Auburn

 

Located just 23 miles west of Syracuse, N.Y., the city of Auburn was home to one of the most significant and influential individuals of the Civil War. He was William Henry Seward. During his lifetime, he served as New York State governor, United States Senator, and as Secretary of State to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Auburn was also home to Harriet Tubman, one of the true heroes of the Civil War. Both are buried in Auburn's historic Fort Hill Cemetery.

 

William Henry Seward (1801 - 1872). Seward is probably best know for his role in negotiating the purchase of Alaska ("Seward's Folly") from the Russian government in 1867. But, long before that he was an outspoken advocate against slavery. In a famous Senate speech delivered in 1850, he said that there existed "a higher law than the Constitution" which superseded the "rights" of any slave-holder to keep another man in bondage. His speeches on the subject of slavery were said to have had a profound affect the young Mr. Lincoln. The Seward House still exists in the downtown area of Auburn and is a registered National Historic Landmark. The Sewards occupied this home for over fifty years and most of the original furnishings, and historical artifacts have been carefully preserved. The 16 rooms open to the public are filled with pictures and original furniture some of which date back to Colonial times. A visit at Christmas time, when the house is decorated in seasonal finery, is not to be missed!

Harriet Tubman (1820 - 1913). Tubman was born into slavery in Bucktown, Maryland. The exact date and location of her birth is unknown because slave owners seldom recorded such events. Born Araminta Ross, her early childhood was extremely harsh. As was the custom among slave owners, she was "loaned out" to another plantation and put to work at age five. By age twenty-five she had her owners permission to marry John Tubman, a freeman. Even though she was married, she was still required to work for her master, Edward Brodess. In 1849, alone and on foot, she ran away from the plantation in the middle of the night and followed the north star to free land in Pennsylvania. By then she was calling herself Harriet. Much later in her life others would be calling her the "Moses of her people."
By 1850 Harriet was secure enough to turn her attention to her oppressed brethren. She rescued family members from slavery by directing them to a series of "safe houses" that led through Pennsylvania (a free state) and north to Canada. In all she made some nineteen trips south to rescue hundreds through what was to become known as the "underground railroad". She became so notorious to slave-holders that a reward of $40,000 was offered for her capture. At times she also served as a spy for the Union Army, as well as scout, and even a hospital nurse. After the war, Seward invited her to settle in Auburn on property he had obtained for her. There she started a home for aged blacks which today is part of a National Historic Landmark. Her original residence and barn are currently being restored with period furnishings.

 Harriet Tubman Davis* died on March 10, 1913. Like Seward, she is buried in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery. Seward, born to wealth; and Tubman, born to slavery. Yet the two of them became lifelong friends in their common goal of freedom and justice for all. In her lifetime, Tubman listed among her friends such great abolitionists as Frederick Douglas, Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Gerrit Smith, and of course, Secretary of State William H. Seward. Her simple tombstone lies just a few yards west of Seward's.

* Tubman married Nelson Davis in 1869.

William Henry Seward died at four o'clock in the afternoon, October 10, 1872. He was 71 years old. There was a quiet funeral with burial at Fort Hill Cemetery. His family plot lies just to the base of a small hill know as Logan's Monument. On the afternoon of his death, Seward was working in his library when he became short of breath. He passed away while lying on a small couch which may still be seen in the library today. (Note: Some Civil War buffs speak of orbs which they believe are "ghost orbs" that appear in photographs taken at haunted sites. This photograph was undoctored or changed in any way. Make of it what you will.)