|Auburn, NY||April 17, 2010|
After her death in 1913 in Auburn, New York, a local newspaper printed the following passage about Harriet Tubman: “Today, more-than half a century after John Brown said ‘I bring you one of the bravest and best persons on this continent’ when he presented Harriet to Wendell Phillips, a glance over her remarkable career shows that the hero of Harper’s Ferry might well be quoted in selecting Harriet Tubman’s epitaph.” Though Brown’s laudatory description did not become Tubman’s epitaph, her tombstone at Auburn’s Fort Hill Cemetery could never have fit a fraction of the superlatives ascribed to a woman hailed as “the Moses of her people.”
The eastward face of Tubman’s marker reads, “To The Memory of/HARRIET TUBMAN DAVIS/Heroine of the Underground Railroad/Nurse and Scout in the Civil War/Born about 1820 in Maryland/Died March 10, 1913 at Auburn, N.Y./’Servant of God, Well Done'[.]” The inscription finishes by acknowledging the group that had the tombstone erected on July 5, 1937, the Empire State Federation of Womens Clubs. Experts now believe that Tubman was born in 1822 rather than 1820 like the gravestone indicates, though no exact birth date can be pinpointed. The birthdays of Black people born into slavery in the U.S. — such as Tubman — are among many of the things stripped from them and lost to time because of racist constructs.
After she self-liberated in 1849, Tubman did not stay in the north. Over the next decade she returned time and again to Maryland to free those still enslaved. Documentary evidence and Tubman’s recollections indicate that she personally guided approximately 70 people to freedom over the course of 13 treks. She is the best-remembered “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, which was a secret system of routes and safe houses used to help people who were escaping slavery work their way north to free states or Canada. At a women’s suffrage convention in 1896, Tubman employed metaphorical train-related language to reflect upon her rescues via the figurative railroad: “I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
Other residents of Fort Hill Cemetery include Theodore M. Pomeroy — a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — and statesman William Seward. Aligned in their opposition to slavery, Tubman and Senator Seward were friends and allies. In 1857 William and his wife Frances provided Tubman with a two-story brick house at 182 South Street in Auburn. In early 1859 Frances Seward sold Tubman the house and its accompanying seven acres of land. This transaction was illegal for Seward to conduct because of the provisions in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Tubman transformed the dwelling into a safe haven for family, friends, and others. People who were legally free and those who escaped slavery alike had refuge with Harriet Tubman.
Born: c. March 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland
Spouses: John Tubman (m. 1844-1851); Nelson Davis (m. 1869-1888)
Died: March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Age: Approximately 91
Last Words: “I go away to prepare a place for you, and where I am ye may be also.”
Interment: Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York
"I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me."
- Harriet Tubman
to Sarah Bradford in Harriet, The Moses of Her People, published in 1886
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Auburn [NY] Citizen. “HARRIET TUBMAN IS DEAD.” March 11, 1913. From harriettubman.com. Accessed April 9, 2022. http://www.harriettubman.com/memoriam2.html.
National Park Service. “Harriet Tubman’s Auburn Home.” Updated March 12, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/hart/learn/historyculture/tubman-residence.htm.
National Park Service. “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Updated March 11, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/articles/harriet-tubman-and-the-underground-railroad.htm.
National Park Service. “Myths & Facts about Harriet Tubman.” Accessed April 10, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/hatu/planyourvisit/upload/MD_TubmanFactSheet_MythsFacts_2.pdf.