A snapshot biography of Harriet Tubman

Portrait of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was around twelve years old, enslaved, when a fellow enslaved man attempted to run away. After being found and brought back, Harriet and a few others were instructed to help tie him up to be whipped. She refused, and when the man attempted to run again, she blocked the doorway to help him escape. An overseer threw a two-pound weight at the man but hit Harriet instead, fracturing her skull. Throughout her life, she suffered from severe headaches and narcolepsy from this incident.

A petite woman of only about five feet, Harriet was strong-willed and courageous, and as she grew older, she became determined to escape to the North. Upon learning in 1849 that she would be sold, Harriet, now in her mid-20s, decided the time was right. One night, she, along with two of her brothers, ran away. Her brothers soon turned back, and for the rest of her journey, Harriet was alone without friends. She walked at night, hid during the day, didn’t know who to trust, where to eat, at times she had shelter, often she slept outside on the ground overlooked by the stars. After about ninety miles of travel, she crossed into the North to freedom.

Reflecting about making it into the North, she said, “I looked at my hands, to see if I was de same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory over everything, de sun came like gold trou de trees, and over de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”

Soon after her escape, Harriet went back into the South to help some family members to escape. After getting them North, she went back to the South to help more family members. Then she went to help others. Harriet would make many trips over the years, rescuing approximately seventy people. Of the experience, she would say, “I was the 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.”


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“A snapshot biography of Harriet Tubman” Sources: http://www.harriet-tubman.org / Women of Achievement by Benjamin Brawley, 1919, Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society / Portrait of Harriet taken circa 1868 by Benjamin F. Powelson / Wikimedia Commons / https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Harriet_TubmanWomen’s Words : The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women (1996) by Mary Biggs, p. 2