Harriet Tubman, though she was born into slavery and suffered much abuse as a slave, was considered to be a hero in her day. She was an African American abolitionist and Union spy during the American Civil War. Through her efforts she escaped slavery and made thirteen missions to rescue other enslaved people.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery to Harriet Rit-Green and Ben Ross. Her mother was owned by Mary Pattison Brodess; her father owned by Mary’s second husband, Anthony Thompson who ran a large plantation near the Black water River in Maryland. The exact date of her birth was never recorded and was guessed to be around 1820 or 1822. On her widow’s pension record, Tubman claimed she was born in 1820, 1822, and 1825 which may have been a good indication that she had no idea when she was born. This wasn’t unusual for any people who were born into slavery.
One day during her adolescent years, Harriet Tubman was sent to the store to buy some dry goods. It was here that she collided with another slave who was owned by a different family. This particular slave had left the plantation without permission and his owner was furious. He demanded that Harriet help restrain the young man; she refused and the slave ran out of the store. The owner then threw a two pound weight wanting to hit his slave but instead struck Tubman in the head. She later stated that her hair may have saved her life even though she still received a broken skull. She was returned to her owner unconscious and laid on a seat for two days receiving no medical care. Once she awoke she was sent back into the fields to work until she could no longer see from all the blood dripping down her face. Brodess tried to sell her but was unsuccessful. Harriet Tubman was never the same and experienced seizures and fell unconscious sporadically throughout the rest of her life. It is suggested now that she may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy due specifically from the injury.
Family Life and Freedom
In 1840 Harriet Tubman’s father was released from slavery on a stipulation in a former owner’s will. Harriet hired a lawyer to investigate her mother’s legal status also and found that she too would be released at the age of forty five. This meant that any children born after this time would be born as free children. However the Brodess family, like many other slave owners ignored this rule.
In 1844 Harriet married John Tubman, a free black man. Their marriage was complicated due to her slave status and thus any children born to Harriet and John would also be enslaved. In 1849 Harriet became ill and her owner tried to sell her but to no avail. Harriet began praying to God that Edward Brodess would change his ways and when she realized that it was not going to happen she began praying that Brodess was killed. Edward Brodess died a week later and she later said that she regretted ever praying for such a thing. Harriet saw that her family would soon be split and decided to take her fate into her own hands. She was recorded saying “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” In 1849 Tubman escaped to Philadelphia and then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. One group at a time she slowly brought her relatives out of the state and led many enslaved people to freedom. She was often referred to as “Moses” during her day. They always traveled by night in secrecy and she never lost one passenger. Even after the Fugitive slave law was passed, she still helped people escape, only this time she led them to Canada and then helped them find work.
Later Life and Death
During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union army as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition into war. She led the assault on the Combahee River in which more than 700 slaves were freed. She also worked in her late years to promote women’s suffrage and devoted most of her life to other people. Her endless contributions left her extremely poor. Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York. Her legacy and contributions to the nation are left behind and many will never forget what she did.