The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway recounts the life story of Harriet Tubman – freedom seeker, Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, suffragist, human rights activist and one of Maryland’s most famous daughters. Born around 1822, Tubman is one of the most lauded, recognized and revered figures in American history.
The middle child of nine enslaved siblings, Harriet Tubman was raised by parents who struggled against great odds to keep their family together. Despite her small stature, Tubman stood out in the crowd. She overcame a severe disability, maturing into an expert hunter, lumberjack, and fieldworker. Her prowess prepared her for the dangerous path she’d pursue as an adult. In 1849, she escaped from slavery to become a self-appointed Underground Railroad
architect and operator.
Over the course of a decade, Harriet plucked most of the remnants of her family from slavery, freeing those who had not already been sold off or perished. After making a dozen trips back to Maryland and having transported her parents, brothers, family members and friends safely to freedom, Harriet made her final rescue attempt in 1860. By that time, she’d become known as “Moses” for liberating so many enslaved people at great risk to her own life. Her distinction would burnish her rising reputation and in time thrust her legend to mythic proportions.
Deeply admired by abolitionists in the North, Tubman became a trusted friend and advisor to many, which earned her a role in the Union Army as a scout, spy, nurse and confidante of generals. After the Civil War, she moved to Auburn, N.Y., where she turned her attention to the plight of the needy, opening her home as a sanctuary for the elderly and ill and those with disabilities. She continued to agitate for women’s rights until her death in 1913. By then, Tubman had become the subject of numerous articles, recollections and an autobiography.
While cloaked in mythology for far too long, Harriet’s life is finally being viewed in proper proportion. One needs only to visit the Byway that bears her name to grasp the significance of her humble beginnings and scale of her achievements. Harriet’s role was to serve others, fight oppression and make a difference in the world — all ideals that are celebrated along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, where ordinary people did extraordinary things.