Nicknamed “Moses” because she led so many slaves to the Promised Land in the North, Harriet saved hundreds of African-Americans from slavery, despite having been born a slave herself. From abolitionist, to spy, to suffragette, Harriet is a heroine in the very truest sense of the word.

I grew up like a neglected weed — ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.

Harriet was born into an enslaved family in Maryland sometime in the 1820s. The man who owned Harriet and her family was cruel, and Harriet suffered many beatings and terrible physical abuse. When she was a teenager, Harriet passed by a man who had walked away from the fields without permission. Knowing full well the risk she was taking, Harriet decided to help the slave. She suffered for her heroism, enduring a “punishment” for her decision that resulted in a brain injury that plagued her with seizures and headaches for the rest of her life.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer.

In 1849, Harriet decided it was time to escape. The man who owned her had died, and Harriet herself had been quite ill. She feared what would happen to her since, as a sickly slave, she had limited value from an economic standpoint. As such, on 17 September, Harriet and two of her brothers made a run for it. Unfortunately, shortly after they left, her brothers began to panic and decided to return to the plantation. Harriet made sure they were returned safely, but she had no intention of spending the rest of her life as a slave. Shortly after returning them, she resumed her trip to freedom in Pennsylvania — only this time, she did it alone.

When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.

Harriet made the 100 mile trip by making use of the resources provided by the Underground Railroad, which was a series of safe houses provided by exceptionally brave abolitionists who wanted to help slaves in southern states escape to the free states in the North. Thanks to the Underground Railroad, Harriet made it safely to Pennsylvania. For the first time in her life, she was a free woman.

I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.

Most people, after escaping such a horrific situation, would have been content to build a life in the North and savour any peace they could. Not Harriet. Instead, she joined the Underground Railroad network, and committed herself to rescuing as many people from slavery as possible. Fearlessly and selflessly, Harriet made trip after trip back to the South, safely ushering hundreds of slaves to new, free lives in the North at great risk to her own safety.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Harriet saw a new opportunity to make a difference. She began working with the Union army, first as a nurse and a cook, and later as a spy and a scout. She became the very first woman to lead an armed expedition during the Civil War, and, in doing so, she helped the Union soldiers free over 700 more slaves.

Following the war, Harriet’s life turned more toward the domestic. She married a veteran, and they settled down on a small plot of land in New York. Together, they adopted a daughter, and they raised her while also caring for friends and relatives who lived on their property.

Although Harriet’s life was indeed far more settled than it had been for most of her life, she did not forsake her call to activism. Instead, she began working with the suffragist movement, fighting alongside the likes of Susan B Anthony to help secure women the right to vote.

Harriet was never wealthy, but that did not stop her from giving generously. She donated part of her land to a local Methodist church, and they opened a home for the elderly on her property. They named it the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in her honor.

As she grew older, the side effects of the brain damage she sustained as a slave grew more severe. Eventually, she found herself in need of full-time care, and she moved into the facility named in her honor. She passed away two years later and was buried with military honors.

References include, and Ms Magazine.

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Amber Karlins

Written by Amber Karlins

Amber works as a professor in Florida, teaching writing, literature, and theatre. Her first book, a work of creative non-fiction, was published in 2011. She also enjoys academic writing and has published papers in such places as the African American National Biography and the Journal for the Society of Armenian Studies.

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Harriet Tubman, 1895, The New England Magazine