Harriet Tubman: Later Years

Later Years of Activism and Reform

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman. Seidman Photo Service/Kean Collection/Getty Images

Previous: 3: Civil War Service: Nurse, Scout, Spy

Freedman Schools

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Harriet Tubman worked to establish schools for freedmen in South Carolina. She herself never learned to read and write, but she appreciated the value of education for the future of freedom and so supported efforts to educate the former slaves.

New York

Tubman soon returned to her home in Auburn, New York, which served as her base for the rest of her life.

She financially supported her parents, who died in 1871 and 1880.  Her brothers and their families moved to Auburn.

Her husband, John Tubman, who had remarried soon after she left slavery, died in 1867 in a fight with a white man.  In 1869 she married again. Her second husband, Nelson Davis, had been enslaved in North Carolina and then served as a Union Army soldier. He was more than twenty years younger than Tubman. Davis was often ill, probably with tuberculosis, and was not often able to work.

Tubman welcomed several young children into her home and raised them as if they were her own. she and her husband adopted a girl, Gertie. She also provided shelter and support for a number of aged, impoverished, former slaves.  She financed her support of others through donations and taking on loans.

Publishing and Speaking

To finance her own living and her support of others, she worked with Sarah Hopkins Bradford to publish Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman.

The publication was initially financed by abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips and Gerrit Smith, the latter a supporter of John Brown and first cousin of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Tubman toured to speak about her experiences as "Moses." Queen Victoria invited her to England for the Queen's birthday, and sent Tubman a silver medal.

In 1886, Mrs. Bradford wrote, with Tubman's help, a second book, Harriet the Moses of Her People, a full-scale biography of Tubman, to further provide for Tubman's support. In the 1890s, having lost her battle to get a military pension on her own, Tubman was able to collect a pension as the widow of US veteran Nelson Davis.

Tubman also worked with her friend Susan B. Anthony on woman suffrage. She went to several women's rights conventions and spoke for the women's movement, advocating for the rights of women of color.

In 1896, in a touching link to the next generation of African American women activists, Tubman spoke at the first meeting of the National Association of Colored Women.

Compensation for Her Civil War Services

Although Harriet Tubman was well known, and her work in the Civil War also known, she had no official documents to prove that she had served in the war.  She worked for 30 years with the help of many friends and contacts to appeal the rejection of her application for compensation.  Newspapers ran stories about the effort.  When Nelson Davis, her second husband, died in 1888, Tubman received a Civil War pension of $8 per month, as the widow of a veteran.  She did not receive compensation for her own service.


In 1873, her brother was offered a trunk of gold worth $5000, supposedly buried by slaveholders during the war, in exchange for $2000 in paper currency.  Harriet Tubman found the story convincing, and borrowed the $2000 from a friend, promising to pay back $2000 from the gold.  When the money was to be exchanged for the trunk of gold, the men were able to get Harriet Tubman alone, apart from her brother and her husband, and physically assault her, taking the money, and of course not providing any gold in return.  The men who conned her were never apprehended.

Home for Indigent African Americans

Thinking of the future and continuing her support for aged and poor African Americans, Tubman established a home on 25 acres of land next to where she was living. She raised money, with the AME Church providing much of the funds, and a local bank assisting.

 She incorporated the home in 1903 and opened in 1908, initially called the John Brown Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People, and later named for her instead of Brown.

She donated the home to the AME Zion Church with the proviso that it would be kept as a home for the elderly.  The home, to which she moved in 1911 after she was hospitalized, continued for several years after her death on March 10, 1913 of pneumonia. She was buried with full military honors.


To honor her memory, a World War II Liberty ship was named for Harriet Tubman. In 1978 she was featured on a commemorative stamp in the U.S. Her home has been named a national historic landmark. And in 2000, New York Congressman Edolphus Towns introduced a bill to grant Tubman the veteran status she was denied in her lifetime.

The four phases of Harriet Tubman's life -- her life as a slave, as an abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, as a Civil War soldier, nurse, spy and scout, and as a social reformer and charitable citizen -- are all important aspects of this woman's long life of dedication to service. All these phases deserve attention and further study.

Harriet Tubman Biography: From Slavery to Freedom

  1. Harriet Tubman's Life in Slavery
  2. Harriet Tubman as Underground Railroad Conductor, Abolitionist, Women's Rights Advocate
  3. Harriet Tubman's Civil War Service: Nurse, Scout, Spy
  4. Harriet Tubman's Later Years of Activism and Reform

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    Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Harriet Tubman: Later Years." ThoughtCo, Apr. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/harriet-tubman-later-years-3529271. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, April 8). Harriet Tubman: Later Years. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/harriet-tubman-later-years-3529271 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Harriet Tubman: Later Years." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/harriet-tubman-later-years-3529271 (accessed January 21, 2018).