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Harriet Tubman

William Still

NJ Celebrates the Underground Railroad




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Harriet Tubman
February 2003

photo of Harriet TubmanKnown as "Moses," after the biblical hero who delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman fled to Pennsylvania in 1849. After freeing herself from slavery, this abolitionist returned to Maryland and rescued members of her family and others. It is believed that she made 19 trips into the South and, over a period of ten years, conducted approximately 300 people to freedom in the North without ever losing any of her charges.

Her formula for success was quite simple: although she frequently changed her routes leading to the North, Ms. Tubman always began the escapes on Saturday nights. This was significant for two reasons. First, slaves were often not required to work on Sunday. Therefore, their owners might not notice their absence until Monday morning. Secondly, newspapers would not be able to report runaway slaves until the beginning of the week. These two facts often gave Tubman and the escapees enough time to get a head start to their destination in the free states.

During the American Civil War, Tubman moved to South Carolina where she served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union Army. She also helped prepare food for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, a heroic band of African-American soldiers who were known as the "Glory Brigade" after the fierce battle at Fort Wagner in 1863. She was never paid for her services, but she received an official commendation for her war effort.

Next: William Still

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