Harriet Tubman

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12269

Who was Araminta Harriet Ross? Is Underground Railroad another term for subway? Are spies always men with fancy weapons? Discover a brave woman whose work still affects race relations today!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What woman led hundreds of slaves to freedom using the Underground Railroad and served as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War?
  • Do you know what an abolitionist is?

An abolitionist is a person who works to end slavery.

During this lesson, you will learn about the most famous female abolitionist, Harriet Tubman.

Before you get started, write down anything you already know about Tubman.

As you review the information in this section, write down any important facts you see. You will be able to use the notes you take to help you with the activities in the Got It? and Go! sections.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born on a plantation, or large estate where crops are grown, in Maryland. Since birth records were not kept for enslaved people, historians are uncertain exactly when Tubman was born, but they believe she was born around 1820.

As an enslaved person, Tubman was forced to perform several jobs, including caring for babies and children for the families she worked for, plowing fields, lifting and moving heavy objects, and driving oxen. She was not treated kindly by the families that owned her.

As a child, she was separated from her family so she could work for another white family. As a teenager, she was hit in the head by an iron weight. A plantation owner had thrown the weight at another enslaved person, but it hit Tubman instead.

Although she survived the injury, she was permanently disabled and suffered from blackouts for the remainder of her life.

When Tubman was about 30, she attempted to escape to the North, where slavery was outlawed. She escaped using the Underground Railroad.

  • Do you know what the Underground Railroad was?

The Underground Railroad had nothing to do with trains. Rather, it was a series of safe houses that hid enslaved people as they traveled North.

It was called the Underground Railroad because it was used in secret, and railway terms were used by the people who used it to describe how it worked secretly. Typically, enslaved people would move when it was dark and hide in safe houses during the day.

After Tubman escaped slavery, she wanted to help others do the same. She became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. A conductor was a nickname given to people who helped guide enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Tubman led 19 groups of enslaved people to freedom. She was given the nickname Moses. In the Bible, Moses was a person who led many enslaved Israelites to freedom.

As a conductor, Tubman never lost a single enslaved person and was never captured. She was so successful; slave owners issued a $40,000 reward for anyone who could catch her.

man breaking free of chains in front of a crowd

Tubman's work did not end with the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War began in 1861, Tubman continued to help other enslaved people find freedom by supporting the Union army. She worked as a nurse, helping to take care of wounded soldiers.

She even worked as a spy for the Union army and was one of the first women in American history to lead a military expedition. During her expedition, she worked with a Union officer to raid a plantation in South Carolina. During the raid, nearly 750 enslaved people were freed.

After the Civil War, Tubman continued to help African Americans.

She moved to New York and cared for her family, who she had helped escape slavery. She turned her home into the Home for Indigent and Aged Negroes, which was used to take care of elderly and disabled African Americans.

She wrote an autobiography and frequently gave speeches. All the money she earned was used to maintain the Home for Indigent and Aged Negroes.

Tubman died in 1913. Throughout her life, she never stopped helping others and fighting to ensure everyone was given equal rights.

To continue learning about Harriet Tubman as you, watch the following video. As you watch, continue adding to your list of notes.

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As you can see, Tubman was a person who dedicated her life to helping others.

  • How was Harriet Tubman an abolitionist?
  • How did Tubman's work play a role in ending slavery in the United States?
  • What do you think is Tubman’s biggest accomplishment?

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section. Remember to keep your notes with you because you will use them to help with a research project.

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