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Harriett Tubman Station

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor for the Underground Railroad.

Born an enslaved woman named Araminta Ross, she took the name Harriet (Tubman was her married name) when, in 1849, she escaped a plantation in Maryland with two of her brothers. They returned a couple of weeks later, but Tubman left again on her own shortly after, making her way to Pennsylvania.


While enslaved, she suffered regular physical violence and torture throughout her childhood. One of the most severe was when a two-pound weight was thrown at her head, causing her to endure seizures and narcoleptic episodes throughout her life.

She married a free man, John Tubman, in 1844, but not much is known about their relationship except that she took his last name. Five years later, she found herself sick, and when her owner died, she decided it was time to escape to Philadelphia. She started the journey with her brothers but ultimately made the 90-mile trip on her own in 1849.

“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person,” she said of making it into the free state of Pennsylvania, where she took on her mother’s name of Harriet. “There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

But experiencing freedom wasn’t enough for Tubman — she couldn’t bear the thought of her family being enslaved, so she crossed back in 1850 to lead her niece’s family to Philadelphia. In 1851, she went back to bring her husband across the line, only to find that he was married to another woman and had no desire to move North. Instead, she led a group of escaped bonds people.

Those were just two of the trips she made between 1850 and 1860 (estimates range from 13 to 19 total trips), reportedly guiding more than 300 enslaved people to freedom. Among those she saved were her parents and siblings.

The dangers were heightened when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, stating that escaped enslaved people caught in the North could be returned to slavery. But Tubman simply worked around that and steered her Underground Railroad to Canada, where slavery was prohibited (there’s evidence one of her stops on an 1851 trip was at the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass). Her work as a “conductor” (those who guided the enslaved along the Underground Railroad) earned her the nickname

“Moses,” which happened to be the actual name of her younger brother. “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, an d I can say what most conductors can’t say,” she proudly said. “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” 

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, which includes Underground

Railroad routes in three counties of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Harriet Tubman’s birthplace, was

created by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act on March 25, 2013. Its sister park,

the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York, was established on January 10,

2017 and focuses on the later years of Tubman’s life as well as her involvement with the

Underground Railroad and the abolition movement.

More than a century after her death, Harriet Tubman would still recognize many places

in the Eastern Shore of Maryland’s mosaic of waterways, forests, and fields. Stops along

the byway make it possible to learn about the lives of enslaved and free Blacks,

abolitionists, and slave holders, as well as escape routes used by Tubman and her fellow

freedom seekers.