A Lesson of Courage

Araminta Ross, also known as Harriet, was born into slavery on a Maryland plantation in 1820. She lived during a difficult time in which many people in the U.S. owned slaves. African slaves were brought over on ships and forced to work in plantations. Some slaves would escape to the northern U.S. states, where colored people could live in freedom.

Slaves lived in tiny cabins with little furniture and no windows. The slaves would work in the fields during the harvest or in the houses of their owner. At just five years old, Harriet was sent to another house to do domestic labor for a woman. Her owner would hit her every time she was unhappy with Harriet’s work.

In one occasion, a slave owner got mad at Harriet for not helping him trap an escaped slave and threw an object at her head. Harriet almost died due to the brain injury, which later caused her to suffer fainting and dizziness for the rest of her life.

Harriet had heard stories about slaves that escaped in search for their freedom. She knew that some of them rebelled against their owners and escaped to the North. In 1884, Harriet married John Tubman, a former slave. Harriet was scared that she would be sold and separated from John, and so she began to plan her escape.

Harriet knew that some slaves had decided to escape in the “Underground Railroad.” The Underground Railroad wasn’t actually a railroad. It was a secret route that would help slaves that escaped in the south to travel north, sometimes even to Canada. Harriet decided to escape using the Underground Railroad.

Many brave people risked their lives to help Harriet and other slaves escape. During her trip in the Underground Railroad, people gave them food and offered them places to sleep. Sometimes Harriet would travel in a cart and sometimes in a boat. At night, she walked in the forest and in the morning, she would hide in barns.

Harriet arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1849. After living as a slave for thirty years, she had finally accomplished freedom. But she was worried for her friends that she had left in the South, so she decided to go back to help them obtain freedom.

In Philadelphia, Harriet found a job in a kitchen. With the money that she earned, she would travel back. In these trips, working as the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, Harriet helped slaves escape. The conductors were people that traveled in carts with double bottom floors, where the slaves traveled from one “station” to the other. The stations were houses where the slaves would stop to eat, sleep, and change clothes.

During the 11 years that Harriet worked in the Underground Railroad, she helped more than 300 slaves reach freedom. Every time she went back South, she ran the risk of getting captured. Despite slave owners offering $40,000 for her capture, Harriet continued saving slaves.

In 1860, Harriet made her last trip south. During the Civil War, she served in the Union Army as a nurse, spy, and explorer. Throughout the rest of her life, Harriet continued fighting for other causes, such as women rights and education for colored people. She lived until 93 years old.

[Source: PBS.org, National Women’s History Museum]