Harriet Tubman’s indelible impact is still being recognized 200 years after she graced the world with her presence. Araminta Ross—which is Tubman’s birthname— was born enslaved in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1822. The National Park Service’s (NPS) background information about her beginning is a prime place to start drawing attention to Tubman’s ascent to becoming a historical figure.
“Her parents, Harriet “Rit” (mother) and Ben Ross (father), had nine children. As a child, Tubman did not have the opportunity to spend time with her family. She was separated from her father when her slaveholder, Edward Brodess, moved only Tubman, her mother and siblings to his farm in Bucktown,” according to information provided on NPS’s website. “Also, three of her older sisters were sold into slavery in the Deep South. By age six, she was separated from her mother when she was rented out and forced to work for other masters to care for their children, and catch and trap muskrats in the Little Blackwater River. Tubman remembered the emotional pain being separated from her family, which she never wanted to experience again.”
Despite her difficult beginning, Tubman’s courageous spirit became evident through her evolution as an abolitionist, contributions as a Civil War nurse, Union spy, civil rights activist, and humanitarian who deeply cared about the welfare of others. A notable accomplishment was her escape from a plantation to the Eastern Shore to reach freedom in Pennsylvania in 1849. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison referred to Tubman as “The Moses of her People,” because she liberated friends and family, with assistance from the Underground Railroad members. The Harriet Tubman Historical Society’s publicized account of Tubman’s journey reminds that the Underground Railroad consisted of “a network of safe houses and transportation provided by abolitionists.”
The public may not always hear how Tubman became savvy enough to reach these secret havens during her brave trips. NPS’s research also provides insight about how Tubman’s experience working in the marshlands and swamps in childhood later worked to her advantage, upon seeking freedom for herself and others. She was reportedly accustomed to navigating in those surroundings. African American sailors who worked in timber fields, and also transported shipped goods to destinations such as Baltimore, Pennsylvania, and Delaware “provided a network of communication on the Underground Railroad for Tubman and other freedom seekers,” according to NPS’s detailed account of Tubman’s background.
With these details in mind, frequently unexplained details of Tubman’s success becomes more lucid.
“I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger,” Tubman once said.
Even with these additional details in place, Tubman’s story remains interwoven with more complex strategies which make her a remarkable woman of passion and purpose.
On the U.S. Army’s website, explanations are given about why Tubman favored winter months to escape, in addition to leading liberation journeys on Saturdays. During winter, the nights were longer and individuals were out and about less. Moreover, striving to reach freedom on Saturdays decreased the chance of being captured because notices about runaway enslaved people were not printed in newspapers until Mondays.
Although it is widely circulated that Harriet Tubman made 19 trips which resulted in the liberation of 300 people, according to facts compiled by Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway’s website, 70 of Tubman’s family and friends were rescued during an estimated 13 Maryland trips. Additionally, Tubman provided instruction to approximately 70 other enslaved individuals from the Eastern Shore “who found their way to freedom on their own.”
Another lesser-known fact about Tubman is that she was the first woman to lead a U.S. military raid. It all happened during the Civil War, when the Union Army received assistance to help slaves take the journey North upon arriving behind enemy lines, per information provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Tubman offered to assist the Union Army through spy missions. She even dressed as a field hand to get the job done.
“Tubman delivered the information to Union Colonel James Montgomery, commander of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, to support military operational planning. In June 1863, Harriet Tubman and Col. Montgomery led the raid at Combahee Ferry using her intelligence information to navigate around the Confederate mines placed in the Combahee River. The mission successfully rescued more than 700 slaves from the plantations along the river,” according to the website.
Devoted Tubman fans remain unaware that The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway which is a self-guided driving tour. It comprises over “45 historically significant sites related to the Underground Railroad.” More than two hundred miles in Maryland and Delaware can be explored through this valuable resource, according to information provided by The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.
Travelers can download an audio guide and map to listen to stories about places to visit which are relevant to Tubman and the pursuit of freedom.
Tubman is a dynamic person who deserves more credit for her comprehensive accomplishments. There are simply too many to discuss at once. If you are interested in learning more about upcoming bicentennial events in honor of Tubman, please visit https://harriettubmanbyway.org/bicentennial-events/ and https://harriettubmanbyway.org/tubman200/ to obtain more information.