Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, lived in Philadelphia in the decade before the Civil War.
In 1820, Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester Country, Maryland. Born a slave, she later married a free man but left him and fled to Philadelphia and freedom. She is remembered as an important conductoron the Underground Railroad. She helped many slaves escape to the North where they could be free. At the end of her life, Tubman published two books: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman and Harriet: the Moses of Her People. Tubman died at the age of 93 from pneumonia.
Harriet Tubman was born into a slave family that already included eleven other children. Her name was Araminta Ross. She worked on a plantation for the beginning of her life, becoming a field hand at twelve years old. Around this time she took her mother's first name, Harriet. Tubman continued working on the plantation, even after a sharp blow to her head nearly incapacitated her. The blow caused neurological damage, from which she never fully recovered. In 1844, after being granted permission by her master, she married a free African American named John Tubman. In spite of marrying a free man, she remained a slave and tried to convince her husband to go north with her. He resisted. In 1847, Tubman's master died and not long after the master's heir also passed away, leaving her slave status undetermined. Tubman decided trying to escape to the free North. Even though her husband would not join her, she left traveling by night and hiding by day until she arrived in Philadelphia, where she was finally a free woman.
In 1849, Tubman returned to Maryland, hoping she could convince her husband to come and live with her in Pennsylvania. Upon arriving, she discovered he ws married to another woman. Returning to her home in Philadelphia, she became an abolitionist and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Her first trip to Maryland to bring slaves to safety in Pennsylvania was a personal victory. She succeeded in bringing her sister and her sister's children to freedom.
She made nineteen trips to the South bringing slaves to freedom each time as a conductor. Underground Railroad conductors knew all the safe houses and helped slaves escape to freedom. During this time, she repeatedly put herself in serious danger. Southerners had been offering large rewards for her capture. On each trip, she carried a rifle with her, which was used to keep Southerners at bay and to quiet traveling slaves because their trip gave them access to secrets that could bring the railroad down. If a slave that had been brought to freedom wanted money, they could expose every safe house they stayed in on their way. To ensure silence, she waved the rifle and would say, Dead negroes tell no tales.
Tubman wished to stay in Philadelphia because she believed the city was a good starting point to join the railroad, and she was a member of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. Regretfully, an act was passed about two years after she moved to Montgomery County that classified her as a fugitive slave rather than a free woman. Due to this, she decided to move to Canada and continue her trips to free slaves. After this move, she split her time between Canada and Auburn, New York.
When the Civil War began, she worked as a spy for the Union Army, stationed in South Carolina. Tubman also worked as a nurse and a cook, preparing food for an African American Massachusetts battalion called the Glory Brigade.
When the war ended, Tubman returned to Auburn, New York, and in 1869, she married Nelson Davis, who was more than twenty years her junior. She continued fighting for African American rights and women's rights.
In order to maintain her living and to financially support her causes, Tubman and Sarah Hopkins Bradford wrote a book called Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Bradford later wrote Harriet the Moses of Her People with much input from Tubman throughout the writing process. Additionally, Tubman helped found the John Brown Home for Indigent and Aged Colored People.
In March of 1913, 93 year old Tubman died of pneumonia in the Home for Aged Colored People that she helped found. The home was later renamed in her honor. The Federal Government issued stamps in 1978 commemorating her life. A World War II Liberty ship was named for her. Her house in Auburn, New York is a national historical site.
Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Auburn, NY: W.J. Moses, 1869.
Harriet the Moses of Her People. New York: Geo. R. Lockwood & Son, 1886.
Encarta Africana. Harriet Tubman. Africana: Gateway to the Black World. 6 October 2004.
Ferris, Jeri, and Karen Ritz. Go Free or Die: A Story About Harriet Tubman. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1988.