Fact Check

Jefferson and Reagan Were Alive During Harriet Tubman's Life

A TikTok video asked viewers to "stop saying everything was 400 years ago."

Published Jun 3, 2021

 (Rembrandt Peale, Benjamin F. Powelson, Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Rembrandt Peale, Benjamin F. Powelson, Wikimedia Commons
When Harriet Tubman was born, Thomas Jefferson was alive. When she died, Ronald Reagan was alive.

In late May 2021, a video pointed out a historical fact that caught the interest of more than 100,000 TikTok users who viewed it. The clip said that Harriet Tubman was alive at the time of Thomas Jefferson's death and Ronald Reagan's birth.

Tubman's Birth and Death

TikTok user @doorbender said: "When Harriet Tubman was born, Thomas Jefferson was alive. When Harriet Tubman died, Ronald Reagan was alive. Stop saying everything was 400 years ago. It wasn't."

It's true that Tubman was alive during the same times that Jefferson died and Reagan was born.

Tubman was born in the early 1820s. However, an exact date did not appear to be nailed down by historians.

Jefferson, the third president of the United States, died on July 4, 1826. Reagan, the 40th president, was born on Feb. 6, 1911. Tubman died on March 10, 1913.

John Adams

Even John Adams, the second president, died following Tubman's birth. In fact, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day only hours apart:

On July 4, 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the last surviving members of the original American revolutionaries who had stood up to the British empire and forged a new political system in the former colonies. However, while they both believed in democracy and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their opinions on how to achieve these ideals diverged over time.

Tubman's Life

Tubman was perhaps the most famous abolitionist in history who freed slaves through the use of the Underground Railroad. History.com writes:

Harriet Tubman was an escaped enslaved woman who became a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, leading enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War, all while carrying a bounty on her head.

But she was also a nurse, a Union spy, and a women’s suffrage supporter.

Tubman is one of the most recognized icons in American history and her legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background.

On the subject of slavery, according to Monticello.org, Jefferson owned "over six hundred" slaves during his life. There was also the story of Sally Hemings.

'400 Years Ago'

The TikTok user, @doorbender, ended the video by saying: "Stop saying everything was 400 years ago. It wasn't."

The point of the video appeared to be an opinion that present-day hardships experienced by people of color could potentially be connected to America's history of slavery.

Photographs of slaves exist from before slavery was abolished. They were shot on glass plates and, despite being more than 150 years old, still retain a high-quality look that can even somewhat rival digital photography and make history feel closer than it may seem.

Harriet Tubman was alive when Thomas Jefferson died and when Ronald Reagan was born.
This 1863 photograph shows a group of African American women holding babies outside of their living quarters, possibly on Thomas J. Fripp plantation on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina. (Courtesy: Hubbard & Mix/Library of Congress)

In sum, it's true that Tubman was alive for part of Jefferson's and Reagan's lives.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.