Teaching with Primary Sources – Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman (1823-1913) – Nurse, Spy and Scout

In Commemoration of Black History Month & Women’s History Month ~ Ms. Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was an American bondwoman who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She was born in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. Yet she returned many times to rescue both family members and non-relatives from the plantation system. She led hundreds to freedom in the North as the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe housesorganized for that purpose.

Harriet Tubman Biography – http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430


Bucktown Village Store

“Site of Harriet Tubman’s First Act of Defiance”

At this crossroads, sometime around 1835, Harriet Tubman was almost killed by a blow to her head that she received while attempting to assist a fellow enslaved man flee from an angry overseer. Because of the injury, Harriet experienced life-long health problems and seizures that sparked vivid dreams, changing her views and motives the rest of her life. At the time, Bucktown was a busy community with two stores, a shopkeeper’s home, blacksmith shop, farms, and shipyards on the nearby Transquaking River.


Bucktown Village Store

Bucktown Village Store

Bucktown Village Store

Home site of Jacob Jackson

Jacob Jackson, a free African American man who received a coded letter to help Tubman to communicate secretly with her family. He was a conduit for a message to alert her three brothers, Henry, Benjamin, and Robert that she would soon come to guide their escape from slavery to the north. The Jacob Jackson Home Site was donated to the National Park Service by the Conservation Fund for inclusion in the new national monument.

Homesite of Jacob Jackson

Home site of Jacob Jackson

Harriet Tubman National Monument

Harriet Tubman National Monument Historic Sites in Dorchester County

Harriet Tubman National Monument Historic Sites in Dorchester County

Harriet Tubman National Monument in Story of Where

Harriet Tubman National Monument | Story of Where

Harriet Tubman National Monument | Story of Where


As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Tubman returned to Maryland multiple times to liberate friends and family members. She did this dangerous work at the risk of her own freedom, perhaps her own life. Harriet Tubman served in the Civil War as a Union nurse, spy, and guide, and continued to serve her people and her country selflessly until her death in 1913.

Harriet Tubman was a deeply spiritual woman who lived her ideals and dedicated her life to freedom. She is the Underground Railroad’s best known conductor and in the decades before the Civil War, repeatedly risked her life to guide nearly 70 enslaved people to new lives of freedom in the North. Tubman would recognize the landscapes protected in this new national monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

This monument includes sites relating to Tubman’s life, including the slave-built Stewart’s Canal and the home of Jacob Jackson.


Harriet Ross Tubman endured backbreaking work, long periods of separation from her family and loved ones, and brutal treatment meted out by her owners and overseers. After successfully escaping her owners in October of 1849, Tubman bravely jeopardized her own freedom, in fact her very life, to return to Maryland’s Eastern Shore on many occasions to liberate family members, friends, and strangers–an estimated 300 to 400 people. On at least one important occasion she was aided in this work by Jacob Jackson, a literate free black man who lived on the Eastern Shore near Madison, Maryland.

In December of 1854, Jackson received and decoded a letter Harriet Tubman had drafted by a friend indicating the place and time when she would return to Maryland to free her brothers who were in danger of being sold further south. Jackson passed the word of Harriet’s arrival along to Robert, Ben, and Henry, who joined with a handful of others on Christmas Day 1854 to start the perilous, but ultimately successful, journey from slavery to freedom. They told no one of their plans, not even their mother who was expecting her sons for Christmas dinner.

National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/hatu/index.htm

Harriet Tubman - National Park Service

Harriet Tubman – National Park Service


Additional Sources

Library of Congress  – http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/tubman/

Primary Source Exercises for 8th Grade / Middle School – http://www.mchce.net/Y2IP/MichelleJohnson_Y2IP.pdf

Primary Source Exercises for 4th Grade / Elementary School – http://chnm.gmu.edu/loudountah/detail.php?lcpstahid=16&page=procedures


Google Doodle Commemorating Black History Month on February 1, 2014