Harriet Tubman

I’ve known about Harriet Tubman for years, but did not realize she had a farm in Auburn, NY.  We hadn’t planned to stay in Auburn, but we did plan to take Route 20 across the state to visit the finger lakes region. An Inn in Auburn had an opening at a price we liked, so we booked a room there. Driving into town to our Inn, I saw the signs for the Harriet Tubman Home. Visiting it was time well spent.

I knew Tubman well deserved her reputation as the “Moses of her people.” Of course, I knew she escaped slavery and led others to freedom as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, but that was about the extent of what I knew about this remarkable woman. I did not know she was a Union scout in the Civil War, as well as a soldier and nurse for the Union Army. She is considered the first African American woman to serve in the military.

Born into Slavery

Tubman was born into slavery sometime around 1820 in Maryland, one of nine children born to her mother. When she was a little girl her owner leased her to neighbors as a domestic servant. At age twelve she tried to stop an overseer who was aiming a heavy metal weight at an enslaved man running away. When she got between the overseer and the runaway man, the weight hit her in her head. The injury caused her to suffer lifelong headaches and narcolepsy.

Although slaves were not legally allowed to marry, in 1844 she married John Tubman, taking his last name and calling herself Harriet, her mother’s name. In 1849 she escaped north with two brothers, but John Tubman refused to go with her. Instead, two years later he married a free black woman. Her efforts to lead enslaved people north was so successful slaveowners posted a $40,000 reward for her capture or death. Tubman is credited with leading 70 men, women and children to freedom, including her own parents. She proudly claimed, “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

From Slave to Spy

Because of her work with the Underground Railroad, Tubman became familiar with Confederate towns and transportation routes throughout the South. Her knowledge was  valuable to the Union Civil War commanders. She often disguised herself as an old woman, enabling her to work as a spy and scout. She wandered around areas under Confederate control, gathering useful information from enslaved people about troop locations and supply lines. In turn, she helped many of them reach the north and find food, shelter, and jobs.

She also nursed black and white soldiers back to health with various herbal medicines. When the war ended, she joined forces with Elizabeth Cady and Susan B. Anthony in their work for women’s suffrage. Using money she earned selling baked goods to soldiers during the war, she bought several acres in Auburn, NY, where she cared for her aging parents.

Rendering Aid to Others

Later she married Union soldier Nelson Davis, also a formerly enslaved man. When he died, she eventually collected his military pension as his widow. In 1899 she started collecting  her own pension for her service. She built a second house on her farm, where she offered a home to anyone who needing one, in exchange for helping with farm chores. In 1896, using income from farm products, she purchased land adjacent to her farm and built the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged and Indigent Colored People. She died of pneumonia March 10, 1913.

Today her farm is The Harriett Tubman National Historical Park. It is open the public on a limited schedule for tours as an independent non-profit organization managed by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Discovering places like this is why I sometimes prefer to exit the interstate and explore places the interstate bypasses.

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