Harriett Tubman

The Moses of Her People: Harriet Tubman

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net


Araminta Ross was born a slave in Bucktown, Maryland about the year 1820.  She would later take her mother's name, Harriet, and in 1844 she would marry a free black man named John Tubman.  Five years later, in 1849, fearing that she would be sold further south, Harriet Tubman escaped, making her way north to Philadelphia. 

In Philadelphia, Tubman found employment and found herself working with abolitionists like William Still and John Brown (who would refer to Tubman as "General" and call her "the bravest person on this continent").  With in a year she returned to Maryland to help members of her family escape.  She would eventually lead hundreds to freedom by the same route, via an extensive network known as the Underground Railroad.  Her grit, faith, and determination as a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, earned Tubman the admiration of leading abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass.  Of her forays into the South to free slaves, William Still, in his 1871 book, The Underground Railroad, wrote:

Her success was wonderful. Time and again she made successful visits to Maryland on the Underground Rail Road, and would be absent for weeks at a time, running daily risks while making preparations for herself and her passengers. Great fears were entertained for her safety, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear. The idea of being captured by slave-hunters or slave-holders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries. While she thus maintained utter personal indifference, she was much more watchful with regard to those she was piloting. Half of her time, she had the appearance of one asleep, and would actually sit down by the road-side and go fast asleep* when on her errands of mercy through the South, yet, she would not suffer one of her party to whimper once, about "giving out and going back," however wearied they might be by the hard travel day and night. She had a very short and pointed rule or law of her own, which implied death to any who talked of giving out and going back. Thus, in an emergency she would give all to understand that "times were very critical and therefore no foolishness would be indulged in on the road." That several who were rather weak-kneed and faint-hearted were greatly invigorated by Harriet's blunt and positive manner and threat of extreme measures, there could be no doubt.

After having once enlisted, "They had to go through ordie." Of course Harriet was supreme, and her followers generally had full faith in her, and would back up any word she might utter. So when she said to them that "a live runaway could do great harm by going back, but that a dead one could tell no secrets," she was sure to have obedience. Therefore, none had to die as traitors on the "middle passage." It is obvious enough, however, that her success in going into Maryland as she did, was attributable to her adventurous spirit and utter disregard of consequences. Her like it is probable was never known before or since.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1859-1877)

STANDARD 1: The causes of the War

Standard 1A: The student understands how the North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War

5-12: Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict. [Compare competing historical narratives]

STANDARD 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects upon the American people.

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront.

5-12: Compare the human and material costs of the war in the North and South and assess the degree to which the war reunited the nation. [Examine historical perspectives]
7-12: Compare the motives for fighting and the daily life experiences of Confederate with those of white and African American Union soldiers. [Evidence historical perspectives]

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE:  Portrait of Harriet Tubman 1880
    SOURCE:  PBS.org, Africans in America
    RESPOSITORY:  Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University

  2. TITLE:   Handwritten Note by Susan B. Anthony after meeting Harriet Tubman
    SOURCE:  American Memory
    RESPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  3. TITLE:  Harriet: The Moses of Her People, by Sara H. Bradford
    SOURCE:  American Memory
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  4. TITLE:  Harriet Tubman, full length portrait
    SOURCE: American Memory 
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  5. TITLE:   Reward Poster for Runaway Slaves
    SOURCE:  America's Library
    RESPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  6. TITLE:   A Slave Caring for a White Child
    SOURCE:  America's Library
    RESPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  7. TITLE:   The Emancipation Proclamation
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1 January 1863
    SOURCE:  National Archives on line
    RESPOSITORY: National Archives

  8. TITLE:   Tubman Home in Auburn, NY   
    SOURCE:  New York History.net
    RESPOSITORY: AME Zion Church, Auburn, NY

  9. TITLE:   Unveil "Tubman" Memorial
    SOURCE:  American Memory
    RESPOSITORY: Ohio Historical Center Archives Library

  10. TITLE:   Harriet Tubman (left) with Some of Her Charges
    SOURCE:  National Library of Canada website
    RESPOSITORY: Bettman Archives Inc.

  11. TITLE:   The Fugitive Slave Law, an Essay by S.M. Africanus
    SOURCE:  African American Odyssey
    RESPOSITORY: Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collection Division Washington D.C. 20540

  12. TITLE:   Photo of Harriet Tubman
    SOURCE:  MSN Learning and Research by Encarta
    RESPOSITORY: Culver Pictures

  13. TITLE:  Forward
    MEDIUM: Tempera on Panel
    SOURCE:  North Carolina Museum of Art.org
    REPOSITORY: North Carolina Museum of Art 

Additional Media Resources

The Underground Railroad @ nationalgeographic.com

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad for Children

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad: Bibliography by Carole Marks, MLS '94, College of Library and Information Services, University of Maryland

Additional Instructional Resources

Resources on Incorporating Primary Sources and Historic Sites in Classroom Instruction

PBS.org, Africans in America, Judgment Day

Harriet Tubman Timeline

Harriet Tubman: Guide to Freedom

Elizabeth Keckley: 30 Years a Slave

Secondary Resources

Bradford, Sarah. Harriet, the Moses of her people. New York: for the author by G. R. Lockwood & son, 1886.

Bradford, Sarah. Scenes in the life of Harriet Tubman. Auburn, New York: W.J. Moses, printer, 1869.

Bradford, Sarah. Scenes in the life of Harriet Tubman / Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her people. Bedford, Mass.: Applewood Books, 1993 (reprint).

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. Little, Brown, 2004.

Conrad, Earl. Harriet Tubman. Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers, 1943.

Eusebius, Mary. "A Modern Moses: Harriet Tubman" The Journal of Negro Education (Winter, 1950): 16-27.

Sterling, Dorothy. Freedom train; the story of Harriet Tubman. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1954.

Green, Susan E. (Producer). Heroes of Today and Yesterday [video recording]: Harriet Tubman. Pleasantville, NY, Sunburst Communications 1999

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Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Maryland Historical Society
201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore, MD
(410) 685-3750
Birthplace of Harriet Tubman
Greenbriar Road, Cambridge, MD
(410) 228-0401
Harriet Tubman Museum and Gift Shop
424 Race Street, Cambridge, MD
(410) 228-0401
The Harriet Tubman Home
180 South Street, Auburn, NY
(315) 252-2081
  Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, MD
(410) 260-6400

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Derrick E. Lapp.

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, June 26, 2004