Cabinet card of Harriet Tubman. Horatio Seymour Squyer (1848-1905): Auburn, New York, 1892. Embossed imprint on recto. Inscription on verso, “Harriet Tubman / Slavery Heroine.”
Harriet Tubman (ca 1822-1913) was born into slavery as Araminta Ross on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. She escaped slavery in 1849, fleeing to Philadelphia and becoming a leading abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad. She went on to lead at least thirteen expeditions to rescue over seventy enslaved people, notably having “never lost a passenger,” earning her many nicknames, among them “Moses,” “Old Chariot,” and “The General.” Tubman saw the victory of the Union during the Civil War as essential for the abolition of slavery. She worked tirelessly as a nurse, scout, spy, and led an assault on plantations in the Combahee River Raid rescuing more than 750 slaves in the process.
After the war, she chose to live outside of the public spotlight in upstate New York. Tubman had purchased property from abolitionist senator William H. Seward in 1859 and retired there after Appomattox and remained there for the rest of her life. It also seems that she was not fond of being photographed. In spite of her fame, few known studio portraits of her to exist. This image is especially notable: it is the largest and most detailed depiction of her intense gaze. It is nearly twice the size of the cartes de visite. The other known cabinet card is a full-length portrait, this one, focusing on Tubman’s face, gives a rare look at her features. The scar on her forehead, received when a raging slave owner threw a heavy metal weight, is visible on her brow. Stoic and robust, this portrait shows Harriet, the veteran general, the American hero. The only other known copy of this photograph is housed in the collections of Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, New York - Tubman’s hometown and where the photograph was originally taken in the studio of Horatio Seymour Squyer.
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