Story at a glance

  • Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and activist known for her work on the Underground Railroad.
  • Tubman has roots in Maryland, where she was born a slave.
  • The state announced the discovery of Tubman’s father's home, where she likely spent time as a child.

How did the abolitionist who led so many enslaved people through the Underground Railroad carve a path to freedom? After discovering the site of Harriet Tubman’s paternal home in Peter’s Neck, Md., historians are starting to get a better idea. 

“The importance of discovering Ben Ross’ cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman. She would’ve spent time here as a child, but also she would’ve come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him,” said SHA Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky, who led the excavation. “This was the opportunity she had to learn about how to navigate and survive in the wetlands and the woods. We believe this experience was able to benefit her when she began to move people to freedom.”


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While the Underground Railroad stretched all the way to Canada, many enslaved people fleeing the South settled in Maryland, which had one of the largest free Black populations in the country. Tubman's herself lived in New York, where her home is now part of Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, but she was born into slavery in Maryland, where the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland was established by President Obama in 2013.

Her father, Ross, was freed five years after the death of slave owner Anthony Thompson, as instructed in his will, and given a piece of land on his property. More than a century later, that land was acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 


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“Discovering the location of patriarch Ben Ross Sr.’s home and artifacts he used has humanized a man responsible for giving us a woman of epic proportions, Harriet Ross Tubman,” said Tina Wyatt, Harriet Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece, in a release. “This brings enlightenment, revealing how he lived his daily life making it a real-life connection to and for me, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter.”

Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford announced the discovery of several such artifacts, including nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and a button, as evidence of Ross' cabin. 

“This discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation,” said Rutherford in a release. “It is important that we continue to uncover parts of our history that we can learn from, especially when they can be lost to time, and other forces."


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Published on Apr 20, 2021