Harriet Tubman was a fugitive slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad who



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Harriet Tubman was a fugitive slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad who


led more than 300 other slaves to freedom. Her successful efforts earned her the nickname
“Moses” and prompted southerners to offer large rewards for her capture.As you read,
think about why Harriet Tubman risked her own freedom to help others gain theirs.


Harriet Tubman (c. 1820–1913)

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in


about 1820. Her parents named her Araminta. As a young child, her masters red her out to other families for housework and child care. She never learned to read or write. As a teenager, Tubman worked the fields, which she preferred to domestic labor. She grew strong from working outdoors and learned to appreciate nature. She also experienced and witnessed cruelty, including the sale of two sisters who were carried off by slave traders to unknown destinations.

In 1844, Araminta married a free African American named John Tubman. By law, she remained a slave, as would any children born to her. Tubman wondered about her own mother’s legal status. With the help of a lawyer, she learned that her master’s family had not


honored a will setting her mother free at the age of 45. That betrayal and the prospect of being sold herself prompted Tubman to flee north in 1849. Following tradition, Tubman took a new name upon obtaining freedom: Harriet, her mother’s name.

About a year after her escape from


Maryland, Tubman returned to rescue



a niece and the niece’s children. In the spring of 1851, she rescued a brother and two other men. In the fall, she returned for her husband. Because he had taken a new wife, he refused to come with her. Tubman made her fourth trip on behalf of the Underground Railroad, leading two family members as well as nine strangers to freedom. In all, Tubman made 19 trips into the South, including an 1857 foray to bring her parents north. Rewards up to $40,000 were offered for her capture.



Tubman didn’t just work on the Underground Railroad. She also helped abolitionist John Brown plan his raid on Harper’s Ferry. When the Civil War started, she followed Union soldiers to Virginia where she helped fugitive slaves encamped near Fort Monroe. She later assumed an official role as a spy and scout for the Union army in South Carolina. The information and guidance she provided helped Union soldiers conduct a raid that freed more than 750 slaves. After the war, Tubman helped emancipated African Americans who were orphaned, ill, disabled, or old. She also supported women’s suffrage until her death in 1913.

  1. In what ways did Tubman help enslaved
    African Americans?

  2. What obstacles did Tubman face in her
    quest to help free other slaves?




  1. Make Inferences Why do you think
    Tubman risked her own freedom to help
    others obtain theirs?

  2. Evaluate How important a role did Harriet
    Tubman play in the defeat of slavery?





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