British man, Simon Marks, couldn’t have ever predicted that when his car got stuck one day in the driveway of his new home that it would lead to a chain of events and literally unearthing a major discovery. He was in for the surprise of his life and it all started when he backed out of his driveway one morning.
A rather inconspicuous event led to finding something of real historical significance. Simon Marks never truly understood how something could be so frightening and yet exciting at the same moment. And knowing that something has been hiding under your property for so long is downright chilling. Then, finding out that it has to do with the history of war is even eerier.
This is his story.
A Bump in the Road
It was October of 2016, when British man Simon Marks from Luton, England, considered it to be a normal day, like any other day in the life of a normal guy on a normal morning. At the time, Marks was a computer support technician. And was proud of finally being able to purchase his first home.
Like most homebuyers, you never really know what you’re buying. Simon had no idea that the property held a secret of epic proportions just waiting to be discovered. Simon was 37 at the time, and his work was conducted in an office setting. As many of us know, the weekends are the time to enjoy ourselves and get out to spend time with friends and family.
A Small Mishap
This moment on the driveway would be the first piece of the puzzle that was about to be laid out for him. And it was about to lead to an incredible chain of events. One weekend, Simon was pulling out of his driveway hit a bump, literally. As he was heading out, he encountered a bump on the pavement. But Simon didn’t expect much of it. Would you?
Simon’s reliable car, for some reason, was having trouble backing out of his driveway. He knew that it wasn’t the car itself that was the problem. Something was blocking the way. So Simon’s trip was delayed for the time being. Simon tried again to reverse his car out of his driveway, but it just wasn’t working.
It Bugged Him all Weekend
So he had to really hit the gas pedal, and he eventually managed to get out and he went out to his pursue his weekend plans. Simon realized, however, that there was something wrong with the pavement and he was going to have to do something about it.
It continued to bug him, and he promised himself that he would get to it when he came home. Little did he know what he was in for! After coming home from his weekend away from home, Simon took a closer look at the spot in his driveway. At first, Simon figured that a piece of the pavement had been poorly constructed.
He Took a Closer Look
He also thought that maybe there used to be a garden where the driveway was now, which could mean it was improperly filled in. And both of those scenarios would be an easy fix. But it was much bigger than that.
As it turned out, a gigantic hole formed in his driveway, and Simon was in above his head. He started to worry that his home was situated on top of a sinkhole or something disastrous. It could threaten the stability of his newly-purchased home! Simon was aware that he wouldn’t be able to figure this out on his own and so he called reinforcements.
A Massive Hole
So he knew immediately who to call. First, he called his father, Gerald, who came to inspect the situation. Simon later told reporters, “I was just terrified the whole house was going to vanish.” It kept getting worse, as pieces of pavement kept coming up, and the large opening into the earth continued further and further down into the ground.
Their worst fear was that it was a sinkhole, which could really be dangerous. Sinkholes tend to appear out of nowhere, and when they do, they can be brutal. They form suddenly and with time, they can get increasingly enormous in size. Some sinkholes are big enough that they can literally swallow houses and even entire communities.
Sinkholes Can Appear Out of Nowhere
Simon was lucky, though. It wasn’t a sinkhole that was forming on his driveway. It was something else entirely. But what? Simon and his father started digging and removing pieces of pavement. As they kept unearthing the driveway, they started to get the idea that something here was man-made and nothing due to nature.
It was as though something was intentionally covered by earth to not be found. But despite the attempts to stay hidden, here Simon and his father were about to discover something. The process was slow, but the father-son duo stayed determined to get to the bottom of the hole and discover its hidden purpose.
The Two Started to Dig
It now became impossible for Simon to park his car in the driveway, but that was the least of Simon’s worries at this point. What was going to become of this hole? Simon and his father were about to stop the digging when they finally saw something. They discovered a ladder within the opening in the ground.
It was rusted and old and extended deep into the hole. So it was clear now that the hold was indeed man-made. But they had so many questions and were starting to really wonder what was going on! They were admittedly scared but more so excited.
Finally! They See Something
The first few steps of the ladder were the only parts visible with all the mud and dirt in the way. After the hole was bigger now, Simon wanted to explore further with the help of some modern technology. He used his cell phone and a selfie stick and descended into the black pit. He was eager to find out the big secret!
Mind you, he was fearful too. It’s the fear of the unknown that’s the scariest of all. Simon was able to make out one important detail. It became clear to him that it was an underground compartment of some sort. He realized that under his driveway was at least one, and maybe more, hidden chambers.
Fear of the Unknown
Soon, the project would prove itself as meaningful to Simon. Simon did some research on the area where he was living, and things started to become clear. This project became something meaningful to the homeowner who was discovering something interesting with his father. Simon bought the home for half a million dollars, and the house was built back in 1970.
But the land itself was used long before the building of any house. Simon bought the home from an elderly couple who were also the original owners of the home. But there was one important detail that they didn’t tell Simon about. Maybe the old couple didn’t think it was important, or that the space under the driveway had been so well covered that there would never be a need to disclose the information.
Confirming Their Suspicions
Soon, the father-son duo would confirm their suspicions. The hidden chamber(s) wasn’t meant to hold the test of time. Simon and his father Gerald had a pretty good idea of what they were unearthing. But they needed to be sure of it. After looking on the internet, they confirmed their suspicions. As they learned, many similar sites had been uncovered around the United Kingdom.
And there’s a reason for what happened. After some investigation, they found out that the property where Simon now stood used to be an open field before the elderly couple bought the land and built their home. But the paperwork didn’t reveal why there was a massive hole in the driveway.
A Big Secret
The documents only stated that there was nothing but empty land where the house now exists. So who knows the true story? Some big secrets had been left off of the property records, and it could be intentional. It may have been built in an era in which proper documentation wasn’t the most imperative thing.
Once Simon and Gerald started to do some research on the land, they understood that the land was in a strategic place near a specific neighborhood. And the time it was built was the most telling. Someone by the name of Sir John Anderson was given the task of preparing Britain for war with Germany.
Two Million Shelters
It was 1938, and he needed to protect the country’s citizens from the impending WAR. So he came up with a strategy in which he and a team of engineers carried out. They created cheap and simple underground shelters that could literally be buried in people’s backyards. The idea was to be close enough for them to run to in the moment of sudden impact.
The chambers’ walls were metal. The flexible metal walls were to be a better alternative to concrete. Over two million of these bomb shelters were distributed around the country. But this was what Simon and Gerald discovered from their research. The actual hole in the backyard had something different, and it wasn’t the typical Anderson-designed bomb shelter that they read about.
The City Was in Panic
So what was it exactly? And what did they know for sure?
They did find out, however, that the shelter on their property was indeed built around 1938, and not long after a bomb landed in the area near Luton. The citizens of the area were in a panic, of course. They now understood all too well that they were a target for incoming bombs.
So they had a plan of their own. The community came up with a plan, and they did it quickly. They made a community shelter that was made even better than the ones Anderson built. And this was what lay below Simon’s driveway. This shelter was made of brick, and there were at least two rooms inside.
During WWII, the German air force tactically bombed parts of London, Liverpool, and Birmingham, which was close to the neighborhood Simon lived in. As Simon and his father dug deeper, they found some artifacts that had dated evidence. In one of the chambers, they found a clipping from the Herald newspaper with a date from the days of WWII.
A headline read: “Luton Airport is this the end?” The worry clearly was that the airport would be bombed by the Germans. They found more than just that. The bomb shelter was stocked full of food and water for those who had to spend time inside. People were there for days at a time.
Dig, Dig, Dig
“It’s incredible to think it has all been made by hand,” Marks reported. The walls were really sturdy and well-built that even decades later, it was still intact. Despite knowing what it was that they found under the earth, Simon and his father continued to keep clearing out the bomb shelter. “Since Saturday, it’s been a case of dig, dig, dig.
We’re about five feet down at the moment, so it’s just another five feet to go until it’s finished. “I think we’re going to have to get a skip in because there’s so much rubbish to get rid of,” Simon stated. They ended up discovering something else, too. Simon said how “One of the walls has been bricked up. I’m 90 percent sure we won’t find out any more rooms, but we don’t know.”
The Story Went Viral
“They might have bricked up one of the walls when the house was built to make way for the foundations. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to leave it.” Once the story went viral, Simon’s driveway flooded with news reporters. But as far as the attention goes, Simon said the spotlight wasn’t his interest.
According to Simon, he worked hard and long to dig up the shelter because he felt an obligation to his country’s rich history. The way he sees it, history can’t just be swept under the rug. And it shouldn’t be forgotten. Things from the past should be preserved and remembered for future generations. Simon and his father plan to restore the shelter and preserve it.
If you’re in the mood for another home discovery that led to a much darker past, this next one’s for you…
Everyone wonders (or at least wishes) if their home holds some sort of unsolved mystery or historical significance. Right? Or is it just me? Anyways, there are many homes that are actually hiding something significant from another era, and it’s a matter of discovering it. For many, it happens by accident or happenstance, if you will. People have found amazing artifacts and treasures in their attics, basements, and backyards.
And this woman is one of them. Alexandra Poulos’s home can basically be referred to as a time machine. What she found hiding in her basement was more surprising than any artifact like old coins or a treasure chest. In fact, what Alexandra found changed history! She enjoyed living in her home for many years, and after finding this, her home has a whole new level of importance.
Not a Typical Home
Alexandra Poulos and her family had lived in their home in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, for many years. She grew up in that house and always assumed that her childhood home was normal, like everyone else’s. When Alexandra was a little girl, she dreamt about rooms in the house that weren’t really there. She had a wild imagination and loved to imagine different stories that took place in her house.
But now, at age 43 and married, Alexandra learned that her childhood home might not be as typical as she once thought. When her mother passed away, she was drawn back to her family home. Although she loved the place, she just couldn’t bring herself to live there now that her parents were gone.
A Case of Recurring Dreams
Alexandra and her family first moved into the house in 1974, and it wasn’t long before strange things started to occur around the house. It seemed as though none of them had any idea about the secret lying within the walls of their home. When Alexandra went to sleep, she noticed that she would have the same dream over and over again.
Every single night – the same dream. Although that might not strike you as odd, the young girl was still worried about seeing the same images all the time. In fact, she was so concerned that she told her friends and family of these recurring dreams. But, sadly for Alexandra, they brushed it off.
A Weird, Odd Story
“This is such a weird, odd story,” Alexandra told ABC News of the white colonial-style home. “When I was a child, I would have random dreams about there being other rooms in the house. I’d look it up on dream meanings sites, and people always thought I just had a crazy imagination.”
But everyone brushed off these dreams that Alexandra told them about and started to secretly keep an eye on their friend instead. But, it wasn’t just any dream she was having; there were certain images that kept coming up in these dreams. She kept seeing visions of secret doors and hallways. She knew that something was extraordinary, but she eventually came to let it go and brushed it off herself.
An Odd Feeling
But strange dreams weren’t the only odd thing to happen while she lived in the home. When people would visit the home, they would talk about an eerie feeling they got when they walked through the door. There was never anything concrete, but people admitted that they felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave.
The Poulos family, who loved their home, would also brush off these comments. After all, they always felt safe, so what could be wrong? Over the years, Alexandra grew up, and her dreams came less and less frequently until they were completely gone. But she was never able to shake off all the images of all those passageways and doors.
Leaving Home, Only to Get Called Back
Eventually, Alexandra moved out of the house, but some life-changing news was going to bring her back again. She soon learned her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Although her mom thought she could manage to fight it off, she was too old and frail. Sadly, Alexandra had to say “goodbye” to her mother for the final time.
It was only a few months since her mother’s diagnosis, but Alexandra’s life changed in ways that nothing would ever be the same. As if losing her mother wasn’t tough enough already, Alexandra was in for a ride she never expected and wasn’t ready for. Her family then received the devastating news that their son, her brother, had also passed away.
From Four to Two
The family went from four to two within months, and it was a tragic blow to both her and her father. They needed to get together and support one another. Before long, Alexandra’s father told her that he wanted to sell the family home. He said it was just too big for one man to run and manage on his own.
Alexandra worried that his desire to sell the family home might be her dad’s way of trying to move forward a little too quickly. Plus, she didn’t want to think about seeing see all of her childhood memories simply get sold to the highest bidder. Alexandra was willing to do whatever she needed to do to keep the house.
Getting the Keys to Her Home
Alexandra’s father was always the one to own the home. Now, they needed to find a way to pass it over to Alexandra instead. The pair did the necessary paperwork and just needed to wait out the lengthy legal procedure. Finally, the day arrived, and it was time for Alexandra to take the keys to her very own home.
Alexandra couldn’t wait to roll up her sleeves and take after the home. Although she didn’t want to sell the house, she needed to make some extra income if she was going to manage to keep up with the maintenance. “It’s my childhood home. My parents bought it in 1974,” Alexandra said. “I just love it so much. I started renting it out, and now we have awesome tenants.”
The Same Eerie Feeling
Alexandra decided to rent the house out to tenants. Since the home has such a beautiful exterior, it didn’t take long for interested renters to show up and take a look around. But the thing is, all the tenants mentioned the same eerie feeling that her family’s guests all those years ago would talk about.
After all these years, and the new people were saying the same thing. Something was up. Alexandra and her father were baffled, and they had no idea what to do. They both loved their house, but couldn’t find anyone who felt the same way. In the meantime, Alexandra focused on fixing up the place and dealing with typical landlord issues.
The burden of being a landlord starting sinking in when things kept coming up in the basement. One thing after another started breaking or coming apart. “First it was oil tank that went, and then after that, it was an old cast-iron sewer pipe that just started cracking, so I had to get that replaced,” she said.
Eventually, she found a tenant, Jerry. He called her up one day and said, “Alex, you have to come to the house because there’s cracks in the walls.” Alexandra always responds right away because “I try to keep the house as I would want it because I still love it.”
A Deeper Secret
With the basement fresh on her mind, Alexandra remembered something that a former neighbor had told her father years ago. According to that neighbor, there was a secret being kept underneath the house. The home did have a basement, but this secret went much deeper than that. “There was a neighbor out back, an old doctor and his wife,” she recalled.
“She told my dad, ‘You know there’s a basement under your basement.’ My dad just thought she was crazy or whatever. Long story short, I always had that in the back of my mind.” For weeks, she spent her free time looking stuff up on the history of the homes in the area. And one night, she found something that made a whole lot of sense.
The Secret is Underneath the House
“It was, like, 2 a.m. one night, and I came across an article that said there was this house that’s, like, a five-minute drive from my house and the owners found out it was linked to the Underground Railroad. They said they knew it was down there, and they knew it was covered up by cement. And then I knew. That was it.”
It was then that Alexandra realized what the secret was. She just knew that what was under her home had something to do with the Underground Railroad. She went to the home and began to look around the basement. But she couldn’t find anything she hadn’t already seen a hundred times before. That’s when she remembered what that neighbor said: the secret was underneath the house.
A Room in a Hole
As she was searching her basement, she noticed, for the first time, a secret hole in her home. She was about to step inside the hole when Alexandra suddenly stopped. She had no idea what was under there – there could be anything! All these thoughts entered her mind – what if there was a wild animal or someone living there?
She needed the help of professionals – and she needed them fast. She got on the phone with a group that could come and take a look at the mysterious spot in her basement. With their help, she discovered that the secret hole led to a hidden room that her family never knew about in their whole lives.
A Second Basement
She climbed down a ladder to see what was actually lying underneath their basement in what was essentially a second basement – exactly as the neighbor described. In that second basement, Alexandra realized there was now another room around 15 feet long, 6 to 8 feet wide, and 14 feet deep. It was huge!
She held a flashlight up to get a good look at what she was looking at. She was hoping for clues – for something! – to give her an idea as to what exactly this room held inside. She thought back to all those comments people had made over the years and even recently by potential tenants. Were there such a thing as spirits or ghosts?
Getting Her Answers
She loved her home, and so she never really believed these stories or took them seriously (just how others did to her regarding her dreams). What Alexandra decided to do was enlist the help of historians to answer this mystery in her home. And it wasn’t long before she got her answers.
According to these historians, the hidden room once belonged to abolitionists. They were a group of brave people who dedicated their lives to ridding America of slavery. It seems as though what they used as a part of their plan was what eventually became the Poulos family residence. That plan: the Underground Railroad. This was how they helped move slaves to safer areas of the country without being detected.
And it wasn’t just the abolitionists that worked together to help anyone caught up in the ordeal; there were also sympathizers with the group who also took people in and offered help in any way they could. It looked as though the secret door led to the very room that was once used to help hide people.
But the historians weren’t done just yet. They also told Alexandra something she wasn’t even aware of. She learned that the area of Lansdowne was once known for its abolitionist mentality. “The region in general historically has been known as an abolitionist sympathizer area that probably did have a good number of people who have been involved in or were sympathetic to anti-slavery activism, including potential participation in the Underground Railroad,” Rachel Moloshok, from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, said.
If Only the Walls Could Talk
The discreet system also meant that many of rooms like these, and tunnels as well, were linked together over the years, creating a whole network. But all that building and then people trying to destroy their plans meant that many of these structures had been destroyed over the years. The historians involved in this case were ecstatic to see one of the original pieces still standing!
Now, they could actually look at the walls that held the secret to so many personal and heroic stories for so many years. Alexandra was utterly amazed by the history that she and her family had lived above for all these years without any clue as to what was lying beneath them. If only the walls could talk…
They didn’t even know there was a second basement, let alone a room packed with history. Real and significant history at that! Poulos was thrilled about her mysterious new discovery. “I need to figure out the next steps,” she said in an interview. “Jerry is so enthralled by it. They’re just as obsessed with this stuff as I am.”
Jerry said to her: “I’ve always known this house is special, from the second I walked in. It’s like a spirit saying, ‘Don’t leave me.’” Alexandra started to tell her neighbors all about her discovery, and that’s when she learned that her house wasn’t the only one. It turns out that one of the Poulos’ neighbors also had a hidden space underneath their house and that historians told them something else.
She Can’t Be Certain
Despite the fact that the area they live in is known to be an area of abolitionist sympathizers, nothing can be known for sure. According to Rachel Moloshok from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, “The only way to really follow up on that would be to research who the owners were in the past and follow up on property records and see if there were people who were known to be vocal abolitionists… Then you can make inferences.”
But although she can’t be certain that the hole was used for the Underground Railway, Alexandra still hopes and believes she will be able to prove the connection between. And only time will tell if she can turn those hopes into a reality.
Levi Coffin is a popular name when it comes to the Underground Railroad. He was an active leader in the abolitionist movement in Indiana and Ohio, and some unofficially called him the “President of the Underground Railroad.” An estimated three thousand slaves passed through his care. Coffin was born in North Carolina and was exposed to and became opposed to slavery ever since he was a child.
His family moved to Indiana in 1826. He farmed and became a local merchant and business leader. Coffin grew wealthy over the years thanks to his various businesses. His friends in the anti-slavery movement urged Coffin to move southward to the important Ohio River port city of Cincinnati. And in 1847, he did.
Lodging Them in His Home
During 1847 through 1857, Coffin assisted hundreds of runaway slaves. He did it by lodging them in his Ohio home. It was across the river from Kentucky and not far from Virginia, both of which were slave states at the time. In the final decade of his life, Coffin traveled around the Midwest, France and Great Britain.
He helped form societies that provided food, clothing, funds and education to all the former slaves that they were saving. Coffin retired in the 1870s, and wrote an autobiography called “Reminiscences of Levi Coffin” in 1876, a year before his death.
If you want to know who was really a major player in the underground railway, here’s a true story of a brave woman who saved hundreds of lives…
You’ve learned about this woman during Black History Month in school and have seen her face come up in history books now and then. But now, the legendary story of Harriet Tubman is going to be made into a biopic.
The new film Harriet, starring Cynthis Erivo, tells the extraordinary true story of Harriet Tubman. Just in case you don’t know (or to refresh your memory), Tubman was responsible for helping free slaves via the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.
The film comes out on November 1, 2019. But before you see it, get all the facts here. You know, so you can show off to your movie night date that you actually learned something in history class.
So Who Was Harriet Tubman?
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her actual birthday is actually unknown, but it’s believed 1819 and 1823. Her birth name was Araminta Harriet Ross, and her mother nicknamed her “Minty.”
Her mother, Harriet “Rit” Green, was owned by Mary Pattison Brodess. Her father, Ben Ross, was owned by Anthony Thompson (Thompson and Brodess married). And so, Green and Ross met and started a family of their own, all the while in slavery.
Years and Years of Hardship
Tubman’s maternal grandmother, Modesty, came to America on a slave ship from Africa. While there isn’t any information about her other ancestors, we do know that Tubman had eight siblings: Linah, Mariah Ritty, Soph, Robert, Ben, Rachel, Henry, and Моses.
Tubman’s early life was full of nothing but hardship. Mary Brodess’ son, Edward, sold three of Tubman’s sisters to faraway plantations, breaking up their family. Then, when a trader from Georgia approached Brodess about the youngest son, Moses, Tubman’s mother managed to resist the further fracturing of her family, which set a powerful example for her young daughter.
A History of Violence
As you can imagine, physical violence was a daily experience for Tubman and her family. She suffered permanent physical injuries from such horrible experiences. The most severe injury happened when Tubman was a teenager.
She was sent to a store for supplies and met a slave who left the fields without permission. The man’s owner demanded that Tubman help restrain him. But Tubman refused. And it was that disobedience that caused her major injury…
A Head Injury That Led to Visions
The slave owner threw a two-pound weight at her, striking her in the head. As a result of such an injury, Tubman suffered from seizures, severe headaches, and narcoleptic episodes for the rest of her life. In addition to the physical effects of her injury, she also experienced intense dream states.
Her sleeping spells meant that she would suddenly fall asleep, and it would be very difficult to wake her up. These spells gave her visions and dreams, which she later considered as religious experiences, signs from God. In the end, it was religious faith that served as the reason for risking her life, guiding slaves to freedom.
The Line Between Slavery and Freedom
The line between slavery and freedom was unclear for Tubman and her family. Tubman’s father was eventually freed from slavery at the age of 45, which was stipulated in the will of a previous owner.
But he didn’t have many options for work other than to continue working as a timber estimator and foreman for his previous owners. As for Tubman’s mother and the other children, the family who owned them chose not to free them. And while the father was technically free, he had little power to challenge their decision.
She Married a Free Man
By 1835, about 14 years before Harriet was able to escape slavery, nearly half the African American population on the eastern shore of Maryland was free. And years later, in 1844, she married John Tubman, a free African American.
At the time, it wasn’t unusual for a family to include both free and enslaved people. Not much is known about John Tubman or their marriage, including whether or not they lived together, and if so, how long. If they had any children, they would have been considered slaves since the mother’s status dictated that of her children.
Leaving Him Behind
Before she escaped, Harriet changed her name from Araminta to Harriet (after her mother) and took her husband’s last name. It was in 1849 that Harriet managed to make it out, leaving her husband behind…
John decided not to make the voyage on the Underground Railroad with Harriet. Harriet later came back for him but found out that he had married another woman.
Her Escape to Freedom
Tubman first confronted the Underground Railroad when she used it to make her own escape from slavery in 1849. It was following a bout of illness as well as the death of her owner.
She decided to leave Maryland and head for Philadelphia. Her fear, however, was that her family would be further severed. She was also concerned for her own fate as an ill slave of low economic value.
Making it Out
On September 17, 1849, Harriet and her brothers, Harry and Ben, successfully escaped. But after seeing a notice that was published, offering a $300 reward for the return of Araminta, Harry, and Ben, the brothers had second thoughts.
The two brothers returned to the plantation. But not Harriet; she had no plans to remain in captivity. She took her brothers safely home and soon set off alone for Pennsylvania.
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was a network used by fugitive slaves to make their way to free territories. Harriet, along with other abolitionists and free African Americans, used it to help guide slaves to secret routes and safe houses.
But before becoming a legend, Tubman herself had to use the railroad to make it to her own safety. She decided to head to Pennsylvania, which was already a free state by then.
90 Miles to the Land of the Free
Tubman traveled 90 miles to the free state of Pennsylvania, and you can just imagine the state she was in on the way and when she arrived. With a feeling of relief and awe, she later spoke about that moment.
“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.”
She Made it Her Mission
Rather than choosing to stay in the safety of the free North, Tubman made it her mission to rescue not only her family but all the others living in slavery. Her first trip on the secret railroad to bring a family to freedom was in 1850.
And not just any family. She brought her niece, Kessiah, and her husband, John Bowley, who was a free black man, and their two children. It was in December 1850 that Tubman received a warning…
Saving Her Family
Tubman discovered that her niece Kessiah and her two young children were going to be sold. Kessiah’s husband, John, made the winning bid for his wife at an auction in Baltimore.
Tubman then turned to help the family make their journey to Philadelphia through the Underground Railroad. This was the first of many trips for Tubman. Tubman managed to navigate through it all, despite being illiterate her entire life.
From the South to the North
Between 1850 and 1860, Tubman took about 13 trips from the South to the North of America. She led more than 70 people to their freedom, which included her parents and some of her siblings. She was even nicknamed “Moses” by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
But things changed in 1850 and made the situation even worse than it already was. A new law passed, the Fugitive Slave Law, which stated that escaped slaves could be caught and captured in the North and returned to slavery.
A Turn for the Worse
This new law meant that former slaves and free blacks living in the Free States were being abducted and sent back to slavery. This also meant that law enforcement officials in the North were forced to aid in the capture of slaves, regardless of their personal morals.
Tubman responded to the new law by re-routing the Underground Railroad to Canada, which forbade slavery. So, in December 1851, Tubman led a group of 11 fugitives to a new North. Some evidence suggests that those 11 people stopped at the home of an abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass.
Winters and Saturday Nights
Tubman usually worked with the Underground Railroad during winter months in order to avoid being seen. In addition, she made trips on Saturday nights since newspapers would publish runaway notices on Monday morning.
Tubman also had her methods when guiding slaves to freedom. She carried a handgun for her own self-protection and urged slaves never to give up. She even resorted to using disguises, having dressed as a man, old woman, or middle-class free African American.
Becoming “General Tubman”
In April 1858, Tubman met abolitionist John Brown, who strongly advocated the use of violence to destroy the institution of slavery. Tubman actually shared Brown’s goals and at the very least, tolerated his methods.
Tubman claimed that she had a prophetic vision of Brown before the two even met. She later helped recruit supporters for John Brown’s infamous Harper’s Ferry Raid.
The Harpers Ferry Raid
John Brown had nicknamed Tubman, calling her “General Tubman.” Brown started to recruit supporters for an attack he had planned on slaveholders at Harpers Ferry.
Brown turned to “General Tubman” for help. However, Brown was eventually executed, and Tubman praised him as a martyr. But it was Tubman herself that made a name for herself in the history books.
A Leading Abolitionist
Tubman was a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War took place. But when the war was taking place, Tubman helped the Union Army, working as a spy, among other roles.
She was a cook and nurse at first, but quickly became an armed scout and spy. Her knowledge of local plants allowed her to help cure soldiers with dysentery.
Tubman was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition, guiding the Combahee River Raid, which freed more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.
She Was Paid, But Not Enough
During the Civil War, Tubman was paid $200 over a period of 3 years. Since it was simply not enough money to live on, she had to support herself by selling pies.
Tubman later claimed that the government owed her a total of $966 for her work as a scout from May 25, 1862, to January 31, 1865. That comes out to $30 per month for 32.5 months of service. At the time, scouts and spies were paid $60 per month and soldiers a mere $15 month. It took Tubman 34 years to get a veteran’s pension.
After the War
When the Civil War ended, Tubman decided to dedicate her life to helping impoverished past slaves as well as the elderly. She also became involved in women’s suffrage.
She would give speeches in Boston, New York, and Washington. But don’t think that Harriet was left alone. She did indeed find love and started her own family as a free woman.
Her Marriage to Nelson Davis
In March of 1869, Harriet, who was about 59 years old, married Civil War veteran Nelson Davis, who was 22 years younger than her. Then in 1874, they adopted a baby girl named Gertie.
Harriet and Nelson spent their next 20 years together. The two had a garden in their backyard in which they grew vegetables and raised pigs and chickens. Nelson was suffering from Tuberculosis and couldn’t work on a consistent basis.
Getting What She Deserved
In 1859, abolitionist Senator William H. Seward sold Tubman a rather small piece of land outside of Auburn, New York. That piece of land became a haven for Tubman’s family and friends.
Tubman would spend the years following the war there, taking care of her family and others who had come there to live. But despite her fame and reputation, Tubman was never financially secure.
Supporting Their Dear Leader
Tubman’s friends and true supporters made a mission to raise some funds to support her. One admirer of Harriet’s was Sarah H. Bradford, who wrote a biography about her called Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman in 1869.
The book’s proceeds went to Tubman and her family, which was $1200. Despite the fact that she was financially not well off, Tubman still continued to give freely. In 1903, she donated a piece of her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn. In 1908, the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened on this site.
The End of Her Life
As she aged, Harriet Tubman’s head injuries from early in her life became more painful and destructive to her health. She was deteriorating and became unable to sleep.
Tubman had to undergo brain surgery in Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital to alleviate the pains and the “buzzing” that she experienced regularly. She refused to get anesthesia, choosing to chew a bullet instead because it was what the soldiers did when they had their legs amputated.
Around the Age of 93
It was on March 10, 1913, that Harriet Tubman died of pneumonia at about the age of 93. She was surrounded by friends and family.
Before she passed, she had donated her property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn. It was to be converted into a home for the elderly and indigent colored people. She was finally buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
The New $20 Bill
More than 100 years later, and in honor of her life, in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson (a slaveholder) on the $20 bill.
The Treasury Department received a wave of public comments, calling for a notable American woman to be on U.S. currency. The choice to choose Tubman was well deserved, considering she devoted her life to racial equality and fought for women’s rights.
It Could Have Been the $10 Bill
In June 2015, before the decision to put Tubman on the new bill, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said it was likely a woman would appear on the $10 bill instead. The bill at the time had a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father who received renewed popularity for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.
The final decision to have Tubman replace Jackson, who was a slaveholder who played a part in the removal of Native Americans from their land, was praised.
Harriet Tubman’s Legacy
Even though she was well-known and well-respected when she was alive, Tubman became an American icon after she passed away. At the end of the 20th century, she was named one of the most famous civilians in American history before the Civil War.
She came in third to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. Tubman continues to be taught in history classes and inspires generations of Americans struggling for civil rights.
In Her Honor
When Tubman passed, the city of Auburn honored her life with a plaque on the courthouse. She was also celebrated in many other ways throughout the 20th century.
Dozens of schools were named after her, and both Auburn’s Harriet Tubman Home and Cambridge’s Harriet Tubman Museum serve as monuments to her life. Then there was a 1978 movie called A Woman Called Moses, which commemorated her life and career.
Myth: Harriet Tubman Rescued 300 People in 19 Trips
It’s actually a widely misunderstood myth that Harriet Tubman rescued more than 300 people via the Underground Railroad. According to Tubman’s own words, as well as extensive documentation on her rescue missions, the numbers are different.
The truth is that she rescued about 70 people (family and friends) through about 13 trips to Maryland. During meetings between 1858 and 1859, Tubman repeatedly told people that she rescued 50 to 60 people in 8 or 9 trips. And that was before her very last mission in December 1860, when she brought another 7 people.
Why the Popular Misunderstanding?
As it turns out, Sarah Bradford exaggerated the numbers in her biography of Tubman from 1868. Bradford had actually estimated the exaggerated number, and it simply stuck.
Friends who were close to Tubman specifically denied those higher numbers. In addition to helping family and friends, Tubman also gave instructions to another 70 freedom seekers from the Eastern Shore who did indeed find their way to freedom on their own.
Myth: Harriet Tubman Had a $40,000 “Dead Or Alive” Bounty On Her Head
This is another myth you might have heard. But the truth is that the only reward for Tubman’s capture was in the October 3, 1849 ad for the return of “Minty” and her brothers “Ben” and “Harry.”
Their mistress, Eliza Brodess, offered up $100 for each if caught outside of Maryland. At the time, slaveholders in Maryland had no idea that it was Harriet Tubman (they knew her as Minty Ross) who was helping people run away.
So Why the $40,000 Bounty Figure?
It was a rumor that was made up by Sallie Holley, an anti-slavery activist in New York, who wrote a letter to a newspaper in 1867, in which she argued for support for Tubman in her request for back pay and pension from the Union Army.
To paint the picture: the U.S. government offered $50,000 for the capture of John Wilkes Booth, the one who murdered President Lincoln in 1865. And $40,000 back then is equivalent to several million today. So every newspaper would have posted that advertisement.
Myth: Harriet Tubman Used the Quilt Code to Follow the Underground Railroad
Harriet Tubman never used the “quilt code” since the quilt code is actually a myth. Tubman had to use various methods to escape and go back and rescue others. She would rely on trustworthy people, black and white, who helped hide her, told her where to go, and told her who she could trust.
Tubman used disguises, walked, rode horses and wagons, sailed on boats, and rode on trains. She would also use certain songs to indicate danger or safety. She bribed people, followed rivers that went northward. She used the stars to lead her north.
Myth: Harriet Tubman Carried a Rifle On Her Underground Railroad Rescue Missions
The truth is Harriet Tubman carried a small pistol on her rescue missions. It was mostly for her own protection from slave catchers, but it was also to encourage the weak-hearted runaways.
Tubman didn’t want them to turn back and risk the safety of the rest of the group. It was in the Civil War that Tubman carried a sharpshooter’s rifle.
Myth: Harriet Tubman’s Birth Name, Araminta, Is an African Name
Araminta is actually a centuries-old English Puritan name. During that time, there were many women, black and white, with the name “Araminta” and “Minty” for short.
Tubman had relatives who were also named Araminta. But Harriet changed her name in the 1840s, which was considered as either due to marriage or religious conversion.
Myth: Harriet Tubman Was Forced To Marry John Tubman
Back then and in Dorchester County, where Tubman was born and raised, half of the black population was free, and most slaveholders had less than four slaves. It wasn’t the custom on the Eastern Shore of Maryland enslaved people to be forced to marry.
John Tubman had been a free man from a big and free family. He must have really loved her, because, in order to marry her, he had to give up his rights as a husband and father if they were to have children together.
Myth: Jacob Jackson Operated a “Safe House” At His Home in Maryland
Jacob Jackson was a free black farmer and veterinarian who was also Harriet Tubman’s confidante. Tubman had a coded letter (written for her) in Philadelphia and then sent to Jackson in December 1854.
The letter instructed him to tell her brothers that she was coming to rescue them. She needed to be ready to “step aboard” the “Ol’ Ship of Zion.” People figured that this was code for a safe house at his home. But, there’s no documentation that he sheltered runaways in his home. On the Underground Railroad, Jackson was referred to as an “agent.”