Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse in the Union Army, as a Girl Scout, and as a spy during the Civil War. In 1863, she became the first woman in U.S. history to plan and lead a military raid, freeing nearly 700 enslaved people in South Carolina.
The fifth of nine children, Minty’s life changed forever during an errand to a store. A handler threw a one-pound weight at a fugitive slave, missed, and hit Minty in his place. The damage caused her to suffer from sleep spells, which we know today as narcolepsy symptoms, for the rest of her life. Minty’s master tried to sell her, but there were no buyers for a slave girl with narcolepsy.
She was sent to work with her father, Ben Ross, who taught her to cut trees. Lumberjacking empowered Minty and brought her into contact with free black sailors who carried lumber in the North. From them, Minty learned a lot of essential secrets and information for her future.
In this atmosphere of collaboration between free blacks and enslaved people, Minty met John Tubman, a young free black man whom she married in 1844. After their marriage, she changed her name to Harriet, that of her mother. Harriet Tubman’s owner died in 1849.
When the widow decided to sell her husband’s slaves, Harriet feared being sent away from everyone she loved. He knew of an “underground railroad,” a secret network of safe houses, ship captains, and boxcar drivers willing to hide fugitive slaves on their journey north.
So Tubman fled with two of his brothers, Ben and Harry. These ended up turning back, fearing they would be lost. But during one of his narcoleptic episodes, Harriet dreamed she could fly like a bird. Looking down, he saw a path to liberation. So, in the fall of 1849, Minty undertook the journey alone, following the North Star to Pennsylvania and freedom.
Harriet Tubman returned to the South thirteen times to free his niece, brothers, parents, and others. Her nickname was Black Moses, and she worked diligently with fellow abolitionists to help escaped enslaved people, first to the North and then to Canada.