Tubman, Harriet

Life Span
    Full name
    Harriet Tubman
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Siblings
    No. of Spouses
    Ben Ross (father), Harriet "Rit" Green (mother), John Tubman (first husband), Nelson Davis (second husband), Ben Ross (brother, changes name to James Stewart), Henry Ross (brother, changes name to William Henry Stewart), Robert Ross (brother, changes name to John Stewart), Moses Ross (brother), Linah Ross (sister), Mariah Ritty Ross (sister), Rachel Ross (sister), Soph Ross (sister), Angerine Ross (niece), Ben Ross (nephew), John Henry Ross (nephew), John Isaac Ross (nephew), Moses Ross (nephew), Kessiah Jolly Bowley (niece)
    Relation to Slavery
    Slave or Former Slave
    Church or Religious Denomination
    Other Religion
    African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)
    Women’s Rights
    Union Army
    Occupation in 1860
    Raised money through donations at public speaking engagements
    Marital status in 1860

    Harriet Tubman (American National Biography)

    The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 forced Tubman to transport newly emancipated groups into Canada-West (now Ontario), placing them "under the paw of the British lion" since England had abolished enslavement. Routes from Canada to Maryland depended on the exigency of the moment. Tubman's favorite route, also the most dangerous because of proslavery attitudes, was the Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania circuit, where Thomas Garrett, a Delaware Quaker, was her main contact. Her staunchest supporters were on the Central New York Road, where she met abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Oliver Johnson, and Reverend J. W. Loguen, as well as future suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.In 1858 Tubman met archrevolutionary John Brown, whose radical, military fiber matched hers. Together they plotted the Harpers Ferry raid, but illness prevented Tubman's participation. In 1860 she successfully led a bloody battle regarding an escaped bondsman in Troy, New York.

    The Civil War found Tubman condemning a reluctant President Abraham Lincoln, agitating for immediate emancipation, and spending 1862 in Union-occupied areas nursing white soldiers and black "contrabands" injured while fleeing enslavement. In 1863, when blacks joined the military, Tubman hand-picked and commanded a black corps of spies, scouts, and river pilots who conducted daring surveillance, espionage, and intelligence operations throughout the southeastern seaboard. She strategized and guided a band of black soldiers (under Colonel James Montgomery) into the Confederate-held Combahee, South Carolina, region and successfully disabled their supply line.
    Margaret Washington, "Tubman, Harriet," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00707.html.

    Harriet Tubman (Larson, 2004)

    Tubman was guided by an interior life shaped by a particular slave experience. Suffering under the lash, disabled by a near-fatal head injury, Tubman rose above horrific childhood adversity to emerge with a will of steel. Refusing to be bound by the chains of slavery or by the low expectations limiting the lives of women and African Americans, Tubman struggled against amazing odds to pursue her lifelong commitment to liberty, equal rights, justice, and self-determination. Owing her success to unique survival techniques, Tubman managed to transcend victimization to achieve emotional and physical freedom from her oppressors. Supported by a deep spiritual faith and a lifelong humanitarian passion for family and community, Tubman demonstrated an unyielding and seemingly fearless resolve to secure liberty and equality for others.
    Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004), xx.

    Harriet Tubman, Resolve to rescue family (Larson, 2004)

    Though Tubman was nominally free in Philadelphia, she soon learned that freedom did not ensure happiness. Liberation from slavery had its own reward, but Tubman noted that “there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.” What set Tubman apart from thousands of other runaways was her determination to act: she quickly set upon a plan to liberate her family. She easily found work as a domestic and a cook in various hotels and private homes in Philadelphia, and later, during the summer months, at Cape May, New Jersey. She hoarded her money, planning carefully for the days ahead when she could return to the Eastern Shore to bring her family away to freedom. She kept in touch with events back home by communicating with the extensive network of sources among the free black, fugitive black, and liberal white communities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, Delaware, and Cape May who shared information about the slave community.
    Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (New York: Ballantine, 2004), 88-89.

    Harriet Tubman (Bradford, 1869)



    It is proposed in this little book to give a plain and unvarnished account of some scenes and adventures in the life of a woman who, though one of earth’s lowly ones, and of dark-hued skin, has shown an amount of heroism in her character rarely possessed by those of any station in life. Her name (we say it advisedly and without exaggeration) deserves to be handed down to posterity side by side with the names of Joan of Arc, Grace Darling, and Florence Nightingale; for not one of the women has shown more courage and power of endurance in facing danger and death to relieve human suffering, than has this woman in her heroic and successful endeavors to reach and save all whom she might of her oppressed and suffering race, and to pilot them from the land of Bondage to the promised land of Liberty. Well has she been called “Moses,” for she has been a leader and deliverer unto hundreds of her people.

    Worn down by her sufferings and fatigues, her health permanently affected by the cruelties to which she has been subjected, she is still laboring to the utmost limit of her strength for the support of her aged parents, and still also for her afflicted people – by her own efforts supporting two schools for Freedmen at the South, and supplying them with clothes and books; never obtruding herself, never asking for charity, except for “her people.”
    It is for the purpose of aiding her in ministering to the wants of her aged parents, and in the hope of securing to them the little home which they are in danger of losing from inability to pay the whole amount due – which amount was partly paid when our heroine left them to throw herself into the work of aiding our suffering soldiers – that this little account, drawn from her by persevering endeavor, is given to the friends of humanity.
    The writer of this story has till very lately known less personally of the subject of it, than many others to whom she has for years been an object of interest and care. But through relations and friends in Auburn, and also through Mrs. Commodore Swift of Geneva, and her sisters, who have for many years known and esteemed this wonderful woman, she has heard tales of her deeds of heroism which seemed almost too strange for belief, and were invested with the charm of romance.
    During a sojourn of some months in the city of Auburn, while the war was in progress, the writer used to see occasionally in her Sunday-school class the aged mother of Harriet, and received answers telling of her untiring devotion to our wounded and sick soldiers, and of her efficient aid in various ways to the cause of the Union.
    By the graphic pen of Mrs. Stowe, the incidents of such a life as that of the subject of this little memoir might be wrought up into a tale of thrilling interest, equaling, if not exceeding, anything in her world-renowned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;” but the story of Harriet Tubman needs no the drapery of fiction; the bare unadorned facts are enough to stir the hearts of the friends of humanity, the friends of liberty, the lovers of their country.
    There are those who will sneer, there are those who have already done so, at this quixotic attempt to make a heroine of a black woman, and a slave; but it may possibly be that there are some natures, though concealed under fairer skins, who have not the capacity to comprehend such general and self-sacrificing devotion to the cause of others as that here delineated, and therefore they resort to scorn and ridicule, in order to throw discredit upon the whole story.
    Much has been left out which would have been highly interesting, because of the impossibility of substantiating by the testimony of others the truth of Harriet’s statements. But whenever it has been possible to find those who were cognizant with the facts stated, they have been corroborated in every particular.
    A few years hence and we seem to see a gathering where the wrongs of earth will be righted, and justice, long delayed, will assert itself, and perform its office. Then not a few of those who had esteemed themselves the wise and noble of this world, “will begin with shame to take the lowest place;” while upon Harriet’s dark head a kind hand will be placed, and in her ear a gentile voice will sound, saying: “Friend! come up higher!”


    Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn: W.J. Moses, 1869), 1-4.

    Harriet Tubman (Miller, 1913)


    No one knows exactly when Harriet Tubman was born, but it was on the eastern shore of Maryland and not much less than a hundred years ago. She knows that her mother’s mother was brought in a slave ship from Africa, that her mother was the daughter of a white man, an American, and her father a full-blooded Negro.

    Harriet was not large, but she was very strong. The most strenuous slave labor was demanded of her; summer and winter she drove oxcarts; she ploughed; with her father she cut timber and drew heavy logs like a patient mule. About 1844 she was married to a freedman named Tubman. He proved unworthy and deserted her. She determined to try to escape from slavery, and induced her two brothers to go with her. The three started together, but the brothers soon became frightened and turned back. Harriet went on alone. All through the night she walked and ran alone. When she reached a place of safety it was morning. She says: “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free – there was such glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven!” Not one to enjoy heaven alone was that generous heart. Nineteen times did she return to the land of slavery, and each time brought away to Canada groups of men, women, and children, her parents and brothers among them, about three hundred in all. A prize of $40,000 was offered for her capture, but Harriet was never caught. She delights to recall the fact that on all those long and perilous journeys on the “Underground Railroad” she never lost a passenger! Her belief that she was and is sustained and guided by “de sperit of de Lord” is absolute. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts appointed her scout and nurse during the war. She is now receiving a pension.

    One of the most important episodes in which Harriet took a leading part and proved the saving factor was Colonel Montgomerie’s exploit on the Combahee River. General Hunter secured Harriet's assistance for the great undertaking. The plan was to send several gunboats and a few men up the river, in an attempt to collect the slaves living near the shores and carry them down to Beaufort, within the Union lines. It is worth a day’s journey to hear Harriet herself describe the vivid scene—throngs of hesitating refugees, a motley crowd, men, women, children, babies—(“Pears like I nebber see so many twins in my life”)— and pigs and chickens, and such domestic necessities as could be “toted” along. The slave-drivers had used their whips in vain to get the poor refugees back to their quarters, and yet the blacks were almost as much in dread of the stranger soldiers. How deal with this turbulent mass of humanity? The colonel realized the danger of delay, and calling Harriet to the upper deck in a voice of command said: “Moses, you’ll have to give ‘em a song!” Then the power of the woman poured forth— Harriet lifted up a voice full of emotional fervor in verse after verse of prophetic promise. She improvised both words and melody:

    Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West
    The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best!
    Come along! Come along! Don't be alarm,
    Uncle Sam's rich enough to give us all a farm!

    Come along! Come along! Don't be a fool,
    Uncle Sam's rich enough to send us all to school! etc., etc.

    As she chanted to refrain “Come along! Come along!” she raised her long arms with an imperious gesture impossible to resist. The crowd responded with shouts of “Glory! Glory!” The victory was won— about eight hundred souls eagerly scrambled on board the gunboats and were transported to freedom.
    Among the many men of note who trusted and encouraged the intrepid little woman were Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Garrett, William H. Seward, Emerson, Alcott, Dr. Howe and Gerrit Smith. Frederick Douglass wrote of her, “Excepting John Brown, I know no one who has encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people.” John Brown said, “Mr. Phillips, I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent, ‘General Tubman,’ as we call her.” He also said, “She is the most of a man, naturally, that I ever met with.” This war-time general now speaks with tender reverence—“John Brown, my dearest friend”—and she whom he called “the most of a man” is also more of a mother than most women. She founded and maintains a home for colored men and women. She “dwells in the midst of them, singing.”

    Anne Fitzhugh Miller
    Anne Fitzhugh Miller, "Harriet Tubman," The Magazine of History 16 (1913): 169-171.

    Harriet Tubman (New York Times)

    Harriet Tubman Davis, an ex-slave, known as the “Moses of her people,” who before the civil war took 300 slaves to Canada through her “underground railroad,” died on Monday night at the home she founded for aged and indigent negroes at Auburn, N. Y. She was said to be 98 years old, and her death was caused by pneumonia.

    Harriet Tubman Davis was esteemed by such men as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Philips Brooks, Horace Mann, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown, while on the other hand planters and slave owners offered rewards of from $12,000 to $40,000 for her capture during the fifties, at the time when she was taking slaves out of the United States. She had served as scout, nurse, and spy in the Union Army.
    “Harriet Tubman Davis,” New York Times, March 14, 1913, p. 9.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Adams, Samuel Hopkins. "Slave in the Family." The New Yorker 23 (December 1947): 32-36. view record
    Bayliss, John F. Black Slave Narratives. New York: Macmillan, 1970. view record
    Blight, David W. Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books in Association with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2004. view record
    Bradford, Sarah H. Harriet, the Moses of Her People. New York: Geo. R. Lockwood and Son, 1886. view record
    Bradford, Sarah H. Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Auburn, NY: W.J. Moses, 1869. view record
    Bridner, Elwood L., Jr. "The Fugitive Slaves of Maryland." Maryland Historical Magazine 66, no. 1 (1971): 33-50. view record
    Chism, Kahlil. "Harriet Tubman: Spy, Veteran, and Widow." Magazine of History 19 (2005): 47-51. view record
    Clinton, Catherine. "On the Road to Harriet Tubman." American Heritage 55 (2004): 44-49. view record
    Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 2004. view record
    Conrad, Earl. Harriet Tubman, Negro Soldier and Abolitionist. New York: International Publishers, 1942. view record
    Conrad, Earl. Harriet Tubman. New York: Eriksson, 1969. view record
    Crewe, Sandra Edmonds. "Harriet Tubman's Last Work: The Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes." Journal of Gerontological Social Work 49 (2007): 229-244. view record
    Crewe, Sandra Edmonds. "Harriet Tubman: Peacemaker and Stateswoman." Affilia 21, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 228. view record
    Eusebius, Mary. "A Modern Moses: Harriet Tubman." Journal of Negro Education 19, no. 1 (Winter 1950): 16-27. view record
    Falk, Leslie A. "Black Abolitionist Doctors and Healers, 1810-1885." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 54, no. 2 (1980): 258-272. view record
    Ferris, Marc. "Aunt Harriet's Home." American Legacy: Magazine of African-American History and Culture 10 (2004): 63-64, 66, 68. view record
    Gibson, Chantal N., and Monique Silverman. "Surrendering Her Image: the Unknowable Harriet Tubman." RACAR 30 (2005): 25-38. view record
    Gifford, Carolyn DeSwarte, Judith Wellman, Elizabeth Brown Pryor, and Jean M. Humez. "Women Called to Lead." Magazine of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity 4 (2005): 2-9. view record
    Guterman, Benjamin. "Doing 'Good Brave Work': Harriet Tubman's Testimony at Beaufort, South Carolina." Prologue, Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 32, no. 3 (2000): 154-165. view record
    Hoefer, Jean M. "They Called Her 'Moses.'" Civil War Times Illustrated 26 (1988): 36-41. view record
    Hughes, Jim. "Those Who Passed Through: Unusual Visits to Unlikely Places." New York History 86, no. 3 (2005): 289-295. view record
    Humez, Jean McMahon. Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. view record
    Janney, Rebecca Price. Harriet Tubman. Women of Faith. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999. view record
    Kauffman, Bill. "Harriet Tubman, Pre-Mummification." The American Enterprise 17 (June 2006): 46. view record
    Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine, 2004. view record
    Lowry, Beverly. Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 2007. view record
    Newton, James E. "The Underground Railroad in Delaware." Negro History Bulletin 40, no. 3 (1977): 702-703. view record
    Petry, Ann Lane. Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad. New York: Crowell, 1955. view record
    Quist, John W. "Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom." Journal of American History 92, no. 1 (June 2005): 216-217. view record
    Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. New York: Crown Publishers, 1992. view record
    Schroeder, Alan, and Jerry Pinkney. Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1996. view record
    Sernett, Milton C. Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. view record
    Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Before They Could Vote: American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819-1919. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. view record
    Sterling, Dorothy. Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954. view record
    Sullivan, George. Harriet Tubman. New York: Scholastic Reference, 2002. view record
    Taylor, Marian, and Nathan Irvin Huggins. Harriet Tubman. New York: Chelsea House, 1991. view record
    Thompson, Audrey. "Harriet Tubman in Pictures: Cultural Consciousness and the Art of Picture Books." The Lion and the Unicorn 25 (2001): 81-114. view record
    Thompson, Priscilla. "Harriet Tubman, Thomas Garrett, and the Underground Railroad." Delaware History 22, no. 1 (1986): 1-21. view record
    Tobin, Jacqueline, and Hettie Jones. From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2007. view record
    Weatherford, Carole Boston, and Kadir Nelson. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2006. view record
    Whiting, H. A. "Harriet and Her Caravans." Negro History Bulletin 19 (April 1956): 164. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Tubman, Harriet," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/6746.