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For decades, there have been few photographic images of Harriet Tubman depicting how the abolitionist and Civil War spy looked in her lifetime.

Now there's one more.

New York City auction house Swann Galleries has announced that it will auction a newly discovered photo of Tubman March 30. The photo shows her seated, wearing a black blouse with an overlapping white collar, and a white patterned skirt.

Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, author of the biography "Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero," estimated that Tubman was between 43 and 46 years old when the photo was taken, placing it shortly after the end of the Civil War. At the time, Tubman was living in Auburn, where she had purchased land in 1859 from then-Sen. William H. Seward — land that will soon become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

Larson said that in her 20 years of researching Tubman, she's been sent dozens of photos of black women by people claiming to have discovered a new image of the soon-to-be face of the $20 bill. But not one has actually depicted Tubman, Larson said.

On the other hand, she continued, she knew it was Tubman in Swann Galleries' photo as soon as she saw it.

"There's no doubt in my mind about the provenance of the photo and that it is Tubman," she said. "I had never run across it."

The photo comes from an album owned by Tubman's friend and fellow abolitionist Emily Howland, of Sherwood, Larson said. The same album also contained the widely known picture of Tubman standing with her hands on a rollback chair in the early to mid-1870s.

Larson said the new photo communicates parts of Tubman's life that previous ones have not. She's clad in simple but beautiful clothing that accentuates how Tubman was actually petite and feminine, Larson said, whereas most of the previous photos showed a weary veteran of the Underground Railroad and Civil War.

"What's remarkable about this photograph is that she's so proud and dignified and beautiful. She looks so young," Larson said. "This is the vibrant young Tubman just coming off her work during the Civil War. She's building her life with her family in Auburn."

Larson continued, "It just surprised me, and I think it's going to surprise a lot of people."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.