Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 25, 2013
Presidential Proclamation – Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE HARRIET TUBMAN UNDERGROUND RAILROAD NATIONAL MONUMENT - - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Harriet Tubman is an American hero. She was born enslaved, liberated herself, and returned to the area of her birth many times to lead family, friends, and other enslaved African Americans north to freedom. Harriet Tubman fought tirelessly for the Union cause, for the rights of enslaved people, for the rights of women, and for the rights of all. She was a leader in the struggle for civil rights who was forever motivated by her love of family and community and by her deep and abiding faith.
Born Araminta Ross in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland, on the plantation where her parents were enslaved, she took the name "Harriet" at the time she married John Tubman, a free black man, around 1844. Harriet Tubman lived and worked enslaved in this area from her childhood until she escaped to freedom at age 27 in 1849. She returned to Dorchester County approximately 13 times to free family, friends, and other enslaved African Americans, becoming one of the most prominent "conductors" on the Underground Railroad. In 1859, she purchased a farm in Auburn, New York, and established a home for her family and others, which anchored the remaining years of her life. In the Civil War she supported the Union forces as a scout, spy, and nurse to African-American soldiers on battlefields and later at Fort Monroe, Virginia. After the war, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, which institutionalized a pattern of her life -- caring for African Americans in need.
In 1868, the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass wrote to Harriet Tubman:
I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt "God bless you" has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism.
The "midnight sky and the silent stars" and the Dorchester County landscape of Harriet Tubman's homeland remain much as they were in her time there. If she were to return to this area today, Harriet Tubman would recognize it.
It was in the flat, open fields, marsh, and thick woodlands of Dorchester County that Tubman became physically and spiritually strong. Many of the places in which she grew up and worked still remain. Stewart's Canal at the western edge of this historic area was constructed over 20 years by enslaved and free African Americans. This 8-mile long waterway, completed in the 1830s, connected Parsons Creek and Blackwater River with Tobacco Stick Bay (known today as Madison Bay) and opened up some of Dorchester's more remote territory for timber and agricultural products to be shipped to Baltimore markets. Tubman lived near here while working for John T. Stewart. The canal, the waterways it opened to the Chesapeake Bay, and the Blackwater River were the means of conveying goods, lumber, and those seeking freedom. And the small ports were places for connecting the enslaved with the world outside the Eastern Shore, places on the path north to freedom.
Near the canal is the Jacob Jackson Home Site, 480 acres of flat farmland, woodland, and wetland that was the site of one of the first safe houses along the Underground Railroad. Jackson was a free black man to whom Tubman appealed for assistance in 1854 in attempting to retrieve her brothers and who, because he was literate, would have been an important link in the local communication network. The Jacob Jackson Home Site has been donated to the United States.
Further reinforcing the historical significance and integrity of these sites is their proximity to other important sites of Tubman's life and work. She was born in the heart of this area at Peter's Neck at the end of Harrisville Road, on the farm of Anthony Thompson. Nearby is the farm that belonged to Edward Brodess, enslaver of Tubman's mother and her children. The James Cook Home Site is where Tubman was hired out as a child. She remembered the harsh treatment she received here, long afterward recalling that even when ill, she was expected to wade into swamps throughout the cold winter to haul muskrat traps. A few miles from the James Cook Home Site is the Bucktown Crossroads, where a slave overseer hit the 13-year-old Tubman with a heavy iron as she attempted to protect a young fleeing slave, resulting in an injury that affected Tubman for the rest of her life. A quarter mile to the north are Scotts Chapel and the associated African-American graveyard. The church was founded in 1812 as a Methodist congregation. Later, in the mid-19th century, African Americans split off from the congregation and formed Bazel Church. Across from Scotts Chapel is an African-American graveyard with headstones dating to 1792.
Bazel Church is located nearby on a 1-acre clearing edged by the road and otherwise surrounded by cultivated fields and forest. According to tradition, this is where African Americans worshipped outdoors during Tubman's time.
The National Park Service has found this landscape in Dorchester County to be nationally significant because of its deep association with Tubman and the Underground Railroad. It is representative of the landscape of this region in the early and mid-19th century when enslavers and enslaved worked the farms and forests. This is the landscape where free African Americans and the enslaved led a clandestine movement of people out of slavery towards the North Star of freedom. These sites were places where enslaved and free African Americans intermingled. Moreover, these sites fostered an environment that enabled free individuals to provide aid and guidance to those enslaved who were seeking freedom. This landscape, including the towns, roads, and paths within it, and its critical waterways, was the means for communication and the path to freedom. The Underground Railroad was everywhere within it.
Much of the landscape in Dorchester County that is Harriet Tubman's homeland, including a portion of Stewart's Canal, is now part of Blackwater