Born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, she was the 5th of eleven children, five boys and six girls, of Ben and Harriet Greene Ross. Edward Brodess sold three of Harriet's sisters, Linah, Soph, and Mariah Ritty. When she was a young adult she took the name Harriet, possibly in honor of her mother. Around 1844, she married John Tubman, a free black man.
After the American Civil War she was successful in bringing away her parents and her four brothers;Ben, Robert, Henry, and Moses; but failed to rescue her sister Rachel, and Rachel's two children, Ben and Angerine. Rachel died in 1859 before Harriet could rescue her.