Harriet Tubman is perhaps the best known figure related to the underground railroad. She made by some accounts 19 or more rescue trips to the south and helped more than 300 people escape slavery. Her life and character are an outstanding example of selfless dedication to freedom and the abolition of slavery. More recent scholarship has found that she made approximately 13 trips, and more significantly her work with the Union Army in the Department of the South resulted in the freeing of far more than 300 enslaved persons.
She was born a slave in Bucktown, near Cambridge, Maryland around 1820 as Araminta Ross. She came to be known by her mother’s name in her early life, Harriet. At age 13 an incident occurred where she tried to interfere with the punishment of another enslaved person. The angry enslavement supervisor hit her in the head with a two pound weight which fractured her skull and caused her to have black outs for the rest of her life. She married John Tubman, a free black, in 1844. She escaped from enlavement in 1849 and went to Philadelphia where she vowed to return for other members of her family and to help others escape. She made her first trip back to the south after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and returned a total of 13 times. Her story is chronicled in Scenes In The Life of Harriet Tubman, published in 1869 by Sarah H. Bradford.
Harriet Tubman is known to have had some family in our region around Troy and Western Massachusetts. In Scenes In The Life of Harriet Tubman the story is told of the rescue of Charles Nalle from arrest under the Fugitive Slave Act in Troy, New York in 1860. Tubman is described as having been present in relation to visiting family in the area.
The rescue of Charles Nalle was a considerable event in Troy at the time. A plaque is now present at the place where the event occurred.
Harriet Tubman went on to be a scout, and nurse for the Union Army in the Civil War. After the war she settled in the Auburn area in New York State and sought to establish a home for the aged for African American former slaves.