Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.10, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.5, SL.6-8.6, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.9

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.6, Civ.14, Eco.1, Eco.2, His.1, His.3, His.5, His.14

NCSS: Power, authority, and governance; Time, continuity, and change; Individuals, groups, and institutions; Global connections

Freedom Train!

Even with a price on her head, Harriet Tubman risked her life again and again to lead her people to freedom on the Underground Railroad

The Granger, NYC/The Granger Collection

Hundreds of former slaves, like this family, owed their freedom to Harriet Tubman.


Harriet Tubman, conductor on the Underground Railroad

Rit, Tubman’s mother

Old Ben, Tubman’s father

Benjie, Tubman’s brother

William, Tubman’s brother

Mary Ann, Tubman’s sister

Thomas Garrett, conductor on the Underground Railroad

William Still, secretary of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society

*1st slave

*2nd slave

*Quaker woman

*Slave catcher

*Quaker man

Narrators A-E

*Indicates a fictional or composite character. All others were real people.


Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries via AP Images

Harriet Tubman

Narrator A: In the years before the Civil War (1861-65), thou­sands of slaves escaped from their masters. Most found freedom in the northern states or in Canada.

Narrator B: Many runaway slaves were helped by the Under­ground Railroad—a secret network of trails and hiding places, or stations, that led out of the South to freedom. The people who guided slaves on their journey were known as conductors.

Narrator C: The most legendary of those conductors was Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery around 1820, she escaped but returned to the South to help others. She became known as Moses, because she led her people out of slavery.

Scene 1

Narrator D: One night in 1848, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tubman and her family are talking.

Harriet Tubman: It will take me forever to get 500!

Rit: To get 500 what?

Tubman: Dollars. My master said that I can buy my freedom for $500. But I’ve been saving all my life and I’ve got only $22. There must be an easier way than this.

Old Ben: I hope you’re not thinking of running off on that Underground Railroad.

Tubman: Why not, Papa? Even a slave has two rights. One is to be free, the other is to die. If I can’t have one, I’ll have the other.

Benjie: I’ve heard that right here in Maryland, the Under­ground Rail­road has places where you can hide and get a hot meal.

William: Why is it called the Under­ground Railroad?

Tubman: The way I heard it, one time a master was chasing a run­away slave. The slave disappeared so suddenly, the master said he must have gone on an under­ground road.

Mary Ann: How much does a ticket on this railroad cost?

Tubman: The only ticket you need is black skin.

Scene 2

Narrator E: A few months later, Tubman runs away. She reaches the slave state of Delaware, where she knocks three times on the door of Thomas Garrett’s house in Wilmington. When he answers . . .

Thomas Garrett: You must be Harriet Tubman.

Tubman: How did you know?

Garrett: There’s a reward for your capture. Quick, come in! You can’t be seen here.

Narrator A: Garrett locks the door. Then he swings a bookcase away from a wall and opens the door hidden behind it.

Garrett: You’ll be safe here. Only friends know about this room. Tell me, how did you find this station?

Tubman: I followed the Choptank River. Mostly, I walked in the water to throw off the dogs that the slave catchers were using to track me. Then I followed the North Star here to Wilmington. I found a Quaker, who pointed out your house.

Garrett: Well done! The Quakers are friends to our cause. You rest now. On Sunday, when the slave catchers are all in church, we’ll ride in my carriage to the border of the free state of Pennsylvania. You’ll have to walk from there to Phila­del­phia and find William Still. He’s a free black man who’s a leader of the Penn­syl­vania Anti-Slavery Society. He’ll help you settle in.

Scene 3

Narrator B: A year has passed. Tubman and William Still are sitting in Still’s office.

William Still: You seem restless, Harriet. What are you thinking?

Tubman: I’m getting ready to go back to Maryland. I’m going to bring my family to the North.

Still: Think twice before you go! Most of our conductors are white, or they’re black people who have freedom papers. If you get caught down there, you’re finished.

Tubman: I have to go. I feel like Moses, in the Bible. I’ve got to lead my people out of slavery.

Scene 4

Narrator C: Two days before Christmas in 1849, inside the Mary­land cabin of Tubman’s family . . .

Mary Ann: Do you hear that?

William: Yes! Someone is singing out there in the woods.

Old Ben: That sounds like Harriet’s voice. But it can’t be.

Narrator D: Tubman is singing verses from a gospel song.

Tubman: Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land . . .

Mary Ann: It is Harriet! She’s come back for us.

Tubman: I’m bound for the prom­ised land. Who’s going with me?

Rit: She’s telling us something.

William: I’m answering her! (He sings.) When that old chariot comes, I’m going with you.

Scene 5

Narrator E: The family secretly meets Tubman at midnight in the slave cemetery.

William: It’s so good to see you, Harriet!

Old Ben: Harriet, if you’re plan­ning to take us up north, leave your ma and me out of it.

Rit: Yes. We’re too old to go any­where. We’ve been living in that cabin for 50 years. We don’t own it, but it’s our home.

Tubman: I won’t force you. Not this time. I’m leaving tomorrow night. Now, who wants to come?

Benjie: Three of us—William, Mary Ann, and me.

Tubman: Good. Round up any others who want to join us. Just make sure no masters find out.

Scene 6

Narrator A: Two days later, Tub­man and 11 runaway slaves are hiding in a swamp.

Tubman: The tall grass is good to hide in. We’ll stay here till dark, then go to a station.

1st slave: We’re soaked from walking through this swamp.

2nd slave: I’m freezing, and it’s starting to snow.

Tubman: Keep your voices down! Slave catchers are all around, and voices carry in these marshes.

1st slave: How are we supposed to sleep here in the snow?

Tubman: Huddle close to each other. Make a bed and covers with grass and reeds.

2nd slave: I’m going to make a fire. I’ve got to warm up.

Tubman: No fire! Slave catchers would see that and find us for sure.

1st slave: I want to go back!

Tubman: No one goes back! I’ll shoot anyone who tries it. The slave catchers would question you and be able to track down the rest of us. It’s freedom—or death.

Scene 7

Narrator B: Later that same day, Tubman knocks three times on the back door of a Quaker’s house in Wilmington.

Quaker woman (nervously): Quick, take this broom and get busy sweep­ing the porch!

Narrator C: Minutes later, two slave catchers leave the house.

Quaker woman (calling after them): Have a pleasant journey!

Slave catcher: Thank you, ma’am. Remember, if you see a pack of runaway slaves, get word to us. There’s a reward on their heads. (They leave.)

Quaker woman (to Harriet): That was close! You can’t stay here. Another slave catcher is upstairs, sleeping. I couldn’t refuse them lodging or they might suspect the truth: that this house is part of the Under­ground Railroad.

Tubman: But we need your help! There are 12 of us hiding out in that swamp.

Quaker woman: My husband will find you when it’s safe. Now go!

Narrator D: The next morning, the woman’s husband drives his wagon to the Pennsylvania-Delaware border. Tubman, dis­guised as a man, sits beside him.

Quaker man: I found you in that swamp just in time! The slave catchers were getting close.

Tubman: And we were getting pretty hungry, and cold too.

Quaker man: Well, here we are.

Tubman: Everybody out! This is the Pennsylvania border!

Narrator E: Tubman jumps down and opens a hidden door in the bottom of the wagon. The other escapees scramble out.

1st slave: It sure was crowded in there, all of us squeezed in.

2nd slave (looking around): I can’t believe it! I’m free! I’m free!

Scene 8

Narrator A: A year later, in 1850, Tubman visits William Still.

Still: Congress has passed a new Fugitive Slave Act. Now runaway slaves caught here in the North can be taken back to the South to their former masters. That’s going to make our work a lot more difficult.

Tubman: That’s why hundreds of escaped slaves living in the northern states are now fleeing to Canada.

Still: The Under­ground Railroad will have to go to Canada too.

Tubman: We have no choice.

Still: It will be a greater risk for you. If you’re caught, you’ll be taken back to Maryland in chains. Maybe it’s time for you to quit.

Tubman: Quit? I’ve just begun!

Still: There’s a huge reward on your head. They’re offering $10,000 for your capture.

Tubman: Makes no difference. I’m determined to keep on leading my people up from slavery.


Narrator B: Over a 10-year period, Harriet Tubman made at least 19 trips to the South and North again, rescuing more than 300 slaves. The reward for her capture rose to $40,000, a gigantic sum in those days, but she was never caught. She died in 1913—still free—in Auburn, New York.

CORE QUESTION: How did the Fugitive Slave Act make Tubman’s rescue work even more dangerous?

The U.S. in 1850

Tubman’s America was deeply divided by slavery.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Right on the Money

A new face is coming to the $20 bill: Harriet Tubman's!

Anka Agency International/Alamy Stock Photo (20 Dollar Bill); Courtesy of National Park Service (Harriet Tubman)

In April 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the $20 bill will be getting a makeover. A portrait of abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman will take the place of President Andrew Jackson, who has been on the front of the bill since 1928.

For many Americans, the announce­ment was cause for celebration. Tubman was the top choice in surveys asking which American woman should be featured on U.S. paper currency.

Jackson, whose popu­larity has faded as more people learned of his harsh treatment of Native Americans, isn’t going away entirely, however. A smaller image of him will appear on the back of the $20 bill, along with a picture of the White House.

Eager to get your hands on a Tub­man twenty? You’ll have to wait till it’s released in 2020—the 100th anni­versary of the 19th Amend­ment, which guaran­tees women the right to vote.

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