Harriet Tubman (1821 - 1913) led over 200 slaves to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Contemporaries called her "Moses" and "General Tubman" in praise of her bravery and leadership. Frederick Douglass lauded Tubman"s courage by saying, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]." Radical abolitionist John Brown agreed and characterized Tubman as "one of the bravest persons on this continent."
In 1821, Tubman was born into slavery on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. Harriet"s name at birth was Araminta Ross. When she was 11, Araminta chose a new name to signal her coming of age: her mother"s name, Harriet. At age five, young Harriet began working as a house slave, doing chores like weaving. When she was 12, her master moved her into the fields to work.
Harriet was brave and confident from an early age. As a teenager, Harriet moved to defend a fellow slave from the violence of an overseer, taking a blow from a heavy weight that was thrown at her compatriot. Harriet suffered the effects of this head injury for the rest of her life. In addition to a scar, Harriet experienced uncontrollable spells of sleep.
Harriet took the surname Tubman when she married John Tubman in 1844. John was free, and he never understood why his wife longed to escape to the North for her freedom.
They parted ways when she finally escaped.
In 1849, the master of Harriet"s plantation died, and she began to worry that all of the slaves on the plantation would be sold. Slaves who lived in upper-South states like Maryland lived in fear of being sold away from their families to the Deep South. Harriet made the decision to escape.
On September 17, 1849, Tubman ran away with two of her brothers, Ben and Henry. A reward of $300 was offered for the return of Tubman and her brothers. Fearful, her brothers returned to the plantation. But Tubman refused.
Using the Underground Railroad, Tubman