Harriet Tubman is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. Which is a pretty poor reflection on American history as a whole, considering she’s the most iconic figure of the Underground Railroad. But better late than never, we suppose. Tony-award winning actress Cynthia Erivo will star as Tubman in the upcoming biopic about the warrior abolitionist, while the show Underground will add in Tubman to their second season. Not to mention Harriet Tubman will begin gracing the $20 bill in 2020.
Now, just in time for Black History Month, a never-before-seen photo of Harriet Tubman has surfaced. The remarkable find shows Tubman in her mid-forties, a far cry from the most commonly know photo of the revolutionary in her later years. Specialist Wyatt Houston Day discovered the photo in a carte-de-visite album belonging to a Quaker and fellow abolitionist Emily Howland.
Howland met Tubman when the latter arrived in Cayuga County New York to establish a station for the Underground Railroad — Howland was among a number of Quaker women who maintained the station for more than thirty years. Over time, the two women became close friends.
The photograph landed in the hands of Swann Auction Galleries, who elaborate on when and how Emily Howland came into possession of the album:
In 1857 she began teaching at Myrtilla Miner’s School for Economically Stable Black Females in Washington. In 1863 she began working with the newly freed slaves in the Contraband Camp, distributing food and clothing. The camp was moved to Lee’s estate in Arlington (Camp Todd), where this album was given her by her friend, another teacher, Carrie Nichols. It is not certain which photos were in the album when Ms. Howland first received it, and whom she might have added afterward.
Considering the friendship between Tubman and Howland, it’s likely Emily added the rare photograph of Harriet herself. Taken in the late 1860s, it shows the abolitionist in the prime of her life, flush from the victory of the Civil War. The photograph is labeled “Auburn, New York” which makes sense since historians know Tubman lived in the area at the time. The entire album will be up for auction on March 30, 2017 as part of Swann Auction Galleries’ annual Printed & Manuscript African Americana auction.
Other photos include abolitionists and popular and political figures of the time, such as Charles Sumner and John Willis Menard. The collection is valued at $20,000 to $30,000.