6.7 C
New York

Finding Traces of Harriet Tubman on Maryland’s Eastern Shore


Of the numerous feats Harriet Tubman completed, none awe me more as an historian than the estimated 13 trips she made to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Every time, she stole family and friends from enslavement much in the way in which Tubman first secreted herself away to freedom in 1849. Born on the Eastern Shore, Tubman grew right into a fearless conductor along the perilous routes of the Underground Railroad, guiding enslaved people on journeys that prolonged a whole lot of miles to the north, ending on the free soil of Pennsylvania, Recent York and Canada.

This yr commemorates the two hundredth anniversary of her birth and tributes to Tubman abound, including those set within the landscape of her native Dorchester County. I headed to the Eastern Shore to find out how people there remember this Black American freedom fighter, only to find that the rising waters of climate change are washing away the memories of Tubman which might be embedded within the coastal marshland she knew so well.

During each rescue, precious human cargo in tow, Tubman waded into marshes of tall grass and maneuvered through forests dense with pine and oak. Moving under cover of night, Tubman was guided by the constant stars. Angela Crenshaw, a Maryland State Park Ranger, described her as “the final word outdoors woman,” someone who made the region’s terrain her ally as she defied slave patrols and a system that held Black Americans as mere chattel.

The historian in me knows that Tubman’s time here is long gone. She escaped to free soil in Pennsylvania greater than a century and a half ago, only returning to the Eastern Shore for the rescues of enslaved people. Still, like a visit to an old family homestead, I hoped that returning to Tubman’s land might allow me to raised understand how her past can inform our present.

Until her death in 1913, Tubman committed to securing America’s best ideals — freedom, dignity, equality — within the face of its worst sins, including slavery and racism. While no precise record of Tubman’s birth survives, historians and the National Park Service say that she was born Araminta Ross, likely in March 1822. When she was not yet 30, she launched her profession as a conductor of family members, freedom seekers, along treacherous routes. Her status for heroism in difficult slavery was already well-established when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Legally still enslaved, Tubman risked capture by joining the Union’s front lines to defeat Confederate rebels and win slavery’s abolition.

Her service as a nurse, a relief employee amongst enslaved refugees, a scout and a spy was partly rewarded a long time later with a pension. Settling in upstate Auburn, N.Y., Tubman established a house for aging and indigent Black Americans, a lot of whom, like her, had little technique of support during their last years. Tubman never wholly retired and, amid early Twentieth-century Black struggles against segregation and lynching, she promoted efforts to win votes for Black and white women up until her death.

Tubman is now an icon celebrated for a way she effectively made good trouble on so many fronts. Amongst those that admit their debt to her is Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, the voting rights organizer and two-time candidate for governor. In her book “Lead from the Outside,” Abrams credits Tubman with inspiring her own efforts to boost the political consciousness of Americans. Still within the works is the 2016 plan to exchange the face of President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a portrait of Tubman. Americans could have the possibility to hold Tubman’s likeness with them as a reminder that the nation’s prosperity was made possible by ladies and men who, like Tubman, had so little and yet contributed a lot.

In March, I made a decision to make a pilgrimage to the place where Tubman’s life began. From the state capital of Annapolis, I drove across the four-mile-long, low-slung Chesapeake Bay Bridge that carries visitors from the mainland, across the open jaw of the bay, to the Eastern Shore. I then headed a brief way south on two-lane roads to Tubman’s native Dorchester County, winding past small farms, jagged waterways and modest Fundamental Streets.

No place higher remembers Tubman than her birthplace, which sits on the Delmarva Peninsula (that’s short for Delaware-Maryland-Virginia). Her life centered in Dorchester County, where slaveholders shuttled a young Tubman between work in fields, waterways, yards and houses, often separated from her family.

In Dorchester, Tubman’s story is told on the partitions of two visitor centers, each structure designed to mix into the grays and browns of the natural landscape. On the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1933, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tells her story through its 28,000 acres of wetlands, forest and open fields. Nearby, the story of Tubman’s life and times is recounted on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, opened in 2017, and operated by a partnership between the National Park Service and the Maryland Park Service. To introduce guests to Tubman’s life and work on the Eastern Shore, the visitor center invites them to find how she knew intimately the land that’s today the Blackwater refuge and its environs. Her epic rescues of scores of enslaved people were possible because Tubman knew easy methods to navigate the region’s contours and trails, depths and denseness, natural world, the seasons, sun and stars.

Tubman’s heroism is a degree of pride to Black Marylanders in Dorchester. The struggle against slavery and racism has deep roots there. Among the many locals are those descended from Tubman’s family and others who lived and labored alongside them. On my first visit in 2013, I called on Donald Pinder, an area businessman who took a number one role in safeguarding Tubman’s memory and who died last yr. To start, Mr. Pinder walked me through the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, arrange in a downtown storefront within the small city of Cambridge. On the partitions of the long narrow space, epic history and native memory mix. I learned how Tubman’s life has been celebrated by generations of Black Maryland farmers, mariners and rural families who’ve grown up removed from cities like Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Mr. Pinder encouraged me to get outdoors to raised imagine the trials Tubman faced as she steered family members across the rugged landscape and out of bondage. Though a city person, I mustered enough trust to follow his directions to Fork Neck Cemetery. Set on land long tilled by Black farmers, a cluster of headstones was visible from the narrow country road. Still anxious about trespassing, I confirmed that it was indeed Mr. Pinder’s family graveyard after which discovered why he sent me there. Among the many weathered markers were those who dated back to Tubman’s days on the Eastern Shore. They paid tribute to Black Marylanders who had been Tubman’s neighbors, but never joined her freedom train. To recall Tubman here is to find out how the past and the current are in actual fact companion tales.

Back then, once I first visited Dorchester County, a Park Service site dedicated to Tubman was still a plan within the making. Encountering a single roadside marker, the one sign of what’s today the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, left me wondering how on this vast, sparsely developed place, Tubman’s story could be told. Returning this yr, I learned that the reply is thru the land. Today the Park Service encourages even casual visitors to know the natural world that was so central to Tubman’s work.

Contained in the Tubman Park visitor center, rigorously crafted exhibits place her within the habitat of muskrats — as an enslaved girl separated from her family, Tubman tended their traps. We’re introduced to the arduous labor Tubman did alongside her father within the timber fields; there she learned easy methods to navigate the Eastern Shore’s forests and waterways. Faith also figures: Tubman credited her direct connection to God together with her survival and her success. Maps trace a 120-mile-long route called the Tubman Byway, which charts the journeys Tubman made, encouraging visitors to trace them by foot, bicycle or automotive.

Under the gloom of an overcast sky, I trekked along a mild walking path that wends across the visitor center and its outbuildings. Just the sound of my feet crunching against the gravel attuned me to how sounds fill the vast space — bird songs mixed with the rustle of trees. There was scratching within the low brush, though I couldn’t determine its source. I heard my very own breath. And despite the fact that I used to be inside ear shot of the park rangers, I listened for human voices, wary of encountering strangers within the woods. In Tubman’s days, I do know, she, too, kept her ears tuned for the sounds of individuals approaching: slave catchers intent on thwarting her freedom missions.

After I told a Friends of Blackwater volunteer that I used to be keen on understanding Tubman’s experience, he really useful a slow automotive ride along the four-mile-long Wildlife Drive, which runs through the refuge’s marshland. There, I started to experience how Tubman’s travels included the smart and studied company of other inhabitants who, like her, survived by understanding the terrain and each other. I used to be not at a loss for company. A lone red-winged blackbird kept up a gradual chatter as we each lingered above the wetlands on a raised statement platform. Fox squirrels and deer foraged while a statuesque white great egret stepped gingerly through a shallow inlet looking for lunch. I kept a watch out for the resident red fox, which I regard as a predator, but local eagles regard as a meal.

Today, it’s arresting to witness how climate change along the Eastern Shore is all too quickly remaking the terrain that was the positioning of Tubman’s earliest exploits. The transformation gripped me once I encountered the ghost forests that dot Blackwater’s landscape. Decaying trees — devoid of foliage and branches, weathered to an eerie gray — stand tall within the brackish waters where the bay’s salt is overtaking inland sweet waters. Vestiges of a past or harbingers of the longer term, the skeletons of once mighty oaks and chic loblolly pines defy efforts to wholly preserve Tubman’s memory on these lands.

I felt emboldened — perhaps Tubman’s courage was fueling my very own — and ventured farther off the beaten path out to Parson’s Creek and a thread of water that was often known as Stewart’s Canal in Tubman’s time. I stood alone on a brief bridge that crosses the wetlands and saw a deep scar left by the enslaved laborers who way back cut a canal that serviced timber production. Grasses are slowly claiming it. All I could hear was the wind rushing, but underneath were ancient echoes of the trouble that Tubman, still enslaved, exerted alongside free men like her father, Ben Ross, as they felled, chopped and wrestled trees along these waterways. Time is rendering the scenes of Tubman’s grueling manual labor almost bucolic.

Walking in Tubman’s country had a ritual quality that felt nearly spiritual, even when I didn’t hear the voice of God that she said guided her journeys. It was here on the land that Tubman discovered her purpose. Today, Black women trek in her name as a tribute, as told in Selina Garcia’s documentary film, “A Walk in Her Shoes.” In 2020, not long after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the jazz artist Linda Harris, together with seven friends, traced Tubman’s trail, walking a complete of 116 miles. Alone, on my much shorter walk, I quietly recited short poems, hummed to myself, even when off tune. I discovered that the trek was not simply about clocking miles. It was a likelihood to go along with my very own thoughts, for my mind to assemble itself.

The Underground Railroad routes Tubman followed were a patchy network of allies, secret passages and protected houses that began operation within the early a long time of the Nineteenth century. To foil the patrols and slave catchers that policed the Eastern Shore, Tubman deployed quick, strategic considering to, for instance, quiet a crying baby who might give her location away. Still, I imagined her with moments to contemplate her world and sharpen a way of her place in it.

Surely, Tubman, ever the activist, would encourage those that arrive in Dorchester County to find her memory to also take time to find how rather more difficult that might be by 2050 when it’s estimated that 50 percent of the lower Eastern Shore’s high marshes might be gone. Satellite images from the U.S. Geographical Survey show how land has already been lost to rising tides. Gone are some spots where a century ago migrating birds repeatedly stopped over as they traveled north and south.

Two centuries after her birth, Tubman’s story continues to point toward the nation’s highest ideals. These include older lessons concerning the man-made world where aspirations for freedom, dignity and equality remain a high bar. Newer is what Tubman’s story reveals concerning the natural world, the land she knew so intimately. On the Eastern Shore, the Tubman Park and the Blackwater refuge are two chapters of the identical story. We will walk in Tubman’s Nineteenth-century footsteps on the very land where she struggled against slavery. Along the way in which, we may additionally discover our own footing within the climate challenge of our time.

Get the latest Sports Updates (Soccer, NBA, NFL, Hockey, Racing, etc.) and Breaking News From the United States, United Kingdom, and all around the world.

Related articles


Recent articles