Harriet Tubman, née Araminta Ross, (born c. 1820, Dorchester county, Maryland, U.S.—died March 10, 1913, Auburn, New York), American bondwoman who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She led dozens of enslaved people to freedom in the North along the route of the Underground Railroad—an elaborate secret network of safe houses organized for that purpose.
Born into slavery, Araminta Ross later adopted her mother’s first name, Harriet. At about age five she was first hired out to work, initially serving as a nursemaid and later as a field hand, a cook, and a woodcutter. When she was about 12 years old she reportedly refused to help an overseer punish another enslaved person, and she suffered a severe head injury when he threw an iron weight that accidentally struck her; she subsequently suffered seizures throughout her life. About 1844 she married John Tubman, a free Black man.In 1849, on the strength of rumours that she was about to be sold, Tubman fled to Philadelphia, leaving behind her husband (who refused to leave), parents, and siblings.
In December 1850 she made her way to Baltimore, Maryland, whence she led her sister and two children to freedom. That journey was the first of some 13 increasingly dangerous forays into Maryland in which, over the next decade, she conducted about 70 fugitive enslaved people along the Underground Railroad to Canada.(Owing to exaggerated figures in Sara Bradford’s 1868 biography of Tubman, it was long held that Tubman had made about 19 journeys into Maryland and guided upward of 300 people out of enslavement.) Tubman displayed extraordinary courage, persistence, and iron discipline, which she enforced upon her charges. If anyone decided to turn back—thereby endangering the mission—she reportedly threatened them with a gun and said, “You’ll be free or die.” She also was inventive, devising various strategies to better ensure success. One such example was escaping on Saturday nights, since it would not appear in newspapers until Monday. The railroad’s most famous conductor, Tubman became known as the “Moses of her people.” It has been said that she never lost a fugitive she was leading to freedom.
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