It is rumored that Harriet Tubman freed over 300 slaves throughout her life after she escaped from slavery in 1849.
Harriet Tubman freed approximately 70 slaves over roughly 13 trips to the south throughout her life. She also provided instructions on how to escape to another 70 slaves. It was rumored she freed over 300 slaves and there was a $40,000 bounty on her head but these numbers were made up by writer Sarah Hopkins Bradford and activist Sallie Holley.
You can read more below about Harriet Tubman’s life after her own escape, how she avoided the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and how she participated in the American Civil War.
Harriet Tubman’s Life After Her Escape
Harriet Tubman escaped from Maryland to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in September of 1849. She was able to use the different hiding points along the underground railroad to make the 90-mile journey to freedom.
Upon reaching Philadelphia and her freedom, Tubman felt like a stranger. She once said that “I had crossed the line. I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.”
She took a job working as a maid, however, she was dissatisfied knowing that she was free but her family members were still enslaved in Maryland. So she began to save her money.
The following year after her own escape, she returned to Maryland disguised and helped to free her sister and her sister’s children and brought them north to freedom. This began her career as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
It was also during her fight to free slaves that more and more obstacles arose, one of which was the Fugitive Slave Act.
Avoiding the Fugitive Slave Act
In 1850, United States Congress enacted an amendment to the Fugitive Slave Act. This act had been in place since 1793 and it allowed for local governments to capture and return slaves to their owners.
It also put penalties on anyone who helped slaves to freedom. This is why once in Pennsylvania, Harriet Tubman was able to breathe easily as she was out of reach of the local government.
However, the amendment to the Act just one year after she was free made it even harder for freed slaves to live in the northern states.
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act made it mandatory for citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves, denied slaves any right to a jury trial and increased the penalty for helping an escaped slave to $1000 and six months in prison.
It also moved the control of capturing escaped slaves in the hands of federal commissioners who were paid more to capture slaves than to let them go. This made the efforts of Tubman and the Underground Railroad even more difficult, but it also fuelled them to assist even more people.
You can watch the below video that highlights some of the facts that were wrong about Harriet Tubman’s life in the film Harriet.
Tubman now assisted her charges to flee to St. Catharines, Canada so that they were completely out of reach of the U.S. laws. In a move completely contrary to the United States, the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada was passed in 1793.
This act made it illegal for importing slaves and set up a timeline to phase out slavery. When the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the British Empire in 1834, it effectively ended any form of slavery in Canada and freed any of the remaining enslaved people.
So it was that Canada became a safe haven for escaped slaves and a large black community sprung up in St. Catharines, Ontario. St. Catharines is right along the U.S. and Canada border only a short distance from Niagara Falls.
Harriet Tubman Joins the War
Tubman lived with her family in St. Catharines for almost a decade before she moved her family to Auburn, New York. Then she joined the Civil War.
The American Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, and it was Tubman’s ultimate opportunity to help free slaves. She first joined the effort at Fort Monroe in Virginia to provide humanitarian aid to the slaves who were rushing to safety.
Then the abolitionist effort used Tubman’s expertise from escorting people along the Underground Railroad to have her lead scouting parties as a spy. She also led raiding parties.
Her participation in the Civil War helped the Abolitionists to win and led to the abolishment of slavery.