This year marks the 200th anniversary of legendary abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman’s birth. Throughout her remarkable life, Tubman was an Underground Railroad conductor, Civil War spy and nurse, early suffragist and universal humanitarian.
Who Was Harriet Tubman?
Below are 20 facts about Harriet Tubman’s life to honor her indelible legacy of courage, strength and freedom.
- She was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland in early 1822.
- She was named Araminta, or “Minty,” by her parents Ben and Rit Ross.
- She was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight thrown by an angry overseer. This injury would affect her for the rest of her life.
- She married John Tubman, a free Black man, in 1844. She then changed her name to Harriet.
- She fled enslavement in 1849 after learning her deceased master’s debts meant she would be sold away from her loved ones. She was 27 years old.
- Utilizing the local Underground Railroad network to escape and travel by the North Star at night, she journeyed up Maryland’s Eastern Shore through Delaware and eventually to Philadelphia.
- With no one to welcome her into freedom, she joined the Underground Railroad’s networks in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. There she found the financial and personal support needed to wage her own war against slavery.
- By 1860, she personally ferried approximately 70 people, including many members of her family, to freedom. She used disguises and different ruses, relying on secure safe houses where Black and white sympathizers helped hide freedom seekers.
- Through her advice and support, she helped another 70 or so people escape slavery via the Underground Railroad.
- She would use certain songs to indicate danger or safety while rescuing enslaved people in Maryland.
- Her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad earned her the title “The Moses of Her People.”
- She worked with John Brown, whose failed raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859 helped spark the Civil War.
- During the Civil War, she traveled to South Carolina, working as a nurse, scout, cook and even spy for the Union army.
- She then led the Combahee River Raid, making her the first African American woman to command an armed military unit.
- She lived in Auburn, New York after the Civil War.
- Her property in Auburn was a safe haven for freed slaves, including her family and friends.
- In 1869, she married Civil War veteran Nelson Davis. They later adopted a baby girl named Gertie.
- She was known to have carried a small pistol with her on her rescue missions, mostly for protection from slave catchers, but also to discourage runaways from turning back and risking the safety of the group.
- She had four brothers – Robert, Ben, Henry and Moses – and four sisters – Linah, Mariah Ritty, Soph and Rachel.
- She died on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York.
Celebrate and Learn More
Throughout the year, you can join the celebration of Harriet Tubman’s life with these educational and cultural events and locations across Maryland.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway Connecting important places in the life of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, this beautiful byway invites travelers to follow in the footsteps of Tubman and other heroes who fought for freedom. visitmaryland.org/scenic-byways/harriet-tubman-underground-railroad
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center Discover Harriet Tubman in her homeland at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center near Cambridge, Md.. The center is located within the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and National Historical Park and immerses visitors in Tubman’s world through informative, evocative and emotive exhibits. The state and national parks tell Tubman’s story while working to preserve the same landscapes that were important in Tubman’s life. dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/pages/eastern/tubman.aspx
Meet Us At Harriet’s Place: Jazz at the Mural Music was an important part of Harriet Tubman’s life. She used songs to communicate, and music gave her strength and inspiration. Check out the “Jazz at the Mural” concert series on the Eastern Shore bringing for jazz, blues, soul and contemporary sounds. Every second Saturday, April through November 2022. harriettubmanmuseumcenter.org
Walking (and More) Tours of Harriet’s Homeland Join in a narrated walking history tour from Thursday to Saturday in the land Harriet Tubman knew so well. Offered the last weekend of each month from April through October. The tour will include walking and horse and buggy rides. For more information, schedules and registration, contact the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center at harriettubmanmuseumcenter.org.
Joyce J. Scott’s Harriet Tubman Statue at Banneker-Douglas Museum “Araminta with Rifle and Veve” by MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and Baltimore icon, Dr. Joyce J. Scott, will be exhibited in September 2022 at the Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis, Md. Renowned as the “Queen of Beadwork,” bdmuseum.maryland.gov
Dedication of Harriet Tubman Sculpture in Cambridge In 1850, Harriet Tubman’s niece, Kessiah, and her two children escaped from the auction block at the front of the courthouse in a rescue engineered by Tubman. Now, a new 12-foot bronze statue of Harriet Tubman will be permanently installed and dedicated at the Dorchester County Courthouse in Cambridge, Md. The dedication of “The Beacon of Hope” will happen during the annual Day of Resilience event. alphagenesiscdc.org
Bike the UGRR: Harriet’s Journey Home Join in a bicycling event inspired by Harriet Tubman and her daring journeys to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Choose from a 25-mile or 43-mile ride along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Tubman was born and lived until her mid-20s. The event will provide opportunities to stop at significant landmarks and sites along the Tubman Byway. runsignup.com/Race/MD/Cambridge/BikeTheUGRR
“Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom” Premiering on PBS in autumn 2022, “Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom” is a new documentary depicting the nuanced portrait of the woman known as the Conductor of the Underground Railroad, who risked her own freedom and life to liberate others from slavery. The film goes beyond the legend of Tubman to explore what motivated her – including divine inspiration – to become one of the greatest freedom fighters of all time. Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning actor Alfre Woodard is the narrator.
“Lead On, Harriet” Interactive Children’s History Program Take a ride on the Underground Railroad with the famous Maryland-born conductor in this evening program for children at the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. This program will be offered on multiple dates in 2022. theccm.org
Birding the Harriet Tubman Byway Join Harriet Tubman Tours and Delmarva Birding Weekends as they go birding along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway in Dorchester County, Md. During this guided, self-driven tour, you’ll learn about the life and times of the famed freedom seeker and human rights activist known as “The Moses of Her People.” The route traverses the farms and Chesapeake Bay marshes of Dorchester County, home to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and some of the best birding and bald eagle watching on America’s Eastern Seaboard. delmarvabirding.com/birding-the-harriet-tubman-byway
Button Farm Living History Center The closest-to-home and most unique way to learn more about the Underground Railroad to which Tubman gave so much of her life is to visit Button Farm Living History Center in Germantown, Md, inside Seneca Creek State Park. The center is a program of The Menare Foundation, dedicated to exploring the history of the Underground Railroad through dynamic and immersive learning experiences. For example, in their Flight To Freedom Experience ™ families can learn how self-liberators made the harrowing journey from slavery to freedom, as they search for food, protection, direction and shelter along a simulated Underground Railroad trail. Button Farm’s experiences are “not a reenactment, but a guided facilitation which places our guests as active participants at the center of this historical narrative … The daily lives of enslaved people, the auction block and the flight to freedom, are all encountered in our professionally curated, living-history experiences.” buttonfarm.org