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Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

Harriet Tubman (Araminta Ross), was an American abolitionist. Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1820, Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave and hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life. She was a devout Christian and experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.
Originally named Araminta, or “Minty” Ross, Harriet Tubman was one of nine children born to enslaved parents which therefore made her frequently separated from her family.

She was forced to labor for white masters who beat and neglected her. At age 13, she was nearly killed after being struck on the head by an iron weight thrown by an irate overseer at another slave. As a result, severe headaches, epileptic seizures and intense spiritual and personal visionary activity plagued her for the rest of her life. In 1844 she changed her name to Harriet when she married John Tubman, a local free man. After her enslaver, Edward Brodess, died in 1849, Tubman escaped. Barondess’s indebted wife had planned to sell Tubman and several of the Ross children to pay her mounting debts. In spite of marriage to a free man of color, Tubman knew that escaping slavery and fleeing to the free state of Pennsylvania was one of the only options available to her.

But then she immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly; one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or “Moses”, as she was called) “never lost a passenger”.

After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America and helped newly freed slaves find work.

In 1858 she met militant abolitionist John Brown at her home on North Street in St. Catharine’s. She recruited former slaves, some from Maryland, for his planned attack on the US arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in October 1859 but Illness prevented her from joining him. After his capture and execution, however, she immediately recognized his martyrdom would activate abolitionists around the world.

When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. In 1896, she purchased more property, enabling her to establish a small hospital and rest home for African Americans, who were often denied treatment at “white’s only” establishments.

The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged formally opened in 1913. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. After she died in 1913.

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