Araminta Ross was born a slave in Bucktown, Maryland about the year 1820. She would later take her mother's name, Harriet, and in 1844 she would marry a free black man named John Tubman. Five years later, in 1849, fearing that she would be sold further south, Harriet Tubman escaped, making her way north to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, Tubman found employment and found herself working with abolitionists like William Still and John Brown (who would refer to Tubman as "General" and call her "the bravest person on this continent"). Within a year she returned to Maryland to help members of her family escape. She would eventually lead hundreds to freedom by the same route, via an extensive network known as the Underground Railroad. Her grit, faith, and determination as a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, earned Tubman the admiration of leading abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass. Of her forays into the South to free slaves, William Still, in his 1871 book, The Underground Railroad, wrote:
Her success was wonderful. Time and again she made successful visits to Maryland on the Underground Rail Road, and would be absent for weeks at a time, running daily risks while making preparations for herself and her passengers. Great fears were entertained for her safety, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear. The idea of being captured by slave-hunters or slave-holders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries. While she thus maintained utter personal indifference, she was much more watchful with regard to those she was piloting. Half of her time, she had the appearance of one asleep, and would actually sit down by the road-side and go fast asleep* when on her errands of mercy through the South, yet, she would not suffer one of her party to whimper once, about "giving out and going back," however wearied they might be by the hard travel day and night. She had a very short and pointed rule or law of her own, which implied death to any who talked of giving out and going back. Thus, in an emergency she would give all to understand that "times were very critical and therefore no foolishness would be indulged in on the road." That several who were rather weak-kneed and faint-hearted were greatly invigorated by Harriet's blunt and positive manner and threat of extreme measures, there could be no doubt. After having once enlisted, "They had to go through ordie." Of course Harriet was supreme, and her followers generally had full faith in her, and would back up any word she might utter. So when she said to them that "a live runaway could do great harm by going back, but that a dead one could tell no secrets," she was sure to have obedience. Therefore, none had to die as traitors on the "middle passage." It is obvious enough, however, that her success in going into Maryland as she did, was attributable to her adventurous spirit and utter disregard of consequences. Her like it is probable was never known before or since."