Underground Railroad Conductor

Born: c. 1820, Dorchester County, Maryland
Died: March 10, 1913, Auburn, New York

Harriet Tubman was a runaway slave from Maryland who became known as the "Moses of her people." Over the course of 10 years, and at great personal risk, she led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their journey north to freedom. She later became a leader in the abolitionist movement, and during the Civil War she was a spy with for the federal forces in South Carolina as well as a nurse.

Harriet Tubman`s name at birth was Araminta Ross. She was one of 11 children of Harriet and Benjamin Ross born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland. As a child, Ross was "hired out" by her master as a nursemaid for a small baby, much like the nursemaid in the picture. Ross had to stay awake all night so that the baby wouldn`t cry and wake the mother. If Ross fell asleep, the baby`s mother whipped her. From a very young age, Ross was determined to gain her freedom. As a slave, Araminta Ross was scarred for life when she refused to help in the punishment of another young slave. A young man had gone to the store without permission, and when he returned, the overseer wanted to whip him. He asked Ross to help but she refused. When the young man started to run away, the overseer picked up a heavy iron weight and threw it at him. He missed the young man and hit Ross instead. The weight nearly crushed her skull and left a deep scar. She was unconscious for days, and suffered from seizures for the rest of her life.

In 1844, Ross married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. She also changed her first name, taking her mother`s name, Harriet. In 1849, worried that she and the other slaves on the plantation were going to be sold, Tubman decided to run away. Her husband refused to go with her, so she set out with her two brothers, and followed the North Star in the sky to guide her north to freedom. Her brothers became frightened and turned back, but she continued on and reached Philadelphia. There she found work as a household servant and saved her money so she could return to help others escape.

During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union army as a nurse, a cook, and a spy. Her experience leading slaves along the Underground Railroad was especially helpful because she knew the land well. She recruited a group of former slaves to hunt for rebel camps and report on the movement of the Confederate troops. In 1863, she went with Colonel James Montgomery and about 150 black soldiers on a gunboat raid in South Carolina. Because she had inside information from her scouts, the Union gunboats were able to surprise the Confederate rebels.

At first when the Union Army came through and burned plantations, slaves hid in the woods. But when they realized that the gunboats could take them behind Union lines to freedom, they came running from all directions, bringing as many of their belongings as they could carry. Tubman later said, "I never saw such a sight." Tubman played other roles in the war effort, including working as a nurse. Folk remedies she learned during her years living in Maryland would come in very handy.

Tubman worked as a nurse during the war, trying to heal the sick. Many people in the hospital died from dysentery, a disease associated with terrible diarrhea. Tubman was sure she could help cure the sickness if she could find some of the same roots and herbs that grew in Maryland. One night she searched the woods until she found water lilies and crane`s bill (geranium). She boiled the water lily roots and the herbs and made a bitter-tasting brew that she gave to a man who was dying-and it worked! Slowly he recovered. Tubman saved many people in her lifetime. On her grave her tombstone reads "Servant of God, Well Done."

Underground Railroad

After Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery, she returned to slave-holding states many times to help other slaves escape. She led them safely to the northern free states and to Canada. It was very dangerous to be a runaway slave. There were rewards for their capture, and ads like you see here described slaves in detail. Whenever Tubman led a group of slaves to freedom, she placed herself in great danger. There was a bounty offered for her capture because she was a fugitive slave herself, and she was breaking the law in slave states by helping other slaves escape

If anyone ever wanted to change his or her mind during the journey to freedom and return, Tubman pulled out a gun and said, "You`ll be free or die a slave!" Tubman knew that if anyone turned back, it would put her and the other escaping slaves in danger of discovery, capture or even death. She became so well known for leading slaves to freedom that Tubman became known as the "Moses of Her People." Many slaves dreaming of freedom sang the spiritual "Go Down Moses." Slaves hoped a savior would deliver them from slavery just as Moses had delivered the Israelites from slavery.

Tubman made 19 trips to Maryland and helped 300 people to freedom. During these dangerous journeys she helped rescue members of her own family, including her 70-year-old parents. At one point, rewards for Tubman`s capture totaled $40,000. Yet, she was never captured and never failed to deliver her "passengers" to safety. As Tubman herself said, "On my Underground Railroad I [never] run my train off [the] track [and] I never [lost] a passenger." Raiding Combahee

In June, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, the union hatched a bold plan to raid the Combahee Ferry area in South Carolina. Under the overall command of Colonel Montgomery, several hundred black soldiers (led by white officers) would board three US Navy ships. These ships would then travel a dangerous course inland, deep into Confederate territories.

The area had been mapped out and reconnoitered by a Union spy. Because of these efforts the area was known to have an abundance of supplies and food needed for the souths war efforts,along with a variety of plantations and their accompanying slaves. This spy would participate in the mission should any additional information be needed.

Travelling by night, one ship was put out of commission. Yet the other two continued on and, near dawn, combat actions began. The spy, not the type of person to sit idle as a spectator, took control of a small group and led them into battle. As cannon fire erupted from the ships and shots were fired from both sides, the Union forces created havoc and were rewarded with a stunning victory.

A bridge was wrecked. Surprised Confederate troops were forced to flee. Several plantations and their important crops were completely destroyed. A horde of rice along with a variety farm animals were confiscated for the use of northern troops. But most important, over 700 slaves were freed, boarded and brought back to Union lines where many of them were formed into military units. Not one Union death was reported.

Just another exciting chapter in a large book of Civil War battles? Perhaps. Except that the northern spy who helped lead the Union forces was a woman. The first American woman to lead a raid during the Civil War. More, she was a black woman. A black woman and former slave named Harriet Tubman.

Tubman was less used to travelling by ship than she was by railroad Underground Railroad. Prior to the Civil War shed personally helped to free hundreds of black men, women and children from the grip of southern slavery. Those talents shed used to free slaves came to use again during the war, as a spy

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