Harriet Tubman Is Famous for Being an Abolitionist and Political Activist, but She Was Also a Naturalist

Harriet Tubman: Both an Abolitionist and a Naturalist

Harriet Tubman successfully navigated her own escape from slavery, and then led dozens of others on a path to freedom, thanks in no small part to her familiarity with the natural landscape. The Underground Railroad conductor followed the North Star by night and hid in potato holes and dense swamps by day. And she had a trained ear for mimicking animal calls.

“She used the hoot of the barred owl as a signal that she’d arrived,” says Angela Crenshaw, a park ranger who worked for several years at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. “If she had people hiding in the woods, the call would let them know that it’s safe to come out of hiding. It was kind of ingenious, because everyone was used to hearing owls. It wasn’t out of sorts—it wouldn’t raise any suspicion.”


As scholars continue to unearth information about her life, she’s increasingly being recognized and celebrated as a skilled naturalist.


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