Who was Harriet Tubman?

Harriet Tubman, born around 1822, was an influential African American abolitionist and political activist. She is best known for her extraordinary work as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped enslaved African Americans escape to freedom in the northern states or Canada. Harriet Tubman’s courage, determination, and unwavering commitment to justice have made her a prominent figure in the fight against slavery.


Harriet Tubman’s life and contributions hold significant importance in American history. Her remarkable efforts to liberate enslaved individuals, her role during the Civil War, and her dedication to the women’s suffrage movement have left a lasting impact on the nation. In this article, we will delve into the life of Harriet Tubman, exploring her early years, her escape from slavery, her work with the Underground Railroad, her military service during the Civil War, and her activism beyond the abolitionist movement.

Early Life and Escape from Slavery

Birth and Childhood

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, around 1822. She was born into a family of enslaved parents, Harriet “Rit” Green and Ben Ross. Tubman’s childhood was marred by the harsh realities of slavery, enduring physical abuse, and witnessing the separation of family members through the slave trade.

Experiences as a Slave

As Tubman grew older, her experiences as a slave fueled her determination to escape the bonds of servitude. She faced grueling labor, beatings, and the constant threat of being sold away from her family. These hardships shaped her resolve to fight for freedom, not just for herself but for others as well.

Escape to Freedom

In 1849, Harriet Tubman decided to seize her chance for freedom. She embarked on a perilous journey, traveling nearly 90 miles from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Guided by the North Star and aided by sympathetic individuals along the way, Tubman successfully reached Philadelphia, where she found freedom for the first time. This escape marked the beginning of her transformative journey as an abolitionist and freedom fighter.

Underground Railroad and Abolitionist Work

Involvement with the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman’s escape to freedom did not dampen her spirit but rather fueled her determination to assist others in their quest for liberty. She became an active member of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses operated by abolitionists. Tubman worked closely with other conductors, leading countless enslaved individuals to freedom in the northern states or Canada.

Fugitive Slave Act and Its Impact

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 intensified the risks faced by escaped slaves and those aiding them. The law allowed slave owners and their agents to pursue escaped slaves in free states and retrieve them, even if they had found sanctuary. This posed a significant threat to Tubman and her work, as she could face capture and return to slavery at any moment. Despite the increased danger, Tubman remained steadfast in her mission to help enslaved individuals find freedom.

Role in Leading Slaves to Freedom

Harriet Tubman’s reputation as a courageous and resourceful conductor of the Underground Railroad grew rapidly. She became known for her keen navigational skills, her ability to evade slave catchers, and her unwavering commitment to those seeking freedom. Tubman made numerous dangerous trips back to the South, risking her own life to guide enslaved individuals to safety. Her trips often involved traveling by night, utilizing various disguises and secret codes to avoid detection.

Civil War and Military Service

Recruitment and Participation in the Civil War

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Harriet Tubman saw an opportunity to contribute to the cause of freedom on a larger scale. She joined the Union Army as a nurse and cook, initially providing crucial support to the soldiers. Tubman’s extensive knowledge of the South, gained through her experiences with the Underground Railroad, caught the attention of Union commanders, who recognized her value beyond traditional roles.

Activities as a Spy and Scout

Harriet Tubman’s remarkable intelligence and resourcefulness led to her involvement as a spy and scout for the Union Army. Her ability to gather information, navigate treacherous territories, and blend in with local communities made her an invaluable asset. Tubman would travel deep into Confederate territory, collecting intelligence, identifying strategic targets, and aiding in the rescue of enslaved individuals who sought refuge with Union forces.

Contribution to the Union Cause

Tubman’s contributions extended beyond her espionage work. She actively supported the recruitment of African American soldiers, advocating for their inclusion in the Union Army. Tubman’s dedication and determination inspired many to enlist and fight for their own freedom. Her efforts helped to shape the outcome of the war and advance the cause of abolition.

Later Life and Activism

Life after the Civil War

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Harriet Tubman settled in Auburn, New York. She married a Civil War veteran, Nelson Davis, and together they established a home for elderly African Americans. Tubman also became involved in the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside prominent suffragettes such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Advocacy for Women’s Suffrage

Harriet Tubman recognized the parallel struggles faced by African Americans and women in their fight for equality. She passionately advocated for women’s suffrage, speaking at suffrage conventions and tirelessly campaigning for women’s right to vote. Tubman’s experiences as a former slave and her unwavering dedication to justice made her an influential and respected voice within the suffrage movement.

Legacy and Recognition

Harriet Tubman’s legacy as an abolitionist, activist, and humanitarian is profound. Her selflessness and bravery continue to inspire people around the world. In recognition of her remarkable contributions, Tubman was honored in various ways. In 2016, it was announced that she would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, becoming the first African American woman to be featured on U.S. currency. Additionally, numerous schools, parks, and organizations bear her name as a testament to her enduring impact.


Harriet Tubman’s indomitable spirit, unwavering courage, and relentless determination make her a true American hero. Her life story is a testament to the power of resilience and the pursuit of justice. From her escape from slavery to her pivotal role in the Underground Railroad and her fearless service during the Civil War, Tubman’s contributions to the abolitionist movement and women’s suffrage have left an indelible mark on history. Harriet Tubman’s unwavering commitment to freedom and equality serves as an inspiration for generations to come.

Through her involvement with the Underground Railroad, Tubman helped liberate countless individuals from the bonds of slavery, risking her own safety in the process. Her bravery and resourcefulness earned her the nickname “Moses,” as she led enslaved people to their promised land of freedom.

During the Civil War, Tubman’s contributions as a spy and scout for the Union Army played a crucial role in undermining the Confederacy. Her intelligence-gathering efforts and strategic expertise provided vital information to Union commanders, ultimately aiding in the Union’s victory.

Even after the war, Tubman’s fight for justice continued. She actively participated in the women’s suffrage movement, recognizing the intersectionality of gender and racial discrimination. Tubman’s powerful voice and tireless advocacy helped pave the way for women’s right to vote, an achievement that would not be realized until several years after her death.

Harriet Tubman’s legacy extends far beyond her own lifetime. Her courage and determination continue to inspire activists and leaders worldwide, reminding us of the power of individual action in the face of adversity. Tubman’s story serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative impact of fighting for justice.

In conclusion, Harriet Tubman was a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to the pursuit of freedom and equality. Her contributions as an abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, Civil War spy, and suffragette have left an indelible impact on American history. Tubman’s unwavering commitment to justice serves as a guiding light, inspiring us to continue the fight for equality in all its forms.


1. Was Harriet Tubman ever captured during her work on the Underground Railroad? No, despite the immense risks involved, Harriet Tubman was never captured during her time as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Her knowledge of the landscape, her use of disguises, and her ability to navigate dangerous territories helped her avoid capture and continue her mission to guide enslaved individuals to freedom.

2. What other significant contributions did Harriet Tubman make during the Civil War? In addition to her role as a spy and scout, Harriet Tubman also worked as a nurse and cook for Union soldiers during the Civil War. She provided essential support to the troops and cared for the wounded, showcasing her dedication to the cause of freedom in various capacities.

3. How did Harriet Tubman’s experiences as a former slave shape her activism? Harriet Tubman’s experiences as a former slave deeply influenced her commitment to fighting against slavery and injustice. Having endured the brutality and dehumanization of slavery firsthand, Tubman dedicated her life to helping others escape the same plight and worked tirelessly to dismantle the institution of slavery.

4. What was the significance of Harriet Tubman’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement? Harriet Tubman recognized the interconnectedness of struggles for both racial and gender equality. As an advocate for women’s suffrage, Tubman fought for the right of women to vote, understanding that the fight for justice and equal rights extended beyond the abolition of slavery. Her participation in the suffrage movement helped advance the cause of women’s rights in the United States.

5. How is Harriet Tubman remembered today? Harriet Tubman’s contributions are celebrated and remembered in various ways. Her face is set to grace the $20 bill, ensuring her continued recognition and representation. Numerous schools, parks, and organizations bear her name, honoring her legacy and ensuring that her story continues to inspire future generations.

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