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Harriet Ross Tubman

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Harriet Ross Tubman was an African American who escaped from slavery and then guided runaway slaves to freedom in the North for more than a decade before the American Civil War. During the war she served as a scout, spy, and nurse for the United States Army. In later years she continued to work for the rights of blacks and women. Harriet Tubman, a great African American woman, escaped from slavery, started the Underground Railroad and worked for the rights of blacks and women.

Harriet Tubman, originally named Araminta Ross, as one of 11 children bon to slaves Harriet Greene and Benjamin Ross on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. She later adopted her mother's first name. Harriet was put to work at the age of five and served as a maid and a children's nurse before becoming a field worker when she was twelve. About a year later, an overseer hit Harriet in the head with a weight while trying to protect another slave. Harriet's mother thought that prayer would calm thing's down, so she prayed. Unfortunately Harriet lay in a coma for weeks. She slept in the bed of rags in the corner of he windowless wooden cabin. (Microsoft Encarta par.2)

Doctors were never wasted on slaves, so nobody knew what Harriet was really diagnosed with, although they knew that she had a fractured skull. Later Harriet began to suffer with sleeping fits. These attacks occurred without warning wherever she might be. She suddenly would fall into a deep sleep and couldn't be awakened. This incident would take place as often as 3 to 4 times a day. (McKissack 23)

In 1844 she received permission from her master to marry John Tubman, a free black man. For the next five years Harriet Tubman lived in a state of semi-slavery: she remained a legally a slave, but her master allowed her to live with her husband. However, the death of her master in 1847, followed by the death of his young son and heir in 1849, made Tubman's status uncertain and she didn't want to be sold so she fled to the North and freedom. Her husband remained in Maryland. In 1849, Harriet Tubman moved to Pennsylvania, but retuned to Maryland two years later hoping to persuade her husband to come North with her. By this time John Tubman had remarried. Harriet did not marry again until after Tubman's death. (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia par. 5)

In Pennsylvania, Harriet Tubman joined the abolitionist cause, working to end slavery. She decided to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a network of antislavery activists who helped slaves escape from the South. On her first trip in 1850, Tubman brought her own sister and her sister's two children out of slavery in Maryland. In 1851 she rescued her brother, and in 1857 returned to Maryland to guide her aged parents to freedom. (Bradford 17)

Over a period of ten years Tubman made an estimated 19 trips into the South and personally escorted about 300 slaves to the North. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 had federal commissioners in every county to assist in the return of runaways and provided harsh punishments for those convicted of helping slaves to escape. Harriet Tubman was a likely target of the law, so in 1851 she moved to St. Catherine, a city in Ontario, Canada, that was the destination of many escaped slaves. By the late 1850s a number of Northern states passed personal liberty laws that protected the rights of fugitive slaves, so Tubman was able to purchase land and move with her parents to Auburn, New York, a center of antislavery. (Levine 27)

Harriet inherited strong religious faith from her parents. While living in St. Catherines, Ontario, she attended the BME church. During her life in Auburn, Harriet played a significant role in the formation and progress of the Thompson memorial AME Zion Church. Many of the slaves that Harriet helped escape went to the church. (Bradford 33)

Tubman faced great danger guiding slaves to freedom as Southerners offered large rewards for her capture. Tubman brilliantly used disguises-sometimes posing as a deranged old man and at other times as an old woman to avoid suspicion when traveling in slave states. She carried sleeping powder to stop babied from crying and always carried a pistol to prevent slaves from backing out once the journey to freedom had begun. (Bradford 19)

Tubman constantly changed her route and her method of operation, though she almost always began her escapes on Saturday nights for two reasons. First, many masters did not make their slaves work on Sundays and might not miss them until Monday, when the runaways had already traveled a full day and a half. Second, newspapers advertising the escape would not be published until the beginning of the week, so by the time copies reached readers, Tubman and the fugitive slaves were likely to be close to their destination in the North. (Levine 16)

Tubman never lost any of her runaways and seemed to have an unusual ability to find food and shelter during hazardous missions. Among African Americans she came to be known as Moses, after the Biblical hero who led the Hebrews out of enslavement in Egypt. (Levine 17)

Tubman also served as an inspiration to both white and black abolitionists. She worked closely with black antislavery activist William Still in Philadelphia and with the Underground Railroad conductor Thomas Garrett. Abolitionist John Brown gave her the title "General Tubman". She consulted with Brown on his plan to start an armed rebellion against slavery in the South, but illness prevented her from joining him at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in his disastrous 1859 raid. (Bradford 23)

When the Civil War began in 1861, Tubman served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union Army in South Carolina. She helped prepare food for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment- composed entirely of black soldiers and known as the Glory Brigade- before its heroic but disastrous attack on Fort Wagner in 1863. She later received an official commendation, but no pay for her efforts. In 1869 she married an African American war veteran, Nelson Davis. He died in 1890. (McKissack 34)

Tubman spent the years after the war in the North, where she continued her work to improve the lives of blacks in the United States. She raised funds to assist former slaves with food, shelter, and education. Tubman also established a care facility for the elderly at her own home in Auburn. Tubman was not able to read or write, but in 1869 her friend Sarah Bradford helped her publish her biography, Scenes from the Life of Harriet Tubman, so that her achievements could be and inspiration to others. (Microsoft Encarta par. 8)

Tubman became active in promoting the rights of women, particularly of black women. In 1895 she was a delegate to the first and only meeting of the National

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