Harriet Tubman was born into slavery around 1822 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but refused to spend her life in bondage. One night in 1849, she began walking north until she reached freedom. Yet her own liberty wasn’t enough. During the 1850s, she ventured again and again back into the South to guide slaves along the Underground Railroad to northern havens – even though she would face severe punishment if caught.
Tubman usually traveled at night, shepherding runaway slaves through dark woods, fields, and swamps as they followed the North Star to freedom. She often wore disguises, dressing as an old woman, and sang hymns to signal others along the way.
She moved just hours ahead of fugitive slave hunters. On one rescue mission, she saw a former master walking toward her. She was carrying some live chickens, so she pulled the string around their legs until they squawked, then stooped to attend to the fluttering birds while the man passed inches away. Another time when she was on a train, she spotted a former master, so she grabbed a newspaper and pretended to read. Since the man knew that Harriet Tubman was illiterate, he did not look closely at her, and she arrived at her destination unnoticed.
During the Civil War, Tubman went to South Carolina, where she acted as a nurse, cook, scout, and spy for the Union army. After the war she raised money for black schools and opened a home for elderly blacks.
Tubman was small in stature – only about five feet tall – but enormous in courage and faith. “I said to the Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you, and I know you’ll see me through,” she said. Because of her determination to lead others to freedom, she came to be known by a name of old: Moses.