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Archaeological homesite discovery linked to abolitionist Harriet Tubman

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    CHURCH CREEK, Maryland (WJZ) — A historic homesite discovered in Maryland has been linked to abolitionist and famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford made the announcement Tuesday, joining state and federal partners at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.

A historic homesite discovered in Maryland has been linked to abolitionist and famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. Credit: MDOT

The archaeological homesite was the former home of Tubman’s father, Ben Ross. It was discovered on a property acquired by U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2020 as an addition to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.

“This discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation,” said Rutherford. “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. I hope that this latest success story can inspire similar efforts and help strengthen our partnerships in the future.”

USFWS purchased the 2,600-acre Peter’s Neck property for $6 million with Land and Water Conservation Funds and revenue from the Federal Duck Stamps program. It was purchased to help with the impact of sea-level rise and provide future marsh migration.

Ten acres was bequeathed to Ross by Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. Then in Thompson’s will, Be Ross was to be freed five years after Thompson’s death in 1836. He was freed from slavery and received the land in the early 1840s.

“When we protect vulnerable habitats, we help preserve the stories of those who came before us, like Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross,” said USFWS Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System Cynthia Martinez. “Acquiring Peter’s Neck last year was a critical addition to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, as the area is predicted to naturally convert to marsh by 2100 because of sea-level rise. We look forward to working with our partners to create more opportunities to connect people to nature and strengthen the bond between the land and community.”

A historic homesite discovered in Maryland has been linked to abolitionist and famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. Credit: MDOT

A team, led by MDOT SHA Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky, searched for evidence linked to Ross in November. Wehn they returned in March, they found numerous artifacts dating back to the 1800s — including nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and even a button.

“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 Dr. Schablitsky. “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.”

Ross’ great-great-great-grandson Douglas Mitchell called the discovery “inestimable.”

“Dr. Schablitsky’s findings hold the promise of both deepening and broadening our understanding of the remarkable life not only of the patriarch and his beloved wife, but also, of course, that of his legendary daughter and heroine, Harriet Tubman,” Mitchell added. “On this joyous occasion, more than 160 years after Ben Ross departed his humble cabin never to return, all freedom-and-justice-loving Americans are Ross kin, celebrating this immensely important archaeological discovery and the priceless revelations it is destined to offer.”

CAMBRIDGE, MD – JUNE 27: The mural, Take My Hand, painted by artist Michael Rosato, graces the The Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center in downtown and is a must see on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which runs for 125 miles and 45 stops through Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Delaware. (Photo by Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Tubman was born Araminta Ross in March 1822 on the Thompson Farm near Cambridge. She and her mother were enslaved by the Brodess family and moved away from the farm when she was a toddler. Ross felled and sold timber, which was taken by free Black mariners to Baltimore’s shipyards to be used to build ships.

“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 and Ben Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter. “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. The world benefits also from the study of these artifacts concerning objects used by the enslaved; are they common to this plantation, to his position, or to this region? It gives us so much more to explore, explain and exhibit.”

Ross’ home will now be added to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

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