Many are familiar with Harriet Tubman’s work in the Underground Railroad, ferrying the enslaved to freedom. Some are also familiar with her Civil War work, as a cook, nurse, and spy for the Union. She established a wash house in Beaufort, South Carolina, creating jobs for freedwomen in washing and sewing.
Fewer people are familiar with her connection to Fort Monroe. In early 1865, Harriet Tubman traveled to New York to visit her parents. On her way back to Beaufort, she was waylaid by members of the Sanitary Commission in Philadelphia. They requested that she provide aid to the desperate “Hospitals of the James River” at Fortress Monroe and Hampton. She spent approximately three months conducting an inspection, and in July, she reported what she thought to be terrible abuses occurring at one or more of these hospitals to staff in Washington, D.C.
On July 22, 1865, she was furnished with government transportation to Fortress Monroe with orders from the Surgeon General instructing the Medical Director of the Department of Virginia to appoint her “nurse or matron at the colored hospital Fort Monroe, Va.” There is no evidence to indicate that she ever received this appointment officially, and most likely did not remain at the Contraband Hospital after July 1865.
Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
Fort Monroe Authority. “Harriet Tubman.” Illuminating Shadows, May 4, 2023. [access date]. [URL].