Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman standing with one arm resting on a chair

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-7816.

Born into slavery as Araminta Ross in Dorchester County on the eastern shore of Maryland, Harriet Tubman (c. 1820–1913) had a distinguished career as an abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad for more than a decade after her escape from slavery in 1849. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Tubman headed for Union-occupied coastal South Carolina where she first served as a nurse. After President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became effective in January 1863, Tubman began to lead armed scouting expeditions around Port Royal, South Carolina. On June 2, 1863, Tubman guided Union steamboats in the Cohambee River raid, which resulted in the rescue of more than seven hundred slaves, the destruction of many plantations, and the capture of valuable food and other supplies. She worked for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Colored Infantry Regiment, in preparation for the assault on Fort Wagner later that summer, and continued to serve as Union scout, spy, nurse, and cook for the remainder of the war. This photo of Tubman was probably taken in 1869 as publicity for Sarah Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Despite Tubman’s invaluable contributions to the Union war effort, she never received regular pay or a pension for her own army service and only received a partial war widow’s pension starting in 1899. In 2003 the U.S. Congress approved payment of the full widow’s pension to the Harriet Tubman home in Auburn, New York.