s rights workers that wanted to prove that men were equalto women. They also helped enable women to vote. Harriet toldaudiences that she never lost one passenger on the Underground Railroadwhich was something that even men couldn’t do. She heard the landacross her house was going to be sold. Harriet purchased the land so theblacks she cared for could lived there. After that, people began to visitHarriet from everywhere to know about her life. She even received aletter, medal, and a black silk shawl from Queen Victoria. Harriet turnedher house to a African church. She still lived in it, with the church payingthe bills. But Harriet didn’t like that the church said no one could enterwithout 100 dollars. Instead, she said you entered only if you didn’t havemoney.Needing More Money
Late Life and DeathHarriet was about 92 years old now. She liked taking walksthrough town, but soon her grandchildren had to push her throughtown on a wheel chair. Still, people came to see Harriet to learn abouther exciting life as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, as anurse for the Civil War, and as a spy for the Union Army. They sometimesread her the newspaper because Harriet still never learned to read orwrite. On March 10 1913, she died due to pneumonia. The town ofAuburn, (her home town) New York decided to honor her. They putflags at half mast, many spoke about her, and a bronze plaque wasplaced in front of the Auburn Courtroom for her.Harriet Tubman will always be rememberedbecause of her hard work, courage, and devotion tofree slaves.