The site of a 19th-century cabin belonging to the family of Harriet Tubman has been uncovered in Maryland. It’s a significant find, as the location of the site, along with the discovery of numerous artifacts, could offer fresh insights into the abolitionist hero’s formative years.
Archaeologists working for the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, uncovered the site near Church Creek, which is close to the state’s eastern shore. Found next to a marsh, the site once hosted a cabin owned by Ben Ross, the father of renowned abolitionist Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross. Tubman escaped slavery and later lead many others to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
“The significance of the discovery of the homesite of my great-great-great-grandfather Ben Ross, and of a spellbinding assortment of artifacts that were once held in the hands of the man himself, but have since been long-inhumed in the soggy Dorchester County soil, is truly inestimable,” Douglas Mitchell, a descendant of Ben Ross, said in a press release.
The finding is significant, he said, because it holds 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.”
The remnants of this former home were discovered on property recently acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and added to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland. Ross acquired the 10 acres of property in a will in the early 1840s.
Historical documents, including wills and deeds, led the archaeologists, headed by Julie Schablitsky, to the general area of the former cabin. Searches with metal detectors began last November, resulting in the discovery of a coin dating back to 1808, as The Guardian reports. A return visit in March yielded a trove of 19th-century artifacts, including nails, bricks, glass, dish fragments, and a button. A subsequent analysis of these artifacts tied them to the Ross home, and an official announcement about the discovery was made on April 19 at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.
“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,” explained Schablitsky in the press release. “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.”
Much of the Ross home is either gone or buried, but the surroundings still provide a glimpse of how it looked during Tubman’s time. The newly discovered site will now be added to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway—a 125-mile (200-km) self-guided scenic drive highlighting more than 30 sites associated with Harriet Tubman. Artifacts found at the site will eventually go on display at the nearby Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.