After receiving about $200 for her three years of Civil War service, Harriet Tubman spent the next three decades seeking the additional compensation she deserved. During the late 1890s, she submitted this affidavit to Congress explaining her request for payment.
In the affidavit, Tubman requested a single payment of $1,800 as the proper compensation for her military service. “My claim against the U.S.,” she wrote, “is for three years services as nurse and cook in hospitals, and as commander of several men (eight or nine) as scouts during the late war of the Rebellion.” Tubman’s initial pay greatly undervalued her wartime service, an experience common for African-American soldiers and women nurses. White soldiers received $13 a month. Until they were granted equal pay in 1864, African-American soldiers received $10 a month, less a $3 uniform fee. Some nurses volunteered, but those who worked under the direction of Superintendent of Army Nurses Dorothea Dix received 40 cents a day (roughly $11 per month); cooks and laundresses—jobs often filled by Black women—earned between $6 and $10 a month.
Sereno Payne, Tubman’s New York Congressman and Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, advocated on Tubman’s behalf and shared her affidavit with the chairman of the Committee on Invalid Pensions. Rather than grant Tubman her own pension for her many services, in 1899 President William McKinley approved an increase to her widow’s pension from $8 to $20 a month.