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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Let's Celebrate the 200th Birthday of Araminta Ross (WHO?)

Updated: May 17, 2023

Harriet Tubman 1822-1913

Born Araminta (Minty) Ross

Inspiration from the Life of Harriet Tubman

Focus on what you can do!

Bravery in the Face of a Cracked Skull

“Where am I?” Minty thought as she slowly opened her eyes. She looked around through the unbearable pain of a headache and saw that she was on the wood bench of a loom. When she touched her wound, her hand came away bloody.

Slowly she recalled what happened. She and the cook had gone to the Bucktown General Store for supplies. A slave from another plantation had left without permission and was pursued into the store by an irate overseer. He demanded Minty help tie up the slave. She was deliberately slow to act and that gave the slave a chance to escape. Minty, hoping the slave would get away, stood in the doorway. The result? When the overseer picked up the two-pound weight from the counter and threw it at the slave, he accidentally hit Minty in the head and cracked her skull.

Slavery was always brutal. Minty had once more been rented out, to a farmer this time. She was only 13, but the farmer had her out working the fields within three days of the head injury. It was the longterm effect of the cracked skull that was devastating. From that time on, she had seizures, pain, and narcolepsy—sudden attacks of sleep that made her less valuable as a slave. Living with constant pain had obvious effects on her. Her face always looked stern and even contorted in photos taken over the years.

New Image of Vibrant Woman

And yet in the photo to the left, she is young, strong, and determined. That’s the image of a woman you can imagine:

  • Rented out at the age of 6 as a nursemaid

  • Married at the age of 22; changing her name from Araminta to Harriet (her mother’s name)

  • Escaped slavery when she was 27

  • Earned a living in Philadelphia as a freed woman

  • Returned to Maryland, a year later, to take her sister and two nieces to freedom in spite of the personal danger

  • Continued rescuing family and friends over 13 trips to Maryland as a Underground Railroad Conductor, saving about 70 people for which she earned the name Moses

  • Joined the Civil War effort as a nurse and cook, caring for Union soldiers, for 10 months

  • Served as valued spy and scout for the Union Army (Confederate soldiers, after all, paid no attention to a Black woman wandering around.)

  • Planned and led the secret Combahee River raid that rescued more than 700 slaves and destroyed some of the wealthiest rice plantations in South Carolina. Performed the raid in partnership with Colonel James Montgomery, an abolitionist commanding the Second South Carolina Volunteers, a Black regiment.

  • Nicknamed General after her successful raid. Harriet was first Black woman to serve in the military and the first Black woman in a military leadership role. She requested payment or a pension after the war, but was denied several times. Eventually given a monthly pension of $8 based on her husband’s service. Years later, Congress passed a resolution raising the amount to $20 for her service and heroism. President McKinley signed the resolution.

  • Moved to Auburn, NY in 1858 and purchased a home and land for $1200 from US Senator William Seward, an abolitionist.

  • Purchased 25 acres joining her property in 1896 where she hoped to build a Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes as a way to continue her work. She was 74 then.

But What About the Youthful Image of Harriet Tubman?

Emily Howland

Let's go back to 1868, when the photo of a Harriet in her mid-40s was taken. She gave a copy to her friend Emily Howland, a Quaker and neighbor, who placed it in a photo album given her by Carrie Nichols a few years earlier. Emily, a philanthropist, educator, and abolitionist, collected photographs for the album of leaders in social justice, women’s rights and the education of African-Americans. Eventually, the album had 49 photographs, yet few knew of the existence of the album. Then in 2017, the album was brought to an auction house that soon realized its importance.

Fortunately, the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African American History and Culture were able to combine funds to purchase this important album. The Library of Congress took responsibility for restoring the ancient album and the photographs are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As conductor of the underground railroad,

“I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” ~ Harriet Tubman

Happy Birthday, Harriet. Thank you for all you have done to shape America.

Harriet Tubman on $20 Bills

In 2014, an 11 year old girl wrote to the President requesting that Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the face of $20 bills. The change, approved in 2016 by President Obama and Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary, meant that US currency, the first first time, would begin to reflect the history as well as the diversity of America. The $20 bill was chosen because Andrew Jackson was a slave owner and had caused the removal of Native Americans through the Indian Removal Act.

When Will We See Harriet on $20?

Once upon a time, it was fairly easy to create new currency. Now -- both issues of anti-counterfeit technology and the requirement that new paper currency include a tactile signifier for those who are blind and visually impaired -- it takes multiple years to get a changed bill into circulation. The estimate is that we'll see Harriet in 2030.


Missed Our Previous Blogs? Check these out!

Rosie the Riveter's Riveting Story -- Find out the connection to Jackie Kennedy's fashion designer and Rosalind Palmer Walter (major funder of public television).

Wendy the Welder (Rosie the Riveter's Co-Worker)

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Jun 05, 2022

So much here that I didn't know. Thanks.


Jun 05, 2022

Love your Harriet Tubman story

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