Black News and News Makers in History: Harriet Tubman

Black news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Harriet Tubman this week in Black history.Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County Maryland about 1820. Her given name was Araminta Ross. She began her servitude about age five when she worked as a house servant. At about age 12, she was sent to work in the fields. Not long after, as she was trying to protect another field worker, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at her, striking her head. As a result, at times she suffered bouts of "deep sleep" the rest of her life. At some point, she changed her first name to Harriet in honor of her mother.

About 1844, at age 24, she married John Tubman. Even though she married a free black man, in 1849 she was afraid she and other plantation slaves would be sold. She decided to runaway.

December 6, 1849, Tubman escapes from slavery by setting out on foot at night. With some assistance from a white woman, Tubman was able to continue her journey, following the North Star by night, making her way to Philadelphia where she found work and saved her money.

The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and two nieces to freedom. Soon after, she returned to the South to rescue her brother and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband, only to find he had taken another wife. She returned with other slaves seeking freedom.

The official date establishing Harriet Tubman as starting the Underground Railroad is on April 20, 1853. 

By 1856, Tubman was a wanted criminal in the South with a $40,000 reward for capture. She told of one occasion where she "overheard some men reading her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and feigned reading it." They didn't suspect her and she was able to escape capture.

Another trip was particularly dangerous as she was escorting her 70-year old parents.

Tubman became the best known and most productive "conductor" on the Underground Railroad leading Blacks from slavery in the South to freedom in the North and in Canada. In total, over a ten-year period, Tubman made 19 trips into the South, escorting over 300 slaves to freedom without losing anyone. Some of the techniques that enabled their success included "using the master's horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn't be placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading South if she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Tubman even carried a gun which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided to turn back, telling them, "You'll be free or die." "

She became known as 'Moses." Frederick Douglass said of her, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]." John Brown, once said that she was "one of the bravest persons on this continent."

During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war, she settled in Auburn New York, where she remained until her death in 1913 at nearly 93 years of age.

The first stamp of the U.S. Postal Service's Black Heritage USA series honors Harriet Tubman.

Compiled from PBS People and Events Series and Other Sources.