Harriet Tubman is the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery about 1822, in Maryland, she escaped from the Brodess Farm in 1849, and traveled undetected to Philadelphia in the free state of Pennsylvania.

One of nine children, her parents named her Araminta and called her Minty. At age five or six she was “hired out” to a nearby family to care for their baby. Minty watched over the baby and if it cried, Minty was whipped. As a child she was hit with a metal object meant for another slave. She was severely wounded and suffered from seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. But she recovered from her injury and was able to work on the farm. She plowed, hauled logs, and drove oxen. When Minty married John Tubman around 1844, she changed her name to Harriet, her mother’s name. 

Slave Notice Published by Eliza Brodess

In 1849, Edward Brodess, her owner died. Harriet believed that she and members of her family would be sold by his widow, Eliza. Harriet and her brothers Ben and Harry slipped away. Because they had been “hired out,” Eliza Brodess did not learn of their escape right away. She published a runaway slave notice two weeks later. But Ben and Harry soon changed their minds and returned home. They convinced Harriet to return with them. Shortly after, she escaped again and made her way to freedom by night with the help of abolitionists and freed slaves on the Underground Railroad.

“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields and I felt like I was in heaven.”

Harriet Tubman (left) and  Former Slaves She Helped Rescue

Once a free woman, Harriet decided to return to Maryland to help family members and other slaves travel to freedom. She returned thirteen times in about ten years and guided 70 slaves north.* Harriet guided the people she helped at night. She liked to travel in the winter months when the days were shorter. And Harriet knew that if she left on Saturday nights, the runaway slave notices wouldn’t be printed in the newspapers until Monday. Harriet worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad by leading escaping slaves through a network of safe houses. She earned the nickname “Moses of her people” by guiding slaves safely to northern states and Canada. 

A Woodcut of Harriet Tubman Dressed in Her Civil War Clothing

In 1860, at the start of the Civil War, Harriet became a scout, spy, and a nurse for the Union Army. She helped lead a raid on South Carolina plantations that liberated over 700 slaves.

Harriet Tubman in 1910

When the war ended, Harriet moved to Auburn, New York. She cared for her aging parents, whom she had helped to escape north, and other people who needed her help. She later became part of the suffrage movement and spoke publicly for women’s right to vote. Harriet died of pneumonia in 1913, an American hero. 

“I never ran my train off the track and never lost a passenger.” — Harriet Tubman

All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

*Recent research gives the numbers as thirteen trips, 70 slaves, and disputes earlier figures.

You may like: Books for Kids — Underground Railroad https://www.barbaralowell.com/books-kids-underground-railroad

Books For Kids About Harriet Tubman:

Before She Was Harriet

By Lesa Cline-Ransome, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Who Was Harriet Tubman?

By Yona Zeldis McDonough, Illustrated by Who HQ

Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman

By Monica Kulling, Illustrated by Teresa Flavin

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman

By Alan Schroeder, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney


Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad

by Ann Petry


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