Harriet Tubman carried out unimaginable work for the abolitionist cause. As the most famous "conductor" of the Underground Railroad, she guided people to safety using an elaborate secret network of safe houses. Called the "Moses of her People," she led hundreds of enslaved people to new lives of freedom in the North. A deeply spiritual woman, Tubman dedicated her life to God and freedom. She once said, "There was one of two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would take the other, for no man should take me alive." She famously offered her reasoning by adding, "I should fight for liberty as long as my strength lasted."

A Life of Service

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta "Minty" Ross c. 1822 in Dorchester County, MD. A bondwoman, she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, returning multiple times to rescue her family and dozens of other slaves. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, she "never lost a passenger." Angry slave owners even posted rewards of up to $300 for her capture. When the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, a law that stated escaped slaves could be captured in the North and returned to slavery, she led "her people" further north into Canada. She even helped them to find work.

In 1861 when the U.S. Civil war began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then quickly became an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war and navigated the Combahee River Raid, which freed more than seven hundred slaves.

After the war, she returned to her family home in Auburn, NY, a home that she had bought in 1859 from Senator William H. Seward. There she cared for her aging parents and was instrumental in the women's suffrage movement. Despite Tubman's fame and reputation, she was never financially secure, although in spite of her economic woes, she continued to give freely. In 1903, she donated a parcel of her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn. It was on this site in 1908 that the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened.

A Legacy Remembered

As Tubman grew elderly, she was debilitated by head injuries incurred earlier in her life, and was eventually admitted to the rest home named in her honor. In 1913, Tubman died of pneumonia surrounded by friends and family members. Upon her death, she was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY. More than 100 years later, her bravery and bold actions continue to inspire generations of Americans struggling for civil rights.

Last year, President Obama signed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act into law, a $577 billion measure creating the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park in Central New York and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Maryland's 25,000 acres encompass sites in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties that were significant in Tubman's life.

A Walk Through History

The Underground Railroad Scenic Byway begins in Cambridge, MD, which features a Harriet Tubman Museum and Memorial Garden, The Stanley Institute - a one-room schoolhouse established after the Civil War to educate African American children - and a courthouse where enslaved Americans were once sold. The byway continues through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, where the wetlands, creeks, swamps and forests have changed little from the landscape that Tubman experienced in the early years of her life. The refuge is located on the major migratory route known as the Atlantic Flyway. Visitors can see a variety of waterfowl and other birds, including Canada geese, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, ducks, tundra swans and flocks of snow geese.

Other byway stops consist of the Jacob Jackson Home site, a 480-acre farm that served as a station on the Underground Railroad and Stewart's Canal, a seven-mile waterway that was dug by hand by enslaved and free blacks between 1810 and 1832. The Poplar Neck Loop of the byway runs through land that was once home to Tubman's parents. Several other stops include Courthouse Square, the Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House and the Museum of Rural Life. There is also a spur that provides access to Tuckahoe River, which is near the birthplace of Frederick Douglas. This spot is especially poignant due to the fact that Douglass harbored a lifelong admiration for Tubman her never-ending fight for liberty.

Follow the Footsteps of an American Hero

This year, your family will want to follow in the footsteps of an American hero. Not only is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park a testament to her remarkable legacy, it is beset with beautiful natural areas for wildlife-watching, hiking, biking and paddle boating.


The following websites will help you to learn more about Harriet Tubman and plan your trip aboard the Underground Railroad: