9 Major Achievements of Harriet Tubman
Born in Dorchester County, Maryland, Harriet Tubman was a famous American abolitionist, civil rights activist and women’s suffragist.
Tubman was born into slavery, but would later escape and make her way to freedom. She would then go on to orchestrate a network of abolitionists (i.e. the Underground Railroad) that helped runaway slaves make it to safer places in the North and in Canada.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Tubman enlisted as a cook and then later became a nurse. She holds the honor of being the first woman in the history of the United States to lead an armed expedition. The abolitionist, who was also known as “Moses”, famously rescued about 700 enslaved people during the Raid at Combahee Ferry.
What other feat is Harriet Tubman most known for? And what was her precise role in the Underground Railroad?
Harriet Tubman’s 27 years a slave
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery to enslaved parents “Rit” Green and Benjamin Ross. Her name at birth was Araminta Ross; however, she was mostly called “Minty”. Owing to the fact that her entire family were slaves, she did not get to see many of her eight siblings for that long. Her mother was a cook on her slave owner’s plantation, while her father worked on the timber farm.
Her nightmare as a slave began at the age of five, when she was hired out as a nursemaid. And even at that age, her slave masters physically and emotional abused her for even the slightest mishap by Tubman.
She would face similar ordeal at the hands of her masters while working as a muskrat trapper and then later out on the field.
For quite a long time, the common misconception was that slaves who worked as domestic helps or indoors did not suffer as much as those that worked out in the field. As she aged, Tubman, like any other slave, found herself confined to toiling on the vast plantations of her masters. She noted on several occasions that the field works were a bit of respite compared to hell that slaves working indoors faced.
Major achievements of Harriet Tubman
Below is quick presentation of 9 major accomplishments of Harriet Tubman.
Tubman once placed herself in harm’s way to save the life of a fellow slave
Tubman’s level of empathy had always been evident right from her early childhood. In one incident that she later described, Tubman used her body to shield a fugitive from an iron object that had been hurled by an overseer. The lethal object caused injury to her head, breaking her skull. That pain would stay with her for the rest of her life, as she suffered severe headaches and hypersomnia (narcolepsy) as well.
As a devout Methodist, Tubman believed that the hallucinations that she suffered were premonitions sent to her by God. After the end of the Civil War, she underwent a brain surgery to reduce the excruciating pain that she suffered.
The weight broke my skull … They carried me to the house all bleeding and fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they laid me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all day and the next.
How Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom?
When Harriet Tubman was around her late teens, her father gained his freedom kind courtesy to the will of his deceased owner. The will also stipulated that Harriet, her mother and siblings be set free. Unfortunately, the new owner of the estate refused to comply with the instructions of the will. Therefore, Harriet and her family continued to remain slaves.
When rumors reached Harriet of an impending sale of slaves, including her brothers – Ben and Henry – she made a bold decision to escape from slavery. She and her two brothers executed their escape on September 17, 1849. Perhaps out of fear of the dire consequences that often befell apprehended runaway slaves her two brothers backed down and went back to the plantation. Harriet, on the other hand, kept on going, putting as many miles between herself and the plantation.
She braced it all and traveled a journey of close to 100 miles north to Pennsylvania, where she basked in the warm embrace of freedom. She quickly secured a job as a housemaid in Philadelphia.
An important coordinator of the Underground Railroad
Being an altruistic individual, Tubman felt she had to go back and save her family and friends that were still held in chains on Maryland plantation. She certainly could have made a good life for herself in Philadelphia; however, for some deep-seated reason she knew her freedom would be meaningless without the freedom of others.
Then in her late 20s, Tubman went back to South to secure the freedom of her niece and her grand-nieces first. She deployed a vast network of antislavery supporters that secretly helped escaped slaves make it safely to free states in the north and places in Canada. Along those secret routes that escaped slaves took were houses that provided temporary shelter, food and clothes to those fleeing slaves.
Although the Underground Railroad developed around the late 18th century, Tubman’s efforts certainly helped in making the network more efficient and safer.
Devised very effective strategies to lead slaves to freedom
Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the antislavery efforts like the one Tubman carried out became more precarious. With the full backing of the federal law, bounty hunters and slave catchers, so to speak, were emboldened to go to whatever end to apprehend escaped slaves. The North was swarmed by those agents who went about capturing escaped slaves before returning them to the south. One could only imagine the living nightmare that awaited those captured slaves.
Therefore, Harriet Tubman and her network of abolitionist had to up their game. Tubman realized that the slaves that she saved had to go further north into British North America (i.e. Canada). More than ever before, she had to cloak her clandestine activities under the cover of the night.
In order to give the escaped slaves more time to journey north, she preferred travelling in spring or fall. Shorter days and longer nights increased the chances of her extracting a slave from the South into Canada and into other places, like Mexico and the Caribbean where slavery was abolished.
She was a relentless and fierce abolitionist
Another important tactic in her arsenal was the use of firearm. Because some bounty hunters operated on the policy of either catch the escaped slave dead or alive, Tubman needed to carry a gun to defend herself and the slaves that she led.
To keep her mission as stealth as possible, she sometimes took the drastic measure of drugging crying babies and restless children. To Tubman, freedom was not something that she could take lightly. She did whatever it took to get the slaves safely out of clutches of their ruthless owners.
Tubman helped hundreds of slaves to escape
Popularly known in the abolitionist circle as “Moses”, Harriet Tubman was skilled at collaborating with any abolitionist that could help advance her cause. She worked with renowned abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Martha Coffin Wright (1806-1875).
In the first few missions of hers, she delivered about 70 slaves, mostly friends and family members, from their bondage. It’s been stated that her network alone helped free hundreds of slaves. Those numbers have been disputed however. Many historians claim that it was much on the lower side.
Even when she was not personally leading the escaped slaves to freedom, she was still heavily involved in coordinating the activities along those escape routes. She offered invaluable advice to many people on how to steer clear of slave catchers.
Efforts during the American Civil War
To some extent, our nation’s Civil War in the mid-19th century invigorated Tubman to work even harder. She is said to have come out with more effective ways in emancipating slaves.
Tubman started as a cook in the Union Army when the Civil War began in 1861. To Tubman, any kind of service to the Union represented progress in ending the slave-holding culture in the South.
As the war heated up she would serve as a nurse and then later a scout and spy. In those two latter roles, Tubman played a vital role in recruiting escaped slaves from the South into the Union’s cause.
As the leader of one of the branches of the Union’s espionage network, she distinguished herself brilliantly by delivering vital information about Confederate Army movements, positions, supply channels and troop numbers.
The first woman to lead an armed expedition
For someone as diminutive as Harriet Tubman, it was an awe-inspiring thing for her to actively participate in the Civil War. A woman of around five feet tall, Harriet did not let her physical stature dissuade her from showing nerves of steel when going behind enemy lines to either extract a group of slaves or secure vital intelligence. Her bravery and tenacity were very admirable. They inspired her male colleagues to fight even harder and stronger.
In one of her armed expeditions (i.e. the Raid at Combahee Ferry), she helped free about 700 enslaved people.
It was very disappointing that the federal government did not recognize her selfless contributions to the Union’s cause and the abolitionist movement in general until three decades after the Civil War.
What did Harriet Tubman do after the Civil War?
Although the end of slavery (following the passage of 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865) coincided with the end of the Civil War, the freed slaves continued to face almost the same treatment as the ones that were meted out to them during slavery. In the deep South, former slave owners struggled to come to terms with the new landscape. At almost every turn the South used acts and laws to suppress the freedoms and rights of African Americans beginning around the Reconstruction Era.
Therefore, Harriet Tubman continued to fight for the betterment of former slaves. She pushed for more educational and employment opportunities for those impoverished minorities. Her campaign also extended to women’s rights, working with many civil rights and women’s rights activist, including Susan B. Anthony, to make the American society more just and free.
Harriet Tubman’s spouses and adopted daughter
Harriet tied the knot with a free Black man in 1844. The marriage, which lasted from 1844 to 1851, was a disaster.
She once tried to help her John Tubman make it safely from the South to the North. However, John, who had remarried by then, decided to make Maryland his home.
In 1869, she got married to Nelson Davis. Like Tubman, Davis was a former slave and fought bravely in the Union’s Army during the Civil War. The couple had no biological children of their own; instead they adopted a girl called Gertie.
In 1869, Harriet Tubman married for the second time to Nelson Davis.
Other achievements and honors
In 1869, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People.
Owing to her unparalleled contributions, many schools, institutions and famous landmarks have been named in her honor. During World War II, there was a ship named the SS Harriet Tubman.
There is $20 Harriet Tubman bill set to be released in 2026 or even earlier (according to the Biden administration). If that were to happen Tubman would become the first black woman to feature on a United States Dollar bill. The release of Tubman’s twenty-dollar bill will be a truly historic moment in our nation’s history.
More Harriet Tubman Facts
- Over a period of about 10 years, Harriet Tubman went on 13 missions to Maryland to emancipate family and friends. In her first mission (in December 1850), she led her niece Kessiah and her two children to freedom.
- Harriet Tubman was an illiterate all her life.
- She retired to her home in Auburn, New York in 1859. She took to farming and raising pigs, chickens and other animals as an economic venture.
- Perhaps due to the head injury she suffered while a slave, the hallucinations that Tubman had in her later life were explained by Tubman as premonitions from the divine. It must be noted that Tubman was a raised Methodist by her mother; hence her explanation of those hallucinations. She said that those issues that she struggled with made slave merchants and renters to look the other way whenever they gazed at her.
- In her early life and time as a slave, she was often beaten to pulp and abused mercilessly by her owners. The abuse caused her a lot of pain and severe hypersomnia throughout her life.
- In 1858, Tubman offered support to radical abolitionist John Brown. A year later, in 1859, Brown carried out his infamous raid on Harpers Ferry.
- In her mother’s honor, she changed her name from Araminta to Harriet.
In 1911, she moved to the retirement home that she herself had established. Two years later, she succumbed to pneumonia. The legendary emancipator of slaves and women’s rights activist died on March 10, 1913.
Famous quotes by Harriet Tubman
Even to this day, Harriet Tubman’s complex story continues to inspire not just our nation, but so many people across the world. The following are three famous quotes by Harriet Ross Tubman: