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Originally named Araminta, or “Minty,” Harriet Tubman was born in early 1819 or 1820 on the plantation of Anthony Thompson, south of Madison in Dorchester County, Maryland. Tubman was the fifth of nine children of Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin Ross, both slaves. Edward Brodas, the stepson of Anthony Thompson, claimed ownership of Rit and her children through his mother Mary Pattison Brodas Thompson.
Ben Ross, the slave of Anthony Thompson, was a timber inspector who supervised and managed a vast timbering operation on Thompson’s land. The Ross’s relatively stable family life on Thompson’s plantation came to abrupt end sometime in late 1823 or early 1824 when Edward Brodas took Rit and her then five children, including Tubman, to his own farm in Bucktown, a small agricultural village ten miles to the east. Brodas often hired Tubman out to temporary masters, some who were cruel and negligent, while selling other members of her family illegally to out of state buyers, permanently fracturing her family (http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/0history/hwny-tubman.html).
At age six, Araminta was old enough to be considered able to work. She did not work in the fields though. Edward Brodas, her master, lent her to a couple who first put her to work weaving she was beaten frequently. When she slacked off at this job the couple gave her the duty of checking muskrat traps. Araminta caught the measles while doing this work. The couple thought she was incompetent and took her back to Brodas. When she got well, she was taken in by a woman as a housekeeper and baby-sitter. Araminta was whipped during the work here and was sent back to Brodas after eating one of the woman’s sugar cubes.
As was the custom on all plantations, when she turned eleven, she started wearing a bright cotton bandana around her head indicating she was no longer a child. She was also no longer known by her “basket name”, Araminta. Now she would be called Harriet, after her mother. At the age of 12 Harriet Ross was seriously injured by a blow to the head, inflicted by a white overseer for refusing to assist in tying up a man who had attempted escape. Adulthood
In 1844 at the age of 25, she married John Tubman, a free African American who did not share her dream of escaping. Since she was a slave, she knew there could be a chance that she could be sold and her marriage would be split apart. Harriet dreamed of traveling north. There, she would be free and would not have to worry about having her marriage split up by the slave trade. But, John did not want her to go north. He said he was fine where he was and that there was no reason for moving north. She said she would go by herself.
He replied that if she ran off, he would tell her master. She did not believe him until she saw his face and then she knew he meant it. Her goal to achieve freedom was too large for her to give up though. So in 1849 she left her husband and escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. When she crossed the border she said,” I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free, there was such glory over everything, the sun came up like gold through the threes, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven” (The Secret History of Dreaming 185). Accomplishments
After escaping from enslavement in 1849, Tubman dedicated herself to fighting for freedom, equality, and justice for the remainder of her long life, earning her the biblical name “Moses” and a place among the nation’s most famous historical figures. She became an Underground Railroad conductor after she had escaped to the north. She went back and helped free more than 300 slaves during 1850-1858 (The Story of Harriet Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad).
During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union army as a nurse, a cook, and a spy. Her experience leading slaves along the Underground Railroad was especially helpful because she knew the land well. She recruited a group of former slaves to hunt for rebel camps and report on the movement of the Confederate troops. In 1863, she went with Colonel James Montgomery and about 150 black soldiers on a gunboat raid in South Carolina. Because she had inside information from her scouts, the Union gunboats were able to surprise the Confederate rebels.
At first, when the Union Army came through and burned plantations, slaves hid in the woods. But when they realized that the gunboats could take them behind Union lines to freedom, they came running from all directions, bringing as many of their belongings as they could carry. Tubman later said, “I never saw such a sight.” Tubman played other roles in the war effort, including working as a nurse. Folk remedies she learned during her years living in Maryland would come in very handy.
Tubman worked as a nurse during the war, trying to heal the sick. Many people in the hospital died from dysentery, a disease associated with terrible diarrhea. Tubman was sure she could help cure the sickness if she could find some of the same roots and herbs that grew in Maryland. One night she searched the woods until she found water lilies and crane’s bill (geranium). She boiled the water lily roots and the herbs and made a bitter-tasting brew that she gave to a man who was dying-and it worked! Slowly he recovered. Tubman saved many people in her lifetime. Harriet Tubman, after a life of helping people, died at age 93 on March 10, 1913, at Auburn, New York.