African American Heritage

Harriet Tubman (c. March 1822 - March 10, 1913)

Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, was one of the most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad, an abolitionist, suffragist, activist, and served in the Civil War as leader, nurse, cook, scout, and spy. Tubman was arguably the most successful individual who personally led enslaved people to freedom through her service on the Underground Railroad, and during the Civil War, she was given the moniker "Moses."

Tubman's early life was spent enslaved in the Eastern Shore region of Maryland, where she was made to do various tasks including childcare, plowing, and working on the wharf. Three of her sisters were sold and separated from the family during her childhood, but her parents, Rit and Ben Ross, continued to resist and keep the remaining family together. In 1849, Harriet Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, but would return to Maryland many times to recover her family and reunite them in freedom.

During the Civil War, Tubman served in South Carolina as a nurse, cook, and spy. She also became the only woman to lead a military action during the War when she led Black troops in the Combahee River Raid on June 2, 1863. The raid involved small ships and troops who destroyed roadways, and burned plantations, and collected supplies of livestock and crops. As a result of the raid, 750 enslaved people were liberated.

Records in the National Archives relating to Harriet Tubman include documents relating to her Civil War pension claims, military service records of her husband Nelson Davis (Charles), legislation establishing and images from dedicating the Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad National Parks, images from the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, and applications for designating places and areas for the National Register of Historic Places related to Tubman. 


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Photograph shows a full-length portrait of Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913) looking directly at the camera with folded hands resting on back of an upholstered chair.

Harriet Tubman, after the Civil War (NAID 7718799)