Women in History-Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is my hero of all time. Her story is an American story. It's one her fellow African Americans can be very proud of, and one that may cover white Americans with shame. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Madison, Maryland in about 1820. There is no exact record of her birth. Slave births and deaths were not registered. Harriet was born Araminta Ross, nicknamed "Minty". Lovely, that!

Harriet Tubman is justly famous in America for escaping slavery, then helping others to escape. She made 13 rescue missions to help slaves to freedom, risking death, and what was worse--recapture. She put her precious hard-won freedom at risk, again and again, a total of thirteen times, leading 70 people to freedom. By the time she was done, there was a price on her head and she was wanted, dead or alive. She "never lost a passenger".

During the American Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union Army (of course!), at first as a cook, then as a nurse, then as an armed scout. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during that war; she and the troops freed 700 slaves on a South Carolina plantation.

Harriet is on the far left, in the photo
Harriet is on the far left, in the photo

Harriet worked hard all her life. She was also subject to much abuse as a slave. When researching this piece, I was shocked to discover how very mistreated this wonderful person was, even as a small child. The manner in which she was treated was not an uncommon thing. Slaves had no rights at all, in America. It was as though the slaveholders didn't realize or were trying to deny our common humanity. These people weren't treated as though they are our fellow human beings. I was very shocked by this. Aside from the rights and wrongs of holding people hostage and forcing them to work for free, called "slavery", which happened to various peoples in sundry cultures throughout the world in time, didn't the "owners" realize they were dealing with people? It doesn't seem so. Here are a few examples of what happened to Harriet:

  • As a very young child, she was hired out to work for others by her owners to people who beat her. She was hired out to a woman named "Miss Susan" as a nursemaid. She was whipped every time the baby cried, and recalls being whipped five times before breakfast one day. She carried the scars of these beatings for the rest of her life.
  • She was sick with measles: still, her "owner" hired her out to work the muskrat traps in the marshes. She became so ill she couldn't walk. She was carried back to her owners.
  • When she was sent to carry supplies back to the plantation, an "owner" from a different plantation attempted to enlist her help in restraining a young slave who had left without getting permission. Harriet refused to help; the "owner" threw an iron weight at her head. She was carried back to her "owner", unconscious, who left her on the seat of an abandoned loom in a barn or outbuilding, unattended, for two days. Her mother, Harriet Ross, rescued her secretly, or she would have died. She was affected for the rest of her life with seizures from the head injury.
  • She was sent back to the fields, to do field work, with the blood and sweat rolling down her face, to the point where she found it hard to see.

Harriet did all manner of work in her life: she worked as a nursemaid, she did farm and field work, she drove oxen, she plowed, she hauled logs, she worked as a nurse, a laundress, a scout, a soldier, a spy.

Harriet was still a slave when she married a free black man named John Tubman in 1844. This complicated things, though it wasn't unusual in Maryland at this time. About half the black population of Maryland was free. Any children born to them would be the property of Harriet's owners. The status--free or slave--followed the mother.

In 1849, Harriet became ill again. Her value to her owners, the Brodesses, diminished: they attempted to sell her. She would be separated from her husband and her children; she would never see her children again. Mr. Brodess died before they could find a buyer for Harriet. This made it even more likely that the family would be broken up, that she and her children would be sold separately, to different owners, as part of the estate settlement .

Harriet and two of her brothers escaped in September of 1849. Her husband, John Tubman, refused to accompany them. Harriet came back, again and again--at first, to rescue members of her own family, then, to rescue others. She travelled by night and hid by day. She attempted to be reunited with her husband, and found he had married someone else in the meantime, and refused to leave with her. One of her last missions was to rescue her elderly parents, who had been freed by their owners but were still persecuted by the townspeople. She was much assisted by the Underground Railroad, a loose network of abolitionists who helped slaves to escape; she was also one tough cookie.

This is one story about Harriet that I love:

She was helping a group of about a dozen people to escape, and part of the plan was to stow away on a barge. One gentleman refused to get in the boat: he was afraid of boats. He didn't know how to swim. Harriet put a gun to his heart, saying, "Get in the boat or I'll shoot you dead." The man got in the boat. Harriet said later she wouldn't have killed him, but she was at her wit's end what to do. He was holding them up and putting them all at risk. She was 4 foot 7 inches tall, the man was six foot two inches. She didn't even know for sure the gun would work: it was a very old pistol someone had given her in a safe house once.

Harriet settled at first in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Harriet migrated to Canada for a time, working as a laundress. The Fugitive Slave Act made it so that even when an escaped slave made it to a free state, he or she could be extradited back to slavery. There were bounty hunters who made a living tracking down escaped slaves in free states and returning them to slavery, to collect the reward. When slavery was abolished in the United States, Harriet moved back to Auburn, New York, where she eventually died in a home for elderly black people that she had helped to establish, two decades before. Harriet also was an advocate of women's suffrage, and was acquainted with Susan B. Anthony, who used a Harriet Tubman quote in one of her speeches:

When Harriet was asked if she believed women should have the vote, she answered, "I have suffered enough to believe it."

Harriet was a strong Christian. She believed in the Lord. She also believed the Lord sent her visions, telling her what to do. That might have been true, or her visions might have been the result of her head injury.

Harriet was friends with Frederick Douglass, another brave soul who resisted slavery with all his might and main. She was also acquainted with John Brown, though she strongly disagreed with using violence against whites (civilian white people) in the cause of freeing slaves. Considering how white people had treated her, Harriet Tubman is the best Christian who ever lived, in my book.

Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913, at the age of 93. Her last words were:

"I go to prepare a place for you."


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Comments 27 comments

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, Laura, me, too!

Laura in Denver profile image

Laura in Denver 5 years ago from Aurora

Great story. I have long admired Harriet Tubman.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, List Lady, and you're very welcome for the hub.

TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

America like England engaged in the worst kind of slavery - chattel slavery - where the enslaved were nothing more than a piece of property - and not human.

Were we to actually report history of the enslaved accurately the savagery would be impossible to grasp. So we diminish it to the point of so-called experts saying - 'it wasn't so bad' - yikes! This is what happens when you do not tell the truth - no matter how horrific.

Thanks for the hub!

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you for the comment, sofs. I'm so glad you found inspiration in this story. It's been a mainstay of my life.

sofs profile image

sofs 5 years ago

OMG this was awesome..Paradise I just love this one.. I shall be coming back here to read this one again.. one inspiring woman this Harriet Tubman was :) Keep them coming Paradise I am hungry for more :)

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, Dynamic$. I love her story so much, I'm very happy to share it. You've got me intrigued by "Nanny of the Maroons".

DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I really enjoy reading this. Thanks a million for sharing about a great African American heroine. I find strength and courage in their life stories. She reminds me of another GREAT woman, Nanny of the Maroons from Jamaica.

Rated UP!

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Chatkath: Yes!

Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California

Aren't women amazing! Thanks for sharing this P7 - good job!

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you, homesteadbound.

homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 5 years ago from Texas

I have always admired her and her bravery. I did not know that she had lead an armed unit. How awesome. Great story.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

She's the bravest and most remarkable person in American history, and rarely gets more than a sidebar in the history books. I'm not sure why. The history books seem to concentrate on the generals of the wars. Thanks for the comment, DR.

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

I knew that a woman named Harriet Tubman had been involved with freeing slaves, but I never knew the whole story. Thank you, Paradise, for this loving examination of the life of a most extraordinary human being. This was a splendid tribute to her memory.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you for the comment, twilight. Oh, Harriet is such an inspiration. I simply cannot imagine being that brave, myself. Had I been a slave, and had escaped, no power on earth could make me go BACK! What a brave soul; what a generous heart. She was a tiny woman with a heart as big as all outdoors.

twilightnera profile image

twilightnera 5 years ago

really great hub! As an African-American it makes me so proud to know that someone like her walked this earth. She gave so much of herself to freeing the salve it's an amazing. Very well written hub!

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, Kara, and you're very welcome to the story. It's one of my personal favorites.

Kara 5 years ago

Inspiring story. Shows how a person can rise above all obstacles if one wanted.

Thanks for this hub which really uplifted my spirit.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, Rob. I really admire Harriet Tubman no end. She really has inspired so many of us to get us through the difficulties of life. If she could live through and triumph, so can we.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

One of history's great, inspiring, amazing people. When you look at people like her and MLK and Gandhi, its shows what heights a human being is capable of.

Great hub,


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

epi, thank you for the comment, and for the Facebook help.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, Rochelle. Oh, this woman was a miracle all the way! I admire her so much--her fortitude and spirit are just amazing. If I'm ever tempted to wallow in self-pity, even for a moment, I remember Harriet's story and just try to deal with what I've been dealt. She and her story have been a lifelong inspiration to me.

epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

...well all of your hubs are essential - that is why I post so many of them to my Facebook page - lol - and this is no exception - and yes it will be posted to my Facebook page once again - you serve the Hub well and we are so lucky to have you as one of our treasures here - are you touch with Hyphenbird at all - she does great work also ......

lake erie time 11:49am thank you so much for your support - coming from such an esteemed colleague like you, believe me, it means a lot!

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country

what an incredibly unlikely heroine she was. The fact that she survived childhood is a miracle. Thanks for telling the story so well.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you, Peter and Frank, for the comments. If there's anyone I could meet, living or dead, and have a conversation with, I think Harriet would be #1, though Charles Dickens would be a close runner-up.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

wow, just forget history in high-school lets just go to Paradise7 University LOL great share as always

PETER LUMETTA profile image


What a wonderful and tough human being this woman was. We could use more like her in our country right now. This is the kind of people we are from and need to remember that. Great story Paradise, thanks,


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