Harriet Tubman was a famous ‘conductor’ on the underground railroad leading over 300 of slaves to freedom during the 1850s.
Tubman was born a slave in Maryland’s Dorchester County around 1820. She began work at 5/6 as a house servant and seven years later she was forced to work as a field hand. She endured brutal beatings and in one instance when standing up for another field hand she was struck in the head with a two-pound weight. This injury plagued her for the rest of her life.
In 1849 she fled slavery fearing that she was to be sold. She left her free husband (she took his last name, previously she was Araminta Ross. Harriet was her mothers name) and other family behind. Tubman fled through Pennsylvania to Philadelphia where she saved money so that she could return to free her family. On her first trip back to the south she escorted her sister and her sister’s children to freedom. On the second trip she rescued her brother and two other men. On the third she intended to rescue her husband, only to find he had remarried. She escorted other slaves seeking freedom to the North.
She returned to the south at least 19 times even though there was a bounty on her head – a bounty that ended up at around forty thousand dollars. She used clever techniques like 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 never lost a slave on any of her trips to the South.
During the Civil War Tubman worked as a cook, nurse and a spy for the Union Government. After the war she continued to help blacks start their new lives in freedom. She cared for her parents and other needy relatives, turning her residence into the Home for Indigent and Aged Negroes.