She risked her life to escape from slavery. Once free, she risked her life again... and again... to help others gain their freedom as well.
No one knows exactly when Araminta “Minty” Ross was born. Few bothered to record the origins of the enslaved. We know only that her mother was called Rit, short for Harriet, and was a cook on the Brodess family plantation in Maryland.
Rit had nine children. Three of her daughters were sold into the Deep South by her master and never heard from again. When her master attempted to sell her youngest son Moses, Rit hid him in her cabin and promised to split the head of the first man who entered to take him. That time, the sale was called off.
As a child, Minty did chores for local white families. She was beaten frequently for working too slowly. On one occasion, a white man she offended struck the five-foot slip of a girl in the head with a two-pound weight, fracturing her skull. After that, she suffered seizures, likely from epilepsy, the remainder of her life.
In her 20s, Minty could no longer bear life as a slave. She proclaimed that she feared captivity more than than she feared death. She decided to run away to the North, where slavery had been abolished. Unable to openly tell her mother goodbye, she bid adieu with a song: "I'll meet you in the morning … I'm bound for the promised land." That's also when she changed her first name to Harriet, in owner of her mother, and adopted the last name Tubman.
Harriet made her escape in 1849, following the "Underground Railway," a secret network made up of free blacks and white abolitionists who helped to guid fugitive slaves from the South to safety in the North. During the day, escapees posed as working slaves at "safe houses." By night, they traveled on foot following the North Star. The journey was slow and dangerous for all involved, both enslaved and free, for in the South escape was punishable by death.
When Harriet arrived in the North, she is said to have looked at her hands, to see if they belonged to the same person. She was free and vowed never be enslaved again.