In 1822, Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in Maryland. No one knew she was destined to become an American heroine. As a child slave Minty was separated from her parents and frequently hired out for farming and logging work. She experienced whippings and other mistreatment and was once struck on the head by an overseer. Thereafter she suffered from headaches, seizures and more.
In 1844, she married John Tubman and changed her first name in honor of her mother, thus becoming Harriet Tubman. Even though John was a free man, Harriet was still held as a slave. She fled North to freedom in 1849 and from then on, devoted herself to freeing others—children, women, and men—through the Underground Railroad. People soon began to refer to her as “Moses."
During the Civil War Harriet served as a scout and spy for the Union Army in a series of military operations with the mission of freeing enslaved people. On June 2, 1863, under Colonel James Montgomery, she led 150 African-American soldiers on a bold nighttime rescue of over 700 slaves during the Combahee Ferry Raid in South Carolina. She also participated in rescue missions with the Massachusetts 54th Infantry and helped care for injured soldiers.
Harriet lived in abject poverty despite her long years of service to her country. It wasn’t until 30 years after the Civil War ended that her repeated appeals for veteran’s compensation were answered with a small award based on her second husband’s veteran status.
During her final years, Harriet Tubman lived in Auburn, NY, on a small piece of land sold to her by Senator William Seward, an abolitionist. In 1903, she donated a part of her property to the Church with a requirement that it be made into a rest home for “aged and indigent colored people.” She herself died there in 1913 after battling pneumonia.
If you travel to New York, you’ll find a Harriet Tubman Memorial statue by Alison Saar. If you’re into documentaries, watch Harriet Tubman: They Called Her Moses. If your summer travel includes Ohio, be sure to visit National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. If you have young readers at home or in school they may enjoy reading “Minty,” a Coretta Scott King award winner, and “The Story of Harriet Tubman” by historian Christine Platt. If you live in South Santa Clara County, you can order through BookSmart of Morgan Hill or check with your local library.