The History of The Conference

For the past 20 years local, regional, and national historians and researchers have been investigating the history of the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad on the Eastern Shore. In January 2001, John Creighton, a local researcher and expert on Harriet Tubman, started a discussion group concentrating on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad through genealogical and primary document research. These discussion groups focused on Tubman’s life experiences, where she lived, who she led north, and other Underground Railroad and local stories. This effort helped to locate new sources of historical information, and fostered sharing this history with the local community and across the country. Over the years more local Underground Railroad heroes have come to light. While this has been going on in Cambridge, nationally recognized historians around the country and on the Eastern Shore have been undertaking their own research – sometimes confirming, sometimes challenging the local research.

One of the narratives that has been told in Dorchester County is that Harriet Ross Tubman was born and lived in Bucktown. Another story told in the county is that she was born near the town of Madison. The new research confirms the latter, and although she may not have been born in Bucktown, her “owner” – Mr. Edward Brodess – lived there, and she spent portions of her childhood there. As a teenager, she was hired out by Brodess to masters in the Madison area near where her father lived. These complicated narratives continue to create some controversy among long time residents of Dorchester County.

With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, enslavers were emboldened to chase or hire others to find and capture their “property”. This made the operations of the Underground Railroad more important, but also more dangerous. The Eastern Shore is significant for its history of the Underground Railroad and as the location from which Harriet Tubman fled in 1849 and then returned to help and inspire others to escape to freedom.

But there are many more stories about countless other heroes, too, including the Rev. Samuel Green, the Dover Eight, Sarah Young, William Garrison, William Still, local and regional Quakers, their friends and allies, and so many other known and unknown individuals, black and white, slave and free that need to be explored and told. Harriet Tubman had an amazing ability to connect with people who could assist her – protecting her and her followers on the treks north, those who raised money, those who built the support system and those who were the abolitionist advocates who worked to change laws, often at great risk. Those stories need to be told, too.

In the meantime there has been new recognition regarding the Dorchester and Caroline County landscapes where Harriet Tubman and others grew up, worked and were willing to risk their lives to escape to freedom. In 2000 the National Park Service (NPS) began plans to investigate way to memorialize Harriet Tubman in Bucktown and in Auburn, NY, where she settled in freedom the last fifty years of her life. Through the assistance of the State of Maryland, and local and national advocates, NPS expanded their planning efforts to include thousands of acres of landscapes in Dorchester and Caroline counties to include not only the site of her birth but also all the sites associated with her enslavement, and her rescue missions along the Underground Railroad. Legislation to establish the dual parks, unique to the Park Service, is now awaiting votes in Congress. The State of Maryland, in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources, NPS, and local and state level tourism offices are creating the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center at Blackwater. This Center, expected opening in 2013, and the region’s newly established 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway All-American Road will be the jewels of the Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Celebrations in March 2013.