June 1, 2013
Harriet Tubman (1821-1913), a legendary figure in the Underground Railroad, was born to slave parents Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene near Cambridge on Maryland's eastern shore. Although called Araminta as a child, she later chose her mother's name. Laboring as a field slave through her teenage years, she developed the muscular build, physical endurance, and deep religious faith that became her trademarks. An accident left her prone to chronic narcoleptic seizures for the remainder of her life. (Pbs)
When she escaped from slavery in 1848, her free black husband of four years, John Tubman, stayed in Maryland and took another wife. Having reached freedom, Harriet resolved to help other slaves do the same. Working as a cook, laundress, and scrubwoman in Philadelphia and Cape May, New Jersey, she financed the first of her famous expeditions into the South—a journey to Baltimore to rescue her sister and two children. She made at least nine trips during the 1850s to lead some 180 slaves to freedom—most was relatives and friends from plantations near Cambridge. Tubman carefully planned each escape and boasted of having never lost a "passenger." These trips remain shrouded in mystery because of Tubman's illiteracy and the secret nature of Underground Railroad activity. But her work so alarmed Maryland planters that they announced a $40,000 reward for her capture. (Biography)
As sectional controversy increased, Tubman redirected her efforts, viewing the conflict as the climax of the struggle for freedom. She met with John Brown a half dozen times during 1858-59 and raised money for his Harpers Ferry raid. After going to Beaufort, South Carolina, in May 1862, she spent three years working as a nurse and cook among the contrabands there. She also became a scout and spy for the Second South Carolina Volunteers. Able to travel without suspicion in rebel territory, she located cotton storehouses, ammunition depots, and slaves awaiting liberation and informed Union military officials. During the latter months of the Civil War, Tubman was employed in freedmen's hospitals in Virginia.