Life in Auburn

<em>Harriet Tubman</em>

This statue of Harriet Tubman was dedicated at the Harriet Tubman Public School in February 2016. It is located in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. Source: Deborah Pollino, Harriet Tubman.

<i>Harriet Tubman; Gertie Davis [Tubman’s adopted daughter]; Nelson Davis [Tubman’s husband]; Lee Cheney; “Pop” Alexander; Walter Green; Sarah Parker [“Blind Auntie” Parker] and Dora Stewart [granddaughter of Tubman’s brother, John Stewart]</i>

In this 1890s photograph, Harriet Tubman stands to the far left with a wash bowl in her hand. Her husband, Nelson Davis is seated in the front row with a cane in his hand. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

<em>Harriet Tubman’s Tombstone, Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York</em>

The Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs placed this gravestone over Harriet Tubman’s grave in Fort Hill Cemetery on July 5, 1937. Source: Photograph by Renée Ater.

“God’s time is always near. He set the North Star in the heavens; He gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free.”

At the end of the Civil War, Harriett Tubman returned to Auburn, New York, to her family and friends. Lack of resources in the ensuing years, made life extremely difficult for Tubman. She supported her elderly parents (she had helped her mother to escape in 1857), took in newly emancipated men and women, and cared for children whose parents were working. The publication in 1869 of Sarah H. Bradford’s Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman provided much needed financial relief and provoked renewed interest in Tubman’s role in the Underground Railroad.

In the same year, Tubman married Nelson Davis, a Civil War veteran. During the 1870s and 1880s, Tubman and Davis operated a small farm and brick making business from their home in Albany, supporting a growing extended family. Active in the AME Zion Church, Tubman became a recognized leader within the church, known for her spiritual convictions and strong sense of God’s presence in her life. In time, Tubman would become a well-known suffragist and humanitarian, advocating for the elderly and indigent.

In 1886, Sarah H. Bradford issued a revised Tubman biography, Harriet: The Moses of Her People. This book provided additional monies and expanded Tubman’s reputation. Within a couple years of the renewed public interest, however, Tubman experienced another personal challenge with the death of her second husband, who succumbed to an extended battled with tuberculosis.

After his death, much of Tubman’s late life was spent raising funds for the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged and Indigent Negroes. Begun in 1896, she would transfer ownership of the home to the AME Zion Church in 1903. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged and Indigent Negroes officially opened in June 1908. After she became wheelchair bound, Tubman moved into the home in 1911.[1]

On March 10, 1913, Harriet Tubman died of a pulmonary infection at the age of ninety-one. She was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn on March 14, with over 1,000 people in attendance at the funeral and burial. Delivering a rousing sermon, Bishop G. L. Blackwell of the African Methodist Epispocal Zion Church of Philadelpha acknowledged Tubman’s importance as a patriot and herorine: “Then live on Aunt Harriet amid the enchanted beauties of celestial light. Walk over the plains of grandeur and vist the mansions of your long line of comrades who with you in the thickets of the fight for human liberty proved true. . . . tell them that ’the fight is on’ for mental, moral, and spiritual emancipation.”[2]

Quotation: Harriet Tubman to Ednah Dow Cheney. Published in Cheney’s Reminiscenses of Ednah Dow Cheney (1859), page 83.


[1]Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (New York: Ballantine, 2004), 229-250 and 279-290; Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (Boston: Little, Brown, 2004), 191-214; Lois Horton, Harriet Tubman and the Fight for Freedom: A Brief History with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 74-85; Kristen T. Oertel, Harriet Tubman: Slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights in the 19th Century (New York and London: Routledge, 2015), 79-100; and Milton C. Sernett, Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 165-194.

[2]Bishop G. L. Blackwell quoted in Sernett, Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History, 180-181.