© Photo Courtesy of Cayuga County
Pronounced ka-yu-ga, Cayuga County is known for its historical significance. Although the region has a population of just under 80,000, significant figures in history have called Cayuga County home.
Perhaps the best-known of these historical figures is Harriet Tubman, the brave abolitionist and Civil War hero who freed many enslaved individuals after escaping slavery herself.
While many people know Harriet Tubman as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, few know the rest of her story. In Cayuga County, you can follow in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman and experience her history in a whole new way.
Friends and relatives of Tubman describe her as an “ordinary woman who did extraordinary things.” She loved nature, she had a knack for business, and she was deeply spiritual. But one thing is for sure: her heart was extraordinary.
Tubman always cared for those in need, supplying shelter, food, clothing, and medical attention.
At a young age, Tubman was hired out to work as a field hand on the plantation. She tended crops and farm animals. Her father, an expert lumberjack named Ben Ross, taught her how to navigate through forests, fields, and waterways and find food and places to hide. He taught Tubman to love and understand the natural world, and this knowledge would prove infinitely useful during Tubman’s journeys along the Underground Railroad.
A leading abolitionist, she embarked on approximately 13 dangerous journeys along the Underground Railroad to free enslaved individuals. Although the exact number is unknown, she helped hundreds of people (including her family) escape slavery along the secret network to freedom known as the Underground Railroad. While there were other conductors, none were as successful as Harriet Tubman. There were multiple houses and people around Cayuga County who sheltered her and her passengers, some of these houses still stand. At the Seward House Museum, you can see the actual room that was used to house those on their journey to freedom.
Tour the Seward House Museum to learn how William Henry Seward’s wife, Frances was the strength and inspiration for the abolition and Underground Railroad movements in the household.
After freeing herself and countless others, she settled in Auburn, NY, where she lived for over 50 years. It was here that she brought her family, owned property, married her second husband, fulfilled her philanthropic work, and was laid to rest.
Believing in the equality of all people made Tubman a strong supporter of the women’s rights movement. As a woman who fought for her own freedom and that of others, she toured New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., giving speeches on women’s suffrage. She spoke of her own experiences from slavery and the Civil War, proving that women were equal to men. Tubman was close friends with suffragist Emily Howland, whose contributions to the women’s rights movement are displayed at the Howland Stone Store Museum. For even more inspirational learning, stop by the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center, a digitally interactive space celebrating the state’s history of civil, women’s, and LGBTQ+ rights movements.
The Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes (which she started on her property) is among the earliest nursing and assisted living facilities for aging Black individuals in the country. Tubman herself became a patient of the home for the last two years of her life.
Her final resting place is at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY, where she was buried with semi-military honors in 1913. Her brave and heroic efforts for freedom have never been forgotten. In 2021, the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps inducted Harriet Tubman into their Hall of Fame. Her legacy lives on in Auburn, NY and Cayuga County… in the historic sites, in the residents, in the small businesses, and the community itself.
March 2022 marks the 200th birthday of Harriet Tubman. In celebration, Auburn, NY and the surrounding communities are honoring Tubman’s life and legacy, now through summer 2022, with special programming, activities, and events. Harriet Tubman Week will run March 10-15, 2022.
Walk in Harriet Tubman’s footsteps across the streets and the floors of the landmarks that welcomed her to live her life as a free woman.
Cayuga County was formed on March 8, 1799 and is well known for its historical significance. Millard Fillmore the 13th President of the United States, William H. Seward, Harriet Tubman and Ted Case who pioneered talking movies all called Cayuga County home.