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Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery , Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved people , family and friends , using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry . During the Civil War , she served as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army . In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women 's suffrage . Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland , Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child . Early in life , she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave and hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life . She was a devout Christian and experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family .