Born around 1820, Harriet Tubman was a slave turned activist and conductor on the Underground Railroad. She led over 300 slaves from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. She spent approximately 10 years helping slaves escape their masters, and it's estimated that she made a total of 19 trips.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She became a house servant when she was about five or six years old. At about 12 or 13, she began to work in her slave master's fields. Even at a young age, Tubman suffered at the hands of her slave masters, often enduring beatings.
Harriet Tubman displayed a desire to help others early on. While she was still a teen, she tried to protect a fellow slave from an overseer by standing in a doorway to block the overseer from getting to the other slave. The overseer picked up a 2-pound (907.18-gram) weight and threw it at the other slave, missing and hitting Tubman on the head. This blow was severe enough that she went on to suffer spells of deep sleep, often at the most inopportune times. She also suffered from seizures and severe headaches.
In 1844, Tubman married a man named John Tubman, who was a free black man. This is how she gained the name Tubman, as she was born Araminta Ross. She changed her first name to Harriet at some point, wishing to be named after her mother. In 1849, Harriet Tubman feared that she would be sold, so she decided to run away, escaping to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Once there, she did not simply go on with her life. Instead, she decided to go back and help other slaves escape. She worked for about a year, saving money, and then went back for her family members and other slaves.
Sadly, Harriet Tubman would not be reunited with her husband. On her third trip back, she discovered that her husband had already remarried. However, Tubman didn't let this stop her from seeking freedom for other slaves. She continued to return to the South and help other slaves escape until 1960. She even rescued her own parents, who were in their 70s by that time.
Tubman's escape plans were never simple or poorly thought out. She sometimes used a slave master's horse and buggy for parts of the journey, and she often left on Saturdays, as missing-slave postings wouldn't make it to newspapers until Monday. She carried a medication that she used to calm crying babies, and she was clever enough to turn around and move back towards the South if she encountered men hunting slaves on the way. It is even said that Harriet carried a gun with which to threaten slaves who got so scared or tired that they wanted to go back. She told them they would either be free or die.
Harriet Tubman was also skilled at avoiding capture. Once, upon reading a poster advertising a reward for her capture, she discovered that it stated she was illiterate, which clearly she was not. To fool slave hunters, she sat down and began reading a book. Her plan worked, and she went undiscovered.
Tubman's heroism didn't stop with helping slaves escape. She joined the Union Army during the Civil War and helped by cooking and nursing wounded soldiers. Eventually, she became a scout, leading armed troops in the Combahee River expedition, which freed several hundred slaves. After the war, Tubman returned to New York, where she worked and cared for her aging parents, becoming active in the women's suffrage movement. She died in 1913.