Tag Archives: Harriet Tubman

Wednesday Wisdom – Harriet Tubman

We’re commemorating today’s historic announcement that Harriet Tubman is replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with this week’s Wednesday Wisdom.

Original image by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

Original image by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

The original version of this image is from a photo essay exploring the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway by the Chesapeake Bay Program. Check it out at http://bit.ly/1VCtkLY

Photo Essay: Exploring the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway

avatar_69Our loyal readers have to remember Jenna Valente- the intern that fell in love with Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge a couple of summers ago. Where is she now? Working for the Chesapeake Bay Program in Annapolis, Maryland as a member of their communications department and she loves it! We recently came across an outstanding photo essay that Jenna wrote about Harriet Tubman and the rich history of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. We just had to share. 

The tale of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is revered as one of the most influential moments in the emancipation of slaves in the United States. As the birthplace of Tubman, the Eastern Shore of Maryland holds a rich history in its expansive farm fields, quaint settlements and wetlands that nestle into the crooks and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay. Many individuals, municipalities and organizations have learned the stories of those that traversed the trail, risking their lives for freedom, and have collaborated to permanently preserve important landmarks along the Underground Railroad.

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway spans 125 miles through Caroline and Dorchester Counties in Maryland. Along it, visitors can explore the secret network of trails and buildings of the Underground Railroad, a path forged by freedom-seeking slaves and abolitionists in the 19th century. It does not take long for those on the trail to learn the trials, tribulations and successes that occurred along the way – all because a few people decided to band together to overcome adversity and do extraordinary things.

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Polaris, also known as the North Star, appears stationary above the horizon of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Tubman—who grew up near the refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland—and other escaped slaves fleeing north to Canada would use Polaris as one of their guiding lights to freedom.

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Luther H. Cornish, 85, stands near New Revived Church in Smithville, Maryland on February 9, 2015. “There’s a lot of history around here,” said Cornish, who has lived across from the road from the church for almost 50 years. New Revived Church, originally known as Jefferson Methodist Episcopal Church, is one of four traditionally black churches founded after the Civil War and is part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. Cornish sings on an audio guide about the Byway.

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In 1884, Araminta Harriet Ross married John Tubman, a free black man. His decision to marry a slave brought a set of complex challenges to the table: one being, by law, any children Harriet had would belong to her master. Although many slaves had no material possessions, most did possess a strong sense of faith that one day all would be set right and the deep love and support of family. Several gravestones – like the one pictured above – that lie in the Malone’s Church cemetery in Madison, Maryland, are marked with the surname Tubman and perhaps are relatives of John Tubman—relatives that may have been pivotal in helping Harriet along her way.

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The crossroads outside of the Bucktown General Store once served as the center of Bucktown, Maryland, consisting of two stores, a blacksmithing shop and the shopkeeper’s home. It was here in 1835 that a thirteen-year-old Harriet Tubman was struck in the head by a two-pound iron weight thrown at another slave by his overseer, breaking her skull. She took two days rest before returning to the fields, but Harriet’s life was changed from that moment on. She suffered headaches, seizures and even visions of burning fire and flashes of lightning, and she claimed to hear whispers and people screaming. “I heard God speaking to me, saw his angels and I saw my dreams. There were times I knew things ‘fo they were gonna happen. I could see trouble coming and I could go the other way,” said Tubman.

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Scott’s Chapel stands in Bucktown, Maryland. Harriet Tubman’s master, Edward Brodess, worshipped at Scott’s Chapel, and Tubman may have done so as well with her family.

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Parson’s Creek passes in a perfectly straight line under Route 16, an odd sight among the winding wetlands that weave through the area. The creek was once known as Joseph Stewart’s Canal and was dug by free and enslaved blacks over a period of 20 years. The canal leads from the Bay to the once dense interior forest. At that time, landowners like Joseph Stewart would fell their timber and float it down the canal to nearby wharves.

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Construction progresses at the 17-acre Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland. During Tubman’s time, the residents of this waterfront town made their living from working on the Bay, repairing ships, repairing sails and fishing. Half of the blacks in Dorchester County were free. Many were sailors who regularly traveled to the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, thereby playing a crucial role as messengers of news about political revolutions and carriers of information from family and friends to those who were enslaved.

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“Where I come from, it would make your flesh creep and your hair stand on end to know what they do to the slaves,” said Ben Ross, Tubman’s brother, referring to the plantation from which he and his fiancée Jane Kane escaped on Christmas Eve 1854. The plot of land where the plantation used to sit can be seen by gazing across Button’s Creek, on part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

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A metal waterwheel rests at Linchester Mill in Preston, Maryland—a site that once boasted a thriving center of commerce. There has been a mill at this location for well over 300 years; it was here that free blacks worked alongside slaves and were able to pass along important messages and information. Both Quakers and free blacks helped runaway slaves navigate their way to safety in the area, using the mill as a crossing place over the creek. A metal “Fitz” waterwheel replaced an earlier wooden waterwheel in 1917.

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Phragmites grow at Choptank Landing, a site that was once a thriving town, fitted with a steamboat landing and busy port frequented by those in the nearby town of Preston, Maryland. Travel by land was difficult and muddy, making the river the easier route and busy like a highway. This is the likely site of Harriet Tubman’s first escape. Tubman’s parents worked on a plantation nearby in Poplar Neck and were also active in the Underground Railroad.

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Before the Civil War, a slave market was located in Denton, Maryland. The standing courthouse was built after the Civil War, but the previous courthouse stood on the same spot in the center of town, where public slave auctions were held on the steps of the Caroline County Courthouse.

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Canada geese soar through the air near Preston, Maryland. “The wild geese come from Canada, where all are free,” is a saying repeated by Moses Viney, who escaped slavery after growing up in nearby Easton, Maryland. Viney had long prepared for his escape and was kind to his owner’s hounds for months before he ran, and when they found him, he patted them, gave them a hug and sent them back to the plantation. He eventually made his way to Schenectady, New York, where he worked as the chauffeur and confidant for the president of Union College.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page. This photo essay originally appeared on The Chesapeake Bay Program’s website. Images by Will Parson Captions by Jenna Valente

Working with partners to honor Harriet Tubman

Suzanne Baird, the refuge manager at Blackwater, and Cherie Butler, the acting superintendent of the new national monument, tell us about the designation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge that has been years in the making.

Harriet Tubman

The National Park Service found the landscape in Dorchester County to be nationally significant because of the deep association with Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman is revered as a national and international hero, a freedom seeker and leader of the Underground Railroad.  Although Tubman is synonymous with the Underground Railroad in the minds of many, that alone is only a partial description of her many contributions.  In the Civil War, she was a scout and a spy in support of Union forces, and served as a nurse on battlefields and at Fort Monroe, Virginia.  Tubman led Colonel James Montgomery on a successful raid from Port Royal, South Carolina up the Combahee River in June 1863 and employed networks of informants to help Union forces.  Following the war and continuing into her old age, she advocated and raised funds for women’s rights and founded one of the first homes for the elderly near her home in Auburn, New York. Although Harriet Tubman is known widely, no federal commemorative site had been established in her honor, despite the magnitude of her contributions.

Today, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge provides some of the best opportunities for people to be submersed in a landscape that would be representative of what Tubman would have experienced, and has helped to conserve the landscape from the early and mid-19th century. Many of the endeavors that Tubman was involved in as a slave are still used as management techniques on the refuge, including farming, timber management and muskrat harvesting.

The national monument will work to preserve and protect the objects of historic and scientific interests associated with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Dorchester County, Maryland.

This is a  great opportunity to work together to highlight an important part of the local history of the Underground Railroad and the American icon who was raised here. We will be able to work jointly focusing on conservation of the landscape and telling the story and engaging the visiting public in this historic landscape. The refuge will continue to conserve the diverse refuge habitats for migratory birds as well as the cultural history of the area.

Suzanne Baird (far right) with former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Service's Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber.  "The national monument announcement event in March was an amazing experience that brought together so many of the partners, Tubman-Ross family members and community leaders to celebrate and give the long awaited national recognition to this iconic American figure that played such important role in the formation of our history.  Many of these players have been working for decades to see this designation and recognition realized.  It was a very emotional and exciting day and I feel privileged to have been a part of the celebration.”

Suzanne Baird (far right) with former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Service’s Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber.
“The national monument announcement event in March was an amazing experience that brought together so many of the partners, Tubman-Ross family members and community leaders to celebrate and give the long awaited national recognition to this iconic American figure that played such important role in the formation of our history. Many of these players have been working for decades to see this designation and recognition realized. It was a very emotional and exciting day and I feel privileged to have been a part of the celebration.”
Credit: Tylar Greene/USFWS

The combined effort to preserve Tubman’s legacy has provided real life examples of how the interconnections among groups play an important role in telling America’s stories.  Characterized by sustainability, connections, and commitment, the results are greater than the sum of the parts. These results cannot be achieved while working alone.  Similar to the Underground Railroad, we’re working together for the common good. Harriet Tubman’s life symbolizes that story and thanks to our partnerships, her story will live on.

“I was proud to be a part of honoring a critical chapter in America’s story for the cause of freedom. This day was several years in the making for many. I was pleased that the NPS was able to share this event with the various partners and stakeholders who were ultimately responsible for making it happen. They were relentless “in fanning the flame” in their quest for a national commemoration in her honor.  And I was there to witness it all. It felt great!!”

“I was proud to be a part of honoring a critical chapter in America’s story for the cause of freedom. This day was several years in the making for many. I was pleased that the NPS was able to share this event with the various partners and stakeholders who were ultimately responsible for making it happen. They were relentless “in fanning the flame” in their quest for a national commemoration in her honor. And I was there to witness it all. It felt great!!”
Credit: Michael Liang/ National Park Service

What can visitors look forward to at the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument?

The refuge and the national monument will continue to partner with the State of Maryland, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the Harriet Tubman Organization for programming possibilities.

Suzanne: The refuge is currently updating interpretive exhibits in the visitor center to incorporate Harriet Tubman into our stories.

Cherie: It is definitely a park site in progress and in the coming years, services will be added in cooperation with Maryland’s planned Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. This national monument exemplifies a new model for park units. There is cooperative management from the beginning, and services rely on partners. We also communicate with our “cyber visitors” through social media.  It’s our way of keeping people engaged especially during our early stages of planning.