Harriet Tubman was born on a plantation (a large farming estate) in Dorchester County, Maryland, in either 1820 or 1821. She never knew the exact date of her birth because she was born a slave. Black people were taken from Africa and
"There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive."
Harriet Tubman. (Reproduced with permission of Archive Photos, Inc.)
brought to North America to serve as slaves for white people beginning in the 1600s. The basic belief behind slavery was that black people were inferior to whites. Under slavery, white slaveholders treated black people as property, forced them to perform hard labor, and controlled every aspect of their lives. States in the Northern half of the United States began outlawing slavery in the late 1700s. But slavery continued to exist in the Southern half of the country because it played an important role in the South's economy and culture.
Most slave owners tried to prevent their slaves from learning much about themselves or the world around them. They believed that educated slaves would be more likely to become dissatisfied with their lives. For this reason, Tubman never knew the details of her birth. However, she did know that she was one of eleven children born to Harriet Greene and Benjamin Ross. Her whole family was the property of Edward Brodas, the white man who owned the plantation where they lived. The name she received when she was born was Araminta. She adopted the name Harriet in 1831.
When Tubman was seven years old, her master hired her out to an impatient and cruel woman named Miss Susan. Many slaveowners loaned their extra slaves to other people in exchange for a fee. Tubman took care of Miss Susan's baby and performed household chores. Miss Susan beat her whenever the house was not clean enough or the baby cried at night. The beatings left scars on her back and neck that would remain visible the rest of her life. Eventually Miss Susan returned Tubman to the Brodas plantation.
From that time on, Tubman worked in the fields and became very strong. She constantly thought about running away from the plantation, but did not know where to go and could not read a map. One day, Tubman noticed a young male slave sneaking away from the fields where they worked. She decided to follow him. Unfortunately, the overseer (a person who watches over field hands and directs their work) chased and caught them. When Tubman refused to help the overseer tie up the male slave, the overseer threw a heavy weight that hit her in the middle of the forehead. She slipped into a coma for several weeks before slowly recovering. This head injury caused her to suffer from blackouts and terrible nightmares for the rest of her life.
EiS^; Tubman Should Never HS® Have Been a Slave
In 1844, Tubman used some of the money she had earned to hire a lawyer. She wanted someone to research her family's history in order to find out if they were held in slavery legally. Tubman took this unusual step after learning how her new husband had become free. John Tubman had been freed because his former master, who had no children, died without leaving a will.
Then Tubman remembered a story her mother had told about her past. Harriet Greene had once belonged to a woman named Mary Patterson. Patterson died young, had no heirs, and left no will. As a result, Tubman's mother legally should have been freed. But Harriet Greene did not know the law, and no one bothered to tell her. Instead, she remained a slave, and all her children became slaves as well.
After learning that she was being held in slavery illegally, Tubman asked the lawyer what she could do to secure her rights. But the lawyer said that no judge
would ever consider the case because too much time had passed, and the women had always lived as slaves. Instead of gaining her freedom on legal grounds, Tubman was forced to escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.
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