According to historians, Harriet Tubman, the fearless Underground Railroad conductor, and abolitionist, personally spirited 70 people out of enslavement. She would become known as the “Moses of her People,” but was born a slave named Araminta Ross. Her birth name translates to “defender,” and she certainly was.
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” ~Harriet Tubman.
Between 1850 and 1860, Tubman and a secret network of guides, mostly in the eastern United States, rescued thousands of people in the South before the Civil War.
“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” ~Harriet Tubman
Chance Discovery Leads to Tubman Home
Recently, archaeologist Julie Schablitsky discovered a coin by chance dating to 1808. She had taken a random sweep of a metal detector along an abandoned road in Maryland in a newly-purchased area of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross around 1822, and her parents, both enslaved at the time, were married in 1808.
Schablitsky and a team were looking for Tubman’s family cabin where she lived as a teenager. Archaeologists have been searching for over two decades. After digging 1,000 times in wet mud, the coin was the first clue they were on the right track.
Nearby, they found other artifacts confirming they had found the home of Benjamin Ross, Tubman’s father; a tobacco pipe, 19th-century pottery, a drawer pull, a button, fragments of bricks, and dishes. Notably, Tubman would own a brick-making business later in life.
“Discovering the location of patriarch Ben Ross Sr.’s home and artifacts he used has humanized a man responsible for giving us a woman of epic proportions, Harriet Ross Tubman,” said Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece Tina Wyatt at a press conference.
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Slavery, the Next Thing to Hell
“Slavery is the next thing to hell.” ~Harriet Tubman
From age 17 to 22, Harriet worked in the woods with her father, having first begun working at age 6 after being hired out. As a child, an enslaver threw a metal weight at another enslaved person, fracturing her skull.
Throughout her life, she lived with chronic symptoms and possibly epilepsy.
“I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.”~Harriet Tubman
After Ross’s slave owner, Anthony Thompson, died, he left orders in his will to free him, and he inherited ten acres of land.
Afterward, he purchased his wife, Harriet “Rit” Green, out of slavery. In the cabin, he sheltered the still-enslaved Tubman and several of her siblings. Over time, he taught her how to read and the survival skills she would need to hide out from slave catchers.
“Her father taught her things like how to make your way through streams, rivers and marshes, and how to navigate that landscape without getting trapped,” said Kate Clifford Larson, a Tubman biographer.
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
There, in her father’s cabin, she would learn about the Underground Railroad, as Ross was an operative himself. Also, she came to know many African-American mariners, called Blackjacks, who taught her how to read the stars and about shipping routes for timber and safer locations along the Eastern shore.
Later, after marrying a free man, John Tubman, in 1844, she changed her name and went on to eventually rescue 70 people over ten years. As an Underground Railroad conductor, she traveled by night on 13 trips. On some trips, she used her survival skills to navigate as much as 900 miles between Maryland and Canada.
Among those she rescued were her brothers and parents, who, though freed, still faced dangers in Maryland.
First Woman to Lead a Raid to Free Slaves
During the Civil War, Tubman spied, scouted, and led military raids against Confederate forces alongside the Union Army. In 1863, she led an armed raid, freeing 700 enslaved people in Combahee Ferry, South Carolina. Amazingly, she was the first woman to lead such a raid.
After the war, she relocated to Auburn, New York. From there, she traveled the country campaigning for women’s suffrage and raising money for freed slaves.
Additionally, Tubman built an infirmary that provided free health care to the needy and a home for the elderly. In 1913, she passed away in her 90s. In 2017, the National Park Service made her former property a national park.
Another national park, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, opened in Maryland.
No Man Could Take Her Alive
“I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other, for no man should take me alive.”
Preserving Harriet Tubman’s Legacy
Now, Tubman’s family homesite will become part of over 30 sites on the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. In a few years, visitors will be able to walk trails nearby, part of a marshland refuge purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service last year for $6 million.
“When we protect vulnerable habitats, we help preserve the stories of those who came before us, like Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross,” said Cynthia Martinez, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System at US Fish and Wildlife.
Today, efforts to see Tubman on the $20 bill remain ongoing, though it may take until 2030 due to a complex redesign process.
Now with the discovery of her childhood home, we continue to find out more about her amazing and heroic life. However, Tubman believed everyone has the potential to change the world.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
More in the documentary from Vision Video below: