Harriet Tubman is one of the most iconic and important women in the history of the United States.
Born sometime between 1819 and 1823, Tubman would go on to become a key figure in the abolitionist movement in the United States and was one of the most famous ‘conductors’ of the underground railroad system used to help free other slaves.
Her later life would prove to be just as important as she would go on to play an important role in the battle for women’s rights in the United States.
Let’s take a look at 10 interesting facts about Harriet Tubman.
10 Interesting facts about Harriet Tubman
1. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery
Harriet Tubman was born with the name Araminta Ross. She was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was not uncommon for families there to feature both enslaved and free members. Harriet’s husband, John Tubman from whom she took her last name later in life, was, in fact, a free man.
An interesting fact about Harriet Tubman is that she would earn her own freedom when she escaped from Maryland to the free state of Pennsylvania. Her husband would stay in Maryland and remarry some years later.
2. Harriet Tubman made 13 missions and released around 70 slaves
After getting her own freedom following her escape to Pennsylvania, Harriet made it her mission to help those who had been left behind.
She made 13 missions in total to save friends and family from slavery, saving approximately 70 slaves in the process. She put herself at great risk by doing so. She would use a network of fellow anti-slavery activists and the famous ‘underground railroad’ in order to do this.
During this period, she earned herself the nickname ‘Moses’ because it was said that she never left anybody behind.
3. Harriet Tubman worked with the famous abolitionist, John Brown
In April 1858, Tubman met with the famous abolitionist John Brown. Brown advocated violence against white slave owners in order to turn the tide on slavery. He had become famous for his involvement in leading volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis in 1856.
John Brown was recruiting volunteers to help launch an attack on slaveholders in several states and saw Harriet Tubman and her connections as a valuable asset in these preparations. She became known as General Tubman and was an integral part of his operation.
4. Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse, a cook and a spy during the American Civil War
Harriet Tubman was incredibly active during the American Civil War and viewed as a unionist victory as a key step towards the abolition of slavery.
A great fact about Harriet Tubman is that her knowledge of the underground railroad made her a valuable asset as it provided a unique perspective on the lay of the land.
Her most notable work in the war was as a nurse. Her knowledge of home remedies from her days in Maryland were especially useful and it is said that she did an excellent job of helping people who were suffering from dysentery, which was one of the biggest killers in the camps during this period.
5. Harriet Tubman was the first female to lead a combat assault
Another notable moment for Harriet Tubman in the American Civil War came when, under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, she led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863.
She and the troops freed over 700 slaves during the raid and Tubman did not lose a single troop either.
6. Harriet Tubman was a supporter of the women’s rights movement
Following the abolition of slavery, Tubman turned her attention to another pressing matter at the end of the 19th century- women’s rights and the suffrage movement.
Despite being a lot older at the time, Tubman still travelled the country in support of the movement and spoke at meetings in key cities like New York, Washington and Boston. She was also the keynote speaker at the inaugural meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women in 1896.
Harriet Tubman was well respected in the women’s rights community and was regularly profiled and featured in important publications during this time period.
7. Harriet Tubman refused anesthesia during brain surgery
Having suffered from seizures and narcolepsy for the majority of her life, Tubman underwent brain surgery at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1890’s.
A widely unknown fact about Harriet Tubman is that inspired by the soldiers she had fought within the Civil War, Tubman refused to be given anesthesia during the operation and instead opting to bite down a bullet during the entire procedure.
8. Harriet Tubman died in 1913 at the age of 90
Tubman had spent a lot of her life suffering seizures and headaches and these began to get worse as the years rolled by and she became older.
In the early 20th century her health began to decline rapidly as these ailments became more prominent. She became increasingly frail and in 1911 she was put into a rest home which had been named after her.
After two more years, Harriet Tubman passed away from pneumonia in 1913 surrounded by her friends and family.
9. Harriet Tubman and the twenty-dollar bill
In 2016, the treasury secretary Jack Lew announced his intention to add the picture of Harriet Tubman to the front of the US twenty-dollar bill. Andrew Jackson, the former US President who is currently on the US twenty-dollar bill would be moved to the back. With Jackson himself being a slave owner this would be seen as quite a symbolic move in America.
In 2017 though these plans appeared to have been put on hold. Jack Lew’s replacement Steve Mnuchin said that he could not commit to making the changes to the bill because of how long people had been on them.
10. A film about Harriet Tubman’s life premiered in 2019
A biopic about Tubman’s life made its premiere at the Toronto film festival in 2019. The film, simply titled Harriet, stars British actress Cynthia Erivo in the titular role and was directed by Kassi Lemmons.
The film was met with a lukewarm response from critics but Cynthia Evro was praised for her powerful portrayal of Tubman.
Over 100 years after her death, Tubman’s influence is still widely felt across America today and that is reflected in her role in popular culture.
Her thoughts and ideas are still kept alive in the social justice movements of the 21st century and she is arguably one of the most important women in American political history.
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