Harriet Tubman personally escorted over 300 slaves to freedom from the South during a ten year period. Denied any real childhood or formal education, Tubman labored in physically demanding jobs as a woodcutter, a field hand, and as a lifter and loader of barrels of flour. Although she had heard of kind masters, she never experienced one, and she vowed from an early age that she would strive to emancipate her people.
She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820 and began work as a house servant around age five. Around age 12 she was sent out into the fields where she received a head injury that would plague her for the rest of her life. She stepped in front of another worker who was being attacked by an overseer and was hit by a two-pound weight intended for the head of the other slave.
Around 1844 she married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. Fearing that she and many of the other slaves on the plantation were about to be sold, Tubman decided the time had come to run for freedom. Her husband changed his mind and decided not to go with her.
By following the North Star at night, she found her way to freedom in 1849. She found work in Philadelphia saved her money and the next year returned to Maryland to bring her sister and her sister's children to freedom. Finding initial success she went back to free her brother and two other men.
After a brief rest, she went in search of her husband only to find that he had married someone else. She carried on and found other slaves to escort north.
Harriet Tubman was so successful in helping slaves to escape that a $40,000 reward was put out to anyone that could capture her. Although not formally educated , Tubman was clever beyond her years.
She would often use the slave master's own horse and buggy to transport slaves. Knowing runaway notices wouldn't be placed in newspapers until Monday, she often led her slaves away from their bondage on the weekend and often would head south if the slave hunters were headed north. She even carried a drug with here that would silence crying babies that might give aware the fleeing slaves. She would not let slaves turn back even when the road ahead looked bleak and at times threatened them at gunpoint telling them, "You'll be free or die."
One of her most dangerous trips back into the slave area was to rescue her 70-year old parents. Her courage, determination, and success led her to be given the name "Moses", because no one had done more to lead a people to freedom.
Frederick Douglass said of her that, "No one has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved peoples." John Brown called her "General Tubman" and called her "one of the bravest persons on this continent."
During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy and a scout for the Union Army. Her gift for directions and knowledge of geography remained an asset as she explored the countryside in search of Confederate fortifications. Although she receive official commendation from Union officers, she was never paid for the services she rendered the government.
After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She worked to establish a home for indigent aged blacks, and in 1869 she married her second husband, a Union soldier. She became involved in a number of causes, including the women's suffrage movement.