Following Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman re-enactor, Vernetter Pinder, speaking to the audience at the ribbon cutting for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and State Park, Cambridge, March 9, 2013

Harriet Tubman re-enactor, Millicent Sparks, speaking to the audience at the ribbon cutting for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and State Park, Cambridge, March 9, 2013

It has been said many times that Harriet Tubman would still know her way around the Eastern Shore, even 100 years after her death. The paths she followed — cut up a little by Routes 50 and 404 perhaps — are still as she left them.

Woods that sheltered her and the enslaved men and women seeking freedom are still there. Many of the rivers are still as undisturbed as when she crossed them.

And that makes following her paths — the route of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway — all the sweeter.

Ribbon Cutting for Underground Railroad  Byway

Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar cut the ribbon, opening the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

On the centenary of her death in March, the state of Maryland cut the ribbon on this byway and broke ground for a new visitor center for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park.

We’ll have to wait until 2015 for the park but the driving tour is ready for visitors. As it winds through Dorchester County and Caroline County, the tour takes visitors to places that honor her memory: a memorial garden and the museum in Cambridge. And it stops at places important in her life: The Dorchester County Courthouse and Long Wharf in Cambridge, Tubman’s presumed birthplace, Brodess Farm and other sites all the way to the Delaware state line — where the work of the Underground Railroad continued.

Other sites along the 125-mile route serve as reminders of the other men and women who risked their lives to run for their freedom or to help another attain their freedom. Stop at the Stanley Institute where black children learned to read when it was against the law. Or at Pritchett Meredith Farm, where the Dover Eight fled to Wilmington, Del., then Philadelphia and finally to Canada.

If you just want to get a sense of the place where Harriet Tubman lived, go to the Bucktown Village Store. It looks a lot like it did in 1835 when a young Harriet stopped here with the plantation’s cook. Another slave’s overseer was chasing a slave and threw a two-pound weight that struck Harriet in the head. A terrible thing to happen to a kid, it was, she said later, the event that led her to seek freedom for herself and others.

Now if you stop at Bucktown, rent a bike there and ride the paths she frequented to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a great way to pedal through history and see the unspoiled countryside.

The driving tour guide and audio tour are available online or at the Dorchester County Visitor Center on Route 50 next to the Choptank River Bridge.

© 2013 Photos and text. Mary K. Tilghman

An article on Harriet Tubman in Delaware will appear May 22.

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