American Portraits

Harriet Tubman: Follow the North Star to Freedom

In this lesson, students will learn how Harriet Tubman acted responsibly by helping many people escape slavery. They will also determine ways that they can help others by being responsible.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Liberty image


Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


Harriet Tubman believed you either “lived free or died a slave.” She was continuously compelled to help others, whether they were family, friends, or strangers. Tubman was a champion in the abolitionist movement, and even those who only knew of her through stories of her heroism trusted her. She felt a responsibility to other slaves and to the people that helped her safely remove slaves from the South….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you be responsible by helping others?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn how Harriet Tubman acted responsibly by helping many people escape slavery. They will also determine ways that they can help others by being responsible.


  • Students will analyze Harriet Tubman’s responsible actions.
  • Students will understand ways that they can be responsible and help others.
  • Students will apply their knowledge to determine ways that they can be responsible.


Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross around 1820 to enslaved parents in Dorchester County, Maryland. She was six years old when her owner sent her to a neighbor’s house, where she became a house slave and nursemaid. Harriet would eventually serve in the fields of the plantations. In her twenties, she married a free black man named John Tubman and changed her name from Araminta to Harriet to honor her mother.

In 1849, after twenty-four years in the harsh conditions of slavery, Harriet Tubman left her husband and family behind and escaped by running away to the North on the Underground Railroad. Upon reaching freedom, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad to help others escape slavery. She traveled back to the South at least 19 times to lead her family and hundreds of other slaves to freedom. “General” Tubman remained active during the Civil War, serving as a Union scout, spy, nurse, and guide.


  • Nursemaid
  • Underground Railroad
  • Laborious
  • Compelled
  • Champion
  • Abolitionist
  • Heroism
  • Seizures
  • Horrid
  • Quaker
  • Bloodhound
  • Determination
  • Enacted
  • Fugitive Slave Act
  • Monetary
  • Steadfast
  • Rerouted

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Harriet Tubman? What was her role on the Underground Railroad?
  • What was Harriet’s purpose?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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