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Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman (Part 2)

More Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman! (Read part 1 here.)

She never lost a passenger on the Underground Railroad.

Having reached safety in Philadelphia, Harriet felt confident she could help others. She became involved in the Underground Railroad. She immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Working slowly, one group at a time, she freed her immediate family and distant relatives. Dubbed  “Moses” for the deliverance of her people, Harriet made twelve to thirteen missions to free approximately 70 more slaves.

Harriet always carried a gun and was not above threatening anyone with immediate death who aimed to stop her crusade—even the slaves she rescued if they got scared and wanted to turn back.

She became a nurse, scout, and a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Harriet wanted to join the Union cause to end slavery. Hearing of her heroism in freeing her people, and known for her intelligence and bravery, a group of Boston and Philadelphia abolitionists in Port Royal brought her on. She nursed the soldiers suffering from dysentery and smallpox.

In 1863, the group, under the orders of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, and Harriet lead a band of scouts through the marshes and rivers of South Carolina, providing intelligence on the enemy. She was the first woman to lead an armed assault when Colonel James Montgomery raided plantations along the Combahee River. They freed over 750 slaves.

She joined the Suffragist movement.

Harriet TubmanLater in life, Harriet became involved with the cause for women’s suffrage. She would join forces with women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. She traveled to various cities on the East coast speaking in favor of the rights of women. In 1896, at the founding of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Harriet served as the keynote speaker for their first meeting. The following year, a series of receptions took place in Boston, honoring Harriet for her years of service.

She refused anesthesia when she had brain surgery.

Due to the head injury she suffered as a child, Harriet, in her older years, developed insomnia due to the pain and buzzing in her head. She elected to have brain surgery to relieve the condition, but refused to be anesthetized and instead opted to “bite down on a bullet,” as she had seen many soldiers do for surgery in the Civil War. The operation did give her some relief making her more comfortable.

She Died in Poverty.

Harriet never received any kind of salary for her service. Any money she made she used for her humanitarian work to help former slaves and her family. She purchased a small property in Auburn, New York, and provided shelter for most of her family and some friends. She took in boarders to help pay the bills. In 1873, she was swindled out of money in a gold deal, leaving her penniless.

In 1895, after an initial denial from the government, Harriet received the pension of her second husband, Nelson Charles Davis, and then in 1898, she petitioned Congress for her own service in the Civil War. Finally, a year later, she received a pension of twenty dollars per month for her service as a nurse.

Because of mounting debts, in 1903, she donated her Auburn property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church under the condition they convert it to a home for aged and indigent people of color. The plan finally came to fruition five years later.

In 1911, Harriet’s body started to give out on her and she retired to the rest home she’d helped establish. At the time, a New York reporter described her  as “ill and penniless.”

She died in 1913, of pneumonia, surrounded by friends and family members.

Harriet Tubman did not receive the recognition she deserved while she lived, but history remembers her as an empowered woman of grit and integrity, who helped change the lives of her contemporaries, and the mindset of those who came after her.

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Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman (Part 1)

Historians cannot agree on her birthdate.

Harriet Tubman’s birthdate seems to be a mystery, even (as records show) to her. Birth records of slaves were not often kept. The earliest date noted for Harriet’s birth, which appears on her death certificate, is 1815. A midwifery statement, and later a “slave runaway” advertisement states it as 1820. Her gravestone lists 1820. In her Civil War widow’s pension records, Tubman herself claims the date of her birth to be 1820, 1822, and 1825.

Growing up friends and family called her “Minty.”

Born Araminta Harriet Ross, her parents, Harriet “Rit” Green and Ben Ross called her Minty. She later changed her name to Harriet. Some records indicate she took the name Harriet when she married, and others state it happened when she escaped slavery.

She learned about resistance from her mother.

Harriet’s family, like many other slave families, suffered lifelong separation. Three of her sisters were sold to other families. When a slave trader from Georgia approached her family’s owner, Mr. Edward Brodess, about buying Minty’s younger brother, Rit, Minty’s mother, would not relent. With the help of other slaves and former slaves, she hid the boy away for a month. The trader came back, and when Brodess brought him to the slave quarters to take the child, Rit threatened to “split his head open.” Brodess relented and agreed not to sell the child.

She had visions which she claimed were revelations from God.

Harriet TubmanHarriet had a deep devotion to God. Never having learned to read or write, Harriet grew up hearing Bible stories from her mother. She liked the stories of deliverance in the Old Testament.

Early in her life, Minty’s owner often hired her out to other families. On one such occasion, when she ran an errand to the dry-goods store for supplies, she witnessed a skirmish between the store owner and a slave who had left the fields without permission. While trying to restrain the slave, the owner demanded that Minty help. She refused. As the other slave ran away, the owner threw a two-pound weight at him, but missed, hitting Minty in the head, splitting her skull. The injury resulted in seizures, visions, and vivid dreams which she felt were messages from God.

She escaped from slavery twice.

Harriet married for the first time around the year 1844 to John Tubman, a free African American man. There is no record of them having children together. Harriet’s head injury caused health problems for her for the rest of her life. She was often sick, and this made her not as valuable as a slave. When her owner died, his wife set out to sell many of her slaves, and because she had health problems, Harriet knew she would be one of the first to go. She figured escape made better sense, but her husband tried to talk her out of it, stating he refused to accompany her.

In the Fall of 1849, Harriett and her brothers, all hired out to the same farm, devised a plan for escape. Two weeks after their escape, Harriet’s owner, Eliza Brodess, posted a runaway notice in the Cambridge Democrat, offering a reward for each slave. Fearful of the repercussions if they continued, her brothers turned back. Harriet had no choice but to return with them.

Determined to have her freedom, she escaped again—this time alone. She utilized the Underground Network, a freedom network ran by enslaved and free African Americans, and white abolitionists—most prominently, the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. She made the 90-mile journey by night, traveling for several weeks, and finally made it to Pennsylvania and into freedom. This set her on a path that would change her life and the lives of so many others.

(Come back next week for more Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman!)