Harriet Tubman was a key figure of the Underground Railroad, a large movement in North America consisting of several individuals who worked together to aid slaves in their escape from their captors. Born into slavery, Tubman and her two brothers escaped from slavery after the death of their owner in 1849.
After one of her brothers had second thoughts about their escape and returned, Tubman joined them. She, however, escaped again, this time using the secret network of the Underground Railroad. Tubman traveled by the light of the North Star, using night-time cover to avoid those who hunted her.
A large portion of Tubman’s family was enslaved in Maryland. And it was in Maryland that she took her first stand against her oppressors. It all happened at the Bucktown Village Store, Maryland. The 1830s store sold dry goods, sugar, and kitchen wares.
A young Tubman was enslaved by the Brodess family, who owned land in Bucktown. Tubman worked the fields for that family. When she was around 13 years old in 1835, she was sent to the Bucktown Village Store to buy goods. Little did she know that day would change her life forever.
Historians say that when Tubman entered the store, an enslaved man also came into the store, followed by his overseer, Thomas Barnett. The overseer had apparently pursued the enslaved man to the store and was now asking Tubman to help restrain the enslaved man but she refused. The overseer then grabbed a two-pound weight off the counter and hurled it. The enslaved man was the intended target, but the weight struck young Tubman in the forehead instead, nearly killing her and causing a severe injury that troubled her for the rest of her life.
The weight fractured her skull. She later recalled: “My hair had never been combed and it stood out like a bushel basket . . . I expect that thar hair saved my life.”
“They carried me to the house all bleeding an’ fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they lay me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all that day and next,” she recounted.
Tubman was forced “to work again and there I worked with the blood and sweat rolling down my face till I couldn’t see.”
The injury caused Tubman to suffer from epilepsy for the rest of her life. She also had spiritual visions, which she believed helped connect her to God.
“Whether this incident happened or not, she probably would have gone on to do great things, but the incident added a dimension to her story with God being able to communicate with her,” James Meredith, who later became the owner of Bucktown Village Store, told WBALTV in 2019.
Meredith’s family acquired the store which is now a museum to preserve its rich history, he said. The Bucktown Village Store contains artifacts and information highlighting Tubman’s story and slavery. It is part of a Harriet Tubman Byway project in Maryland.
“We just wanted people to come in here to help people understand the legacy of Harriet Tubman,” Meredith said.
From the Bucktown Village Store, Tubman would go on to help free slaves while risking her own freedom. Records show that she helped free about 70 people, including family and friends during 13 trips to Maryland.
Leading scores of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad is what Tubman is well known for. However, she also played a significant and pioneering role in the Civil War. She became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a military expedition when in 1863, she led soldiers with Colonel James Montgomery to raid rice plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina and freed many slaves.
Let’s not forget that Tubman was also a Union army spy and recruiter. “She was one of the great heroines of the Civil War,” Thomas B. Allen, author of Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent said. “But her recognition didn’t come till many years after the war.”
Tubman didn’t receive her pension until 1899. Tubman further fought for civil and political rights for women and minorities, as well as the disabled and aged.