By: Linda Mendizabal

Harriet Tubman, A Champion of Freedom

Born into slavery around 1822 in Bucktown, near Cambridge, MD. On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Tubman was one of nine children of Harriet Green and Benjamin Ross.

She escaped the bonds of slavery in the summer of 1849, traveling by night through Maryland and Delaware to Philadelphia and from there to New York and over into Canada. “I had reasoned this out in my mind”, she said, “there was one of two things I had a right to – liberty or death. If I could not have one, I could have the other, for no man should take me alive. I shall fight for my liberty and when the time comes for me to go, the Lord will let “them kill me.”

Tubman then began what she knew must be done. She made numerous trips South, rescuing a large number of enslaved people from the “Jaws of Hell.” Most of her traveling was done in the cheerless solitude of night, with no protection other than her cunning, no guide and no hope of reward save the consciousness that she was “about her Father’s business”. Such a terror did she become to the slaveholders of Maryland that many rewards were offered for her head. She was rightly called “The Moses of her people” – she was bold, daring and elusive. All of her trips were carefully planned and brilliantly executed through the use of the “Underground Railroad”, a flexible but effective method of spiriting freedom seekers out of the South by an ever-shifting series of hiding places. The secrets of the “Underground Railroad” were so well kept that, even today, not too much is known about it.

Tubman’s motto was “Keep Going” – “children, if you are tired, Keep Going; if you are scared, Keep Going; if you are hungry, Keep Going.” On one trip out of the South she brought her own family. Her mother was unwilling to leave behind her feather bed tick and her father his broad axe and other tools so she bundled them all up and landed them in Canada.

During the Civil War, Tubman rendered invaluable service to the Union Army as spy, scout, cook, and hospital nurse. She was at the memorable battle of Fort Wagner and it was she who prepared the last breakfast eaten by Col. R.G. Shaw.

After the war Tubman settled in Auburn, New York, where she lived in a home obtained through her lifelong friend, William H. Seward. On March 10, 1913, in the fiftieth year of emancipation, Harriet Tubman died. She was buried with military rites in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY. The next year, this city declared an unprecedented one-day memorial to this courageous, champion of freedom. Booker T. Washington was the keynote speaker and Auburn citizens unveiled the Harriet Tubman Plaque which still stands at the entrance to the Cayuga County Court House in Auburn, NY.

(Short biography taken from pamphlet handed out to visitors to the Tubman home and memorial)

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