Harriet Tubman was a leading abolitionist, civil rights activist and humanitarian. Born to enslaved parents in Maryland, Harriet is famed for leading other enslaved people to freedom using the Underground Railroad in the American South to the ‘free’ North. She was nick-named “The Conductor” and "Black Moses" as Harriet returned to the South several times to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom.
The year of Harriet’s birth is unknown but is recognised as being between 1820 and 1825. Her birth name was Araminta or "Minty” but it is believed she preferred Harriet in honour of her mother Harriet “Rit” Green. She was one of 9 children and married twice in her lifetime.
Beatings and lashings were a lamentable inevitability of bondage and Harriet's experience was no different. She carried the scars of physical violence for the rest of her life, suffering with narcolepsy and seizures after a particularly gruesome beating where the overseer threw a weight at her head.
In 1849 Harriet and her two brothers escaped slavery after the death of their owner. They planned to escape to Philadelphia but a bounty was placed on each of them for their return dead or alive, and Harriet's brothers defected. She accompanied them back to the plantation but in an effort to remain "free" continued to journey alone through Pennsylvania and on to Philadelphia. This was approximately 90 miles. Wishing to free her family and other slaves, Harriet returned several times to the South to coordinate escapes to Philadelphia. However in 1850 a Fugitive Slave Law was passed that required the "free" North to return escaped slaves to their owners in the South. In response to this, Harriet redirected her escape routes to Canada where slavery was illegal.