Frequently Asked Questions

 

About the Park

When was Harriet Tubman National Historical Park created?
Congress authorized Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York, in December 2014 as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. On January 10, 2017, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, signed a Decision Memorandum establishing Harriet Tubman National Historical Park as a unit of the national park system.

What areas are included in the park?
The park consists of 32 acres, bounded by South Street on the west, where the visitor center, Harriet Tubman Residence, and the Tubman Home for the Aged are located. Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church and rectory are on one half an acre with an east boundary on Parker Street.

What are the plans for Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church?
The National Park Service (NPS) has acquired the Parker Street parcel consisting of 0.5 acres (Tax parcel 115, 75-1-81) at 47-49 Parker Street in Auburn, New York as being suitable for NPS ownership and management so that the responsibilities of the park as described in the establishing legislation may be satisfactorily carried out.

The property contains two structures: the historic Thompson A.M.E. Zion Church, a modest, 2-story frame structure constructed in 1891 (having direct association with Harriet Tubman and her family, many of her supporters, and the African American community of the time) and the adjacent 2-story rectory (home) which together will provide the NPS with administrative and visitor contact spaces in the future. Both buildings are currently uninhabitable and require substantial repair and renovations prior to being returned to public uses. We expect to have the rectory (home) building repaired and serviceable as a NPS visitor support service center during the fall of 2018. We are currently undertaking a Historic Structures and Finishes Study and limited emergency stabilization of the church building in order to help guide appropriate repairs and future restoration of this iconic building.

Does the National Park Service operate all of the Harriet Tubman sites in Auburn?
No, the National Park Service relies on its partner to operate three sites. The Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. operates the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center, the Tubman Home for the Aged and the Harriet Tubman Residence. The National Park Service operates the grounds of the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church and in coming years will stabilize and rehabilitate the building. Tubman is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery where the Fort Hill Cemetery Association independently manages that site.

Is there public transportation to Harriet Tubman National Historical Park?
There is no direct public transportation however, Monday to Friday two bus routes stop four and six blocks from the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center. The Central New York Regional Transportation Authority operates in Auburn. The public transit center is in the Loop Road Parking Garage in downtown Auburn, 1.5 miles from the park. www.centro.org/about-Centro/service-area

Are there other sites in Auburn, New York connected to Harriet Tubman?
Yes. The Seward House Museum is a National Historic Landmark, part of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and Frances and William Seward were a big part of Tubman’s life.

How do I get information about a visit to Auburn, New York? Are there services near the park for dining and lodging?
The New York state tourism office (http://www.iloveny.com/) and Cayuga County Visitor Information, (www.tourcayuga.com) have information on tourism and local services.

 

The National Park Service

Are there other National Park Service sites related to Harriet Tubman?
Yes, there are many National Park Service sites that relate to Harriet Tubman and tell different aspects of her story.

 

Harriet Tubman

Did all of Harriet Tubman’s family join her to live in Auburn?
Sadly, not all of Tubman’s family came to live in Auburn because they were sold and lost to the family, but a number of them came to live in New York. Tubman’s parents, Harriet “Rit” Green and Ben Ross, lived in Auburn. Her brothers, Robert (in freedom, renamed John Stewart); Ben (renamed James Stewart), his wife Catherine and their three children; Henry (renamed William Henry Stewart), his wife Harriet Ann, and their children lived there. Tubman’s family in Auburn also included her husband, bricklayer Nelson Davis, and Gertie, the daughter they adopted as a baby.

The Ross family had been broken apart by slavery. Three of Tubman’s older sisters, Mariah Ritty (b. 1811), Linah (b. 1808) and Soph (b. 1813) had been sold South before Tubman’s first escape from Maryland and were lost forever to the family and to history. Tubman’s last excursion in 1860 was to emancipate her sister Rachel and her two children. Tragically, Rachel had died and Tubman was unable to save her children who remained enslaved and nothing more is known of them.

Where was Harriet Tubman born?
She was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in Dorchester County.

How old was Harriet Tubman when she died?
Because she was enslaved, it’s hard to know for certain when Tubman was born; there were no official records of births of enslaved children. It is thought that Tubman was born around 1822 in Maryland and she died in Auburn on March 10, 1913 at about age 90 or 91.

Who is Araminta Ross?
Araminta Ross was Harriet Tubman’s given name. As a child, she was known as “Minty.” Her mother was Harriet “Rit” Green and her father was Ben Ross. She changed her name to Harriet around the time of her marriage to John Tubman, a free African man, in 1844.

What is “self-emancipation”?
Historians use this term to describe more accurately what was happening when enslaved people made the decision to escape from slavery. It conveys the self-determination, resistance, planning, and active participation required to set themselves free. In the past, credit for emancipation was often given to whites with the implication that people escaping from slavery were passive participants in their own rescues. “Self-emancipation” restores the concepts of personal agency, action, commitment, savvy, and courage to describe the people who risked their lives on a chance at freedom.

Do the words matter?
Words are important because they can reveal unintended bias or subtly reflect different points of view. For example, “enslaved” is used because it describes the condition imposed on people against their will rather than define the human beings in that situation as “slaves.” It communicates that while people are held in physical bondage, their minds and spirits remain free. Contrast the point of view conveyed by the terms “freedom-seeker” and “self-emancipator” compared to what is conveyed by the term “fugitive slave.” We learn as children that words can hurt. Being careful and curious about words used as labels is a sign of respect for others. It seems a kinder and more welcoming choice to be deliberate about words once we are aware of their meanings for others.

Why would someone decide to stay enslaved rather than self-emancipate?
Each person had to make the decision to self-emancipate for him or herself after weighing often painful choices. The decision could be excruciating because could mean separating forever from family, friends, and everything familiar. The choice to leave a child behind was heartbreaking. Journeys promised to be physically grueling and conditions difficult and dangerous. It was difficult to know whom to trust when rewards provided economic incentive for betrayal. Consequences of being caught were severe and terrifying. Escape put loved ones left behind in danger, made them vulnerable, and could affect them in catastrophic ways.

When did Tubman emancipate herself? Why did she choose that time to escape to freedom?
Tubman escaped in 1849 because she was at imminent risk of being sold away. Financial difficulties of slave owners frequently precipitated sale of slaves and other property and Tubman learned that she and and her brothers Ben and Henry were to be sold. The family had been broken before; three of Tubman’s older sisters, Mariah Ritty, Linah, and Soph, were sold to the Deep South and lost forever to the family and to history.

Determining their own fate, Tubman and her brothers escaped, but turned back when her brothers, one of them likely a brand-new father, had second thoughts. A short time later, Tubman escaped alone and made her way through Maryland, Delaware and across the line into Pennsylvania and freedom. Tubman’s biographer, Sarah Bradford, quoted Tubman recalling, “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.”

If it was so dangerous, and she was free in the north, why did Harriet Tubman return to Maryland?
Freedom was bittersweet for Harriet Tubman. Despite the separations imposed by slavery, Tubman came from a close family in a tight community and she missed them. She believed they should be free, too. She said, “I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland, because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”

Despite additional dangers resulting from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required reporting and arrest of anyone suspected of being a runaway slave, eliminated protections for suspected runaways, and provided economic incentives to kidnap people of African descent, over and over, Tubman risked her life and ventured back to the community where she was born to rescue family, friends, and others. She was proud of her accomplishments and in 1896 said to a women’s suffrage convention, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

What made Harriet Tubman brave enough to escape and then to go back to Maryland for others?
Probably a combination of things. Although they were often physically separated, Tubman had loving parents and a caring family. She came from a strong community with regular connections to other places through the travelers and workers who passed through on its roads and waterways. Her father and others taught her skills about the natural world and she developed savvy that helped her navigate across landscapes and through life. But most of all, Tubman had a lifelong, fierce, and unwavering faith in God. Abolitionist Thomas Garrett said of her, "I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.”

When did Tubman rescue her parents from Maryland? If they were living as free people why were they rescued?
Tubman rescued her elderly parents in summer 1857 when her father, Ben Ross, was warned that he would be arrested for suspicion of sheltering the Dover Eight--a group of eight freedom seekers from her home county in Maryland, including Tubman relatives--who were betrayed enroute in Dover, Delaware for a $3,000 reward. The Eight managed to escape from Dover and successfully eluded capture. Ross had been manumitted (freed) by this owner’s will in 1840 and he had purchased his wife, Harriet “Rit” Green’s freedom in 1855, but freedom was always tenuous and threat of imprisonment made them leave Maryland.

How many people did Tubman help escape to freedom?
It’s hard to know exactly, but over about a decade, in about thirteen separate trips, and at great risk to herself, Tubman led about 70 people to freedom, many of them family members and friends. In addition, she provided instructions to 50 - 60 others to help them escape. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called her “Moses” for her work leading people from slavery.

Who were the people Tubman assisted to freedom?
Tubman returned Maryland’s Eastern Shore to rescue members of her family; her brothers, Henry, Ben, and Robert, Moses, their wives, and several of her nieces and nephews and their children. Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, was manumitted in older age (which was set to be at age 45, but because it was ignored by owners, he was not manumitted until about age 55 in 1840). Ross purchased his wife, Rit’s, freedom in 1855. Tubman rescued them from Maryland and brought them north to live with her.

Tubman’s husband, John Tubman, a free African man, had married again after Tubman left Maryland and declined to go north when she came to get him. The decision to self-emancipate was a difficult one with complicated considerations about family ties, children, how to make a living, and how to navigate the unknown. All told, Tubman is believed to have assisted about 70 people; the names of almost 40 people are known.

What does it mean to be a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad?
The movement for self-emancipation from slavery borrowed terminology from the railroad, a new technology of the time. A“conductor” acted as a physical guide on the journey to freedom. “Passengers”were the freedom seekers who sought to escape. “Stations” were a network of safe locations where freedom seekers stopped along their journey.

Did Harriet Tubman ever live anywhere else?
Yes, Tubman first settled for a time in Philadelphia. Later, when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it dangerous for people of African descent--both free and formerly enslaved--many sought the safety of Canada. Tubman brought her elderly parents to live in St. Catharines, Ontario, a region of abolitionist activity and lived in the area for about a decade. She also worked for a while with “contraband”--the formerly enslaved people who fled to the protection of the Union Army at Fort Monroe in Virginia.

How was Harriet Tubman involved in women’s rights and women’s suffrage?
Following the Civil War, Harriet Tubman remained in close contact with the abolitionists she came to know during her Underground Railroad activities. Many of these abolitionists were also involved in the women's suffrage movement including Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia, and her sister Martha Coffin Wright in Auburn. These connections were likely Tubman's introduction and a catalyst to attend political meetings about women’s suffrage and civil rights as early as the 1850's. Tubman eventually became a close friend of Susan B. Anthony and, with her, attended and spoke at meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in towns from New York to Boston.

What was Tubman’s role in the National Association of Colored Women?
In 1896, in a period of increased violence toward African Americans, Tubman spoke at the first convention of the newly organized National Association of Colored Women. The group was organized to address threats facing them such as disenfranchisement, segregation, and lynching; issues which aligned with Tubman's values.Today, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs is headquartered in Washington, DC. The Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs replaced Tubman's headstone in Fort Hill Cemetery in 1937.

 

Underground Railroad

What Was the Underground Railroad?
The Underground Railroad refers to the movement of self-emancipation of enslaved people of African descent to escape bondage and gain freedom, and the network of people and places who aided their escapes. While self-emancipation, escape, and resistance have existed everywhere that there has been human slavery, the Underground Railroad generally refers to a period in the early to mid-19th century United States--particularly after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act--with organized methods and people who actively assisted escapes. While most freedom seekers self-emancipated without assistance, organized activity to assist escapes increased every decade that slavery was legal in the United States.

If it wasn’t a physical railroad with trains, why was it called the Underground Railroad?
The movement for self-emancipation from slavery borrowed terminology from the railroad, which was the new and innovative transportation technology of the time. Railroad terms were used to describe various roles in the network.

Where can I learn more about the Underground Railroad? About the Underground Railroad in New York?
The National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program has information about sites and stories of the Underground Railroad. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/index.htm

New York State played a key role in the Underground Railroad. It was a safe haven and destination for freedom seekers, a gateway to Canada, an area of strong progressive and anti-slavery movements, and had a large and active free African population. Today, New York Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation offer information and itineraries to explore the Underground Railroad. http://nysparks.com/historic-preservation/heritage-trails/underground-railroad/default.aspx

What is the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom?
The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom is a National Park Service program that provides technical assistance and coordinates national preservation and education efforts with communities to help them explore stories and sites associated with the Underground Railroad. It helps communities integrate their Underground Railroad sites, organizations, and programs into the larger context of local, regional, and national stories; facilitates communication and networking between researchers, partners, and communities; and helps state organizations preserve, research, and interpret the Underground Railroad.

Last updated: January 19, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
P.O. Box 769

Auburn, NY 13021-0769

Phone:

315-224-1175

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