Harriet Tubman was born into American slavery, a world that had been created by social, cultural, legal, and psychological effects for nearly 200 years. The revolutionary war opened new opportunities for African Americans, with growing support by the Quakers and others who were against slavery. Although slavery was becoming extinct in the North, the elite of the south were against this new movement, and they feared this new ideology, as their economy depended on the supply and demand of cotton. The south continued to defend their proslavery views, and Harriet Tubman could not escape the harsh circumstances of African American slaves during this period. At the time, no one could have ever imagined Harriet Tubman would become the woman she is known to be today, but the extreme circumstances that she had to overcome led to a legacy that will be remembered forever.
Harriet Tubman lived most of her younger years with her family on a plantation owned by the Brodess family near the town of Bucktown, located near Dorchester County, Maryland. The relationships between Harriet and her family is not well known because she was split apart from her family when she was only 5 years old. Her mother worked as a cook for the Brodess family, and her father, Benjamin Ross, was owned by Anthony Thompson. Her mother was the property of Matty Pattinson who married Joseph Brodess in 1800, but later died in 1803. It was then that Marry Pattinson married a widower named Anthony Thompson. It was at this time that the Brodess and Thompson family were united by marriage, and the mother of Harriett Tubman, Harriet Green, and her father, Benjamin Ross started a family (Jean McMahon, p. 12).
Harriet Tubman was exposed to the injustices of the world at a very young age. Her mother was held as a slave illegally, and she saw her sisters being taken away in a chain-gang—a group of prisoners chained together to work physical labor as punishment (Jean McMahon, p. 14). Harriet Tubman was born into slavery at a very early age, and her first job required her to take care of a new born. If the baby cried at night, she would be whipped by her master. She was hired house to house since she was 5 years old and was even sent home because she was too mal-nourished to work. When she was 7 years old, she was hired to collect muskrats from traps. The job required her to be constantly wet from the waste down and she contracted measles. Still having to work, she eventually collapsed from being too sick. Her virtuous character and fearless spirit was apparent even in her adolescent years, when her master ordered her to punish another slave who had went to store without permission. She refused, and the slave tried to run away when the master picked up an iron weight and threw it. Tubman was struck, and the iron almost crushed her skull. She was in a coma for several days and developed a disorder that caused seizures for the rest of her life.