Born Araminta Ross, Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – 1913) was an African American who escaped from slavery and then, using the Underground Railroad, guided at least 70 more slaves to freedom including her family members. Tubman was nicknamed “Moses” and she was never captured and neither were the people she guided. During the American Civil War, she acted as as a nurse and a cook as well as a scout and spy for the Union forces. She also led the Combahee River Raid becoming the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. In her later life, she was involved in the campaign for women’s right to vote; and helped in the establishment of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. After her death, Tubman became an inspiration for generations of African Americans struggling for equality and civil rights. She has been honored many times and is widely regarded as one of the greatest African Americans. Here are the 10 most important accomplishments of Harriet Tubman.
#1 She made a daring escape from slavery when she was in her twenties
Born a slave in a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland, Harriet Tubman experienced harsh treatment and abuse in her childhood and early life. The violence she suffered caused permanent injuries to her including a head injury due to which she had to endure severe headaches and seizures for the rest of her life. In 1849, when she was in her twenties, Harriet Tubman escaped from Maryland and traveled nearly 90 miles to enter Pennsylvania, where slavery was illegal. She moved by night and was guided by the North Star. The exact route she took is not known.
#2 She served as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad for 11 years
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in US which was used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of free blacks, white abolitionists and other activists who were sympathetic to their cause. Tubman made use of this network during her escape. Risking her own freedom, she became a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad and returned to Maryland many times to help rescue other slaves. For 11 years, from the time of her escape till 1860, Tubman served in this capacity. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in US which stated that escaped slaves could be captured in the North and returned to slavery. Tubman thus re-routed the Underground Railroad to Canada.
#3 Harriet Tubman guided at least 70 slaves to freedom
During her time as conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman made around thirteen expeditions and rescued at least 70 slaves which included her family members. She also provided specific instructions to 50 to 60 additional fugitives who escaped to the north. Her journeys put her at tremendous risk and required her to be inventive to handle difficult situations. Harriet Tubman was nicknamed “Moses” due to her courage and the nature of her work. She was never captured and neither were the people she guided. Tubman later said: “I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
#4 She worked as a Union scout and spy during the American Civil War
The American Civil War broke out in 1861 and Harriet Tubman believed that a Union victory would be a major step toward the abolition of slavery. She served as a nurse and a cook for the Union forces for more than three years. She prepared remedies from local plants; and nursed the soldiers who were wounded and sick with diseases like dysentery and smallpox. Tubman’s knowledge of covert travel also made her invaluable as a scout and spy. As leader of a corps of local blacks, she made several forays into Confederate territory, collecting valuable information. Most prominently, Tubman provided Colonel James Montgomery with key intelligence that aided the capture of Jacksonville, Florida.
#5 Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed assault during the American Civil War
On June 1 and June 2, 1863, Harriet Tubman guided the Union Army under Colonel Montgomery in the Combahee River Raid. She thus became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. The Union troops set fire to the plantations, destroying infrastructure and seizing thousands of dollars worth of food and supplies. More than 750 slaves were liberated in the raid and most of these men went on to join the Union Army. Tubman’s efforts in planning the raid and the intelligence she provided were key to the success of Combahee River Raid. Her courage and patriotism were hailed in the Union newspapers.
#6 She was a prominent voice in the campaign for women’s suffrage
Tubman worked for the Union forces till their victory in 1865. After the war, she continued to help blacks shape their new lives in freedom. In her later years, Tubman became a part of the women’s suffrage movement. She worked alongside famous suffragettes including Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. Tubman toured various cities giving speeches in support of women’s right to vote, drawing on her experiences in the fight against slavery and pointing to the sacrifices of countless women throughout modern history as evidence of women’s equality to men.
#7 She helped in the establishment of The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged
In 1859, US Senator William H. Seward sold Tubman a small piece of land on the outskirts of Auburn, New York. She lived here with her family and friends. In 1903, she donated a part of this land to the Church under the instruction that it be made into a home for “aged and indigent colored people”. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened on this site in 1908. Tubman was also a founding member of National Association of Colored Women Clubs (NACWC). She was the keynote speaker at the first meeting of NACWC in 1896.
#8 Tubman became an African American icon and an inspiration for their struggle for equality
Harriet Tubman was widely known and well-respected, especially in her community, during her lifetime. After her death in 1913, she became an icon for blacks and inspired generations of African Americans struggling for equality and civil rights. Since the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1954–1968), her contributions have been properly acknowledged and have been set down in school textbooks. A survey at the end of the 20th century named Tubman as the third most famous civilian in American history before the Civil War, after Betsy Ross and Paul Revere.
#9 She was the first African-American woman to be honored on a US Postage stamp
Liberty ship was a class of cargo ships built in the United States during World War II. In 1944, the US Maritime Commission launched a Liberty ship named SS Harriet Tubman. It was the first US navy vessel to be named after a black woman. In 1978, the US Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of Tubman which made her the first African-American woman to be honored on a US Postage stamp. In 2013, US President Barack Obama signed a proclamation creating the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in the state of Maryland to commemorate her life and achievements. The monument was later designated a National Historical Park.
#10 Tubman is considered one of the greatest African Americans
Harriet Tubman had an inspirational life during which she escaped from slavery and helped many others to do the same; took an active part in the American Civil War; and became a prominent speaker for women’s right to vote. She did all this even though odds were stacked against her as she was black and a woman. Due to her tremendous achievements, Harriet Tubman is today an icon of American courage and freedom. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Harriet Tubman on his list of the 100 Greatest African Americans. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait gracing the $20 bill. She will be the first woman on a US banknote since Martha Washington in the 1890s.