harriet Tubman escaped from Maryland in1849, when she was about thirty years old. Making her way to Philadelphia, she cleaned houses untils he had enough saved to finance a return trip.
A year after her escape, a slave at her old plantation heard a noise at his cabin and saw a figure dressed like a man. "It's me, Harriet" the figure said. "It's time to go North." All in all, she made as many as nineteen trips over the border. In one, using a hired wagon, she retrieved her elderly parents. In another, she led eleven slaves to freedom. She continued going back to Maryland and shepherded more firends and relatives to the North - only her own husband, who had remarried, refused the offer of escape. She was expert at disguises, appearing as an old woman or a vagabond, or a mentally disturbed man. She carried paregoric to quiet crying babies, and if anyone showed signs of panicking, she ominously fingered the revolver she always carried. Maryland slaveholders offered a bounty of $40,000 for her capture.
Tubman was extraordinarily cool in a crisis. On one occasion when she was a former owner coming towards her, she turned loose several chickens at a market and pretended to be chasing after them as she scurried by unnoticed. Another time, when she realized she had been tracked to a railroad station, she calmly boarded a southbound train, guessing correctly that no one would suspect a black woman traveling deeper into slave territory. She usually began her expeditions on Saturday night, giving her an extra day before the aggrieved owner could advertise his loss in the Monday papers. "I was the conductor of the underground railway for eight years and I can say what most conductors can't say - I never ran my train off the trakc and I never lost a passenger." she said.
When the Civil War began, Tubman left her home in Auburn, new York, and served as a spy and a scout for the Union Army, bringinb back reports from black informants on the othr side of the Confederate Lines. "Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemy's country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying commissary, stores, cotton and lordly dwellings" stated a report atthe time. After the war, she married a Union veteran, and lived on her Auburn farm, where she took in orphans and old people who had no other homes. Harriet was a "woman of no pretensions, indeed a more ordinary speciemn of humanity could hardly be found among the most unfortunate-looking farm hands of the south" wrote William Still, an African American leader in Philadelphia. "Yet in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow-man, she was without equal."
'America's women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines' by Gail Collins