Delaware stories along the Underground Railroad are filled with heartbreak, courage, drama. Wilmington, New Castle, and Dover all figure in the story of men and women, both black and white, valiantly trying the break the shackles of slavery.
Delaware may be a small state but it played a big part in the lives of men and women seeking freedom.
So decide where you want to go and stop to hear the stories, look over the landscape and think about the dangers and the courage behind these stories.
Wilmington celebrates Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad stationmaster Thomas Garrett with a park along its Riverfront. The Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park along the Christina River is on the Underground Railroad path. Garrett, an abolitionist who lived nearby, sheltered slaves running to freedom. The Market Street Bridge and an earlier bridge were used by Harriet Tubman and others seeking freedom as they passed through the town. Look for the monument that pays tribute to Tubman and Garrett.
When you visit, you’ll see the Riverfront Wilmington also has a market and various restaurants, and other attractions to fill out your day. The DuPont Environmental Education Center, in the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, is a natural wonder in the city center.
The Delaware History Museum‘s “Distinctly Delaware” exhibit has as Part of its focus the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett are included and a tray given to Garrett by Wilmington’s African-American community is on display.
New Castle is a mere nine miles down I-95 from Wilmington. Not only is the 16th and 17th Century-era town a good day trip, the New Castle Court House Museum tells the story of Emeline Hawkins, a Marylander who took her family and fled slavery through Delaware. The courthouse was also where Thomas Garrett was tried for aiding Emeline.
In Dover, 50 miles from Wilmington and the state capital, the Old State House features an exhibit of another Underground Railroad conductor who was convicted of enticing an enslaved woman to escape. It’s a good story. The Old State House is part of First State Heritage Park — which is part of Delaware’s first national monument. The Green, Welcome center and various other sites around this little town offer an enjoyable respite and peek into history. And it’s far enough from the roar of Dover Downs’ race track and casino.
Another stop on the Underground Railroad was Odessa. The Corbit-Sharp House, a gorgeous Colonial home that sits on an extraordinary block of historic homes, offered shelter to runaway slaves. The historic district welcomes visitors Tuesday through Saturday in warm weather. A historic tavern, Cantwell’s, serves lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch.
Now if all of this looks so interesting you want to do it in a day — you can. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway has a map that will lead you all over the First State and includes sites not listed here. It stretches 95 miles, including a few loops and takes about three hours to drive.
An article about Harriet Tubman in Maryland was previously published here.
© 2013 Text Mary K. Tilghman
Photos courtesy Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau and
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs;
Corbit-Sharp photo courtesy of Historic Odessa Foundation.