9 Things You Should Know About Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Here are nine things you should know about the legendary civil rights leader.

From the proceeds of a biography written by a supporter, Tubman was able to buy a property with two buildings on 26 acres near her home in Auburn, New York. She later deeded the land to the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church, to be used as a home for the elderly (which she wanted to be named John Brown Hall). At the time she attended the mostly white Central Presbyterian Church, but she later became active in the A.M.E. church, where her husband was a trustee.


On Wednesday [April 20], U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Harriet Tubman would be replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Here are nine things you should know about the legendary civil rights leader.

  1. Harriet Tubman didn’t become “Harriet Tubman” until her mid-20s. She was originally born a slave named Araminta Ross on a plantation in Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The surname Tubman comes from her first husband, John Tubman, a free black man, and after marrying, she adopted the name “Harriet” after her mother: Harriet Ross.
  2. A few years after she married, Tubman and two of her brothers initially escaped from slavery. However, when her brothers returned (one of them had recently become a father) she returned with them to the plantation. She would later escape again with the help of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by abolitionists. Tubman later recalled how she felt upon arriving a free woman in Pennsylvania:

When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.

  1. Since none of Tubman’s family was with her in Pennsylvania (her husband, John, stayed behind and would later remarry another woman), she returned on several trips to help lead her relatives to freedom. Over the next 15 years she would, with the help of others in the Underground Railroad, lead approximately 70 slaves out of their captivity. Her efforts in the dangerous undertaking earned her the nickname “Moses” by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who compared her to the Hebrew leader who lead his people out of slavery in Egypt.
  2. By the late 1850s, Tubman had gained renown in the abolitionist community. J. W. Loguen, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, said of her, “Among slaves she is better known than the Bible, for she circulates more freely.” Loguen introduced Tubman to the controversially violent abolitionist John Brown, who connected her to other influential leaders in the movement. Brown once introduced Tubman by saying, “I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on the continent—General Tubman, we call her.” Tubman would go on to become a powerful speaker for the antislavery movement.
  3. During the Civil War, Tubman served the Union Army as a spy, helping map out areas of South Carolina. She became the only woman to lead men into battle during the Civil War when she guided a nighttime raid at Combahee Ferry in June 1863. While under fire, Tubman’s group freed more than 700 slaves from neighboring plantations. Both before and after her work as a spy she also served as a nurse and cook for the Army. Despite her service, Tubman never received a regular salary and was denied an official military pension. Tubman later became the beneficiary of military benefits, but only as the wife of an “official” veteran, her second husband, Nelson Davis.

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