The Historical Harriet Tubman


H. Seymour Squyer took this photograph of Harriet Tubman in 1885. At the time, Tubman was 65 years of age, living and working in Auburn, New York. Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

“There are two things I’ve got a right to, and these are, Death or Liberty – one or the other I mean to have. No one will take me back alive; I shall fight for my liberty, and when the time has come for me to go, the Lord will let them kill me.”

In the early twenty-first century, Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) has become ever more visible in the public imagination. Between 2003-2007, she was the subject of five scholarly biographies: Jean M. Humez’s Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories; Catherine Clinton’s Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom; Kate Clifford Larson’s Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero; Beverly Lowry’s Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life; and Milton C. Sernett’s Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History.

Tubman is best known for her role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Most Americans know little of her remarkable efforts during the Civil War as a Union spy, scout, and nurse; her important role in fighting for black equality and women’s suffrage; and her dedicated advocacy for the elderly. She was a committed Methodist, guided by her deep faith to engage the world around her and to act as an agent of change.

Quotation: Harriet Tubman to Sarah Hopkins Bradford. Published in Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (1869), page 21.

The Historical Harriet Tubman