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Picture courtesy of Cayuga Museum
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Harriet Tubman
"The Conductor"
By Carl A. Pierce
(click picture to enlarge)


The Washington Post 7-9-87
Eastern Shore Honors
Its Harriet Tubman

Bucktown Seeks to Mark Birthplace Of ‘Underground Railroad’ Leader
By Kaye Thompson
Special to The Washington Post

     BUCKTOWN,--Md.–Along a winding country road here on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, lodged between two cornfields, stands a historical marker honoring Harriet Tubman, “the Moses of her people”.

     The silver and black sign lists some basic facts: the years of her birth and death and her bravery in single-handedly leading more than 300 slaves to freedom. But it gives no clue that Tubman was born into bondage just 100 yards away.

     It was here that Tubman labored in the corn and wheat fields, learned to navigate by the stars, endured the pain of repeated lashings and made her decision to escape to freedom.

     And it was to the Bucktown area, several miles south of Cambridge, that she is believed to have returned 19 times to lead slaves north to freedom.

     There are no monuments in Bucktown, no restored houses or tours to show visitors where Tubman toiled or where the fugitives hid in the nearby snake-infested Greenbriar Swamp. The history of her years here had been largely preserved in the memories of the generations that have followed. The biography written during Tubman’s lifetime spoke little of her years in Bucktown.

     “I didn’t have no black history in school,” said Addie Clash Travers, 71, who says she is a distant relative of Tubman’s. “Growing up, I didn’t really know too much about Harriet Tubman. You very rarely hear about her in Dorchester County.”

     Travers, a beautician, learned about Tubman by talking to the “older folks,” who repeated accounts of Tubman’s forays they had heard as children. She also started reading books available from the public library.

     And when the older folks died, she kept her promise to carry forth the legacy of the woman they called “Moses.”

     First, Travers established “Harriet Tubman Day” in the late 1960s—at a time when rural Cambridge was polarized by the same kind of race riots that were tearing through larger cities across the country.

     She decided to honor Tubman and “all our forefathers” on Father’s Day each year. The first few ceremonies were attended by a “pitiful” handful of people, mostly members of her family, she recalled.

     But the event has attracted increasing numbers of participants, and this year she had to arrange for extra seats to accommodate more than 200 persons from Maryland, Delaware and New York who crowded into the tiny Bazel AME Church here. Except for one white couple, all were black.

     The Harriet Tubman Association of Dorchester County was formed in 1983 by 14 local black residents, with Travers as vice president, to raise funds for preserving landmarks and increasing awareness about Tubman’s role in history. The association donated $1,000 to repair the Bazel AME Church and has raised $1,600 toward building a local monument to Tubman, Travers said.

     Travers now is trying to preserve Bazel and another badly deteriorated 170-year-old facility, known as the “slave church,” which was attended by Tubman’s family.

     Bazel was built in 1911 to replace the slave church. Both are nestled in a clearing at the edge of Greenbriar Swamp.

     Travers is anxious to do something to preserve the churches. After two decades of research substantiating the old tales passed down to her and linking history to the land, Travers says she sees tiny Bucktown as a kind of museum.

     Tubman was born Araminta Ross in 1820 or 1821 in a plantation slave cabin that no longer stands. As a child, she was called by her mother’s name, Harriet, and learned from her father how to navigate by the stars, a skill that later allowed her to travel by night and elude pursuers through southern swamps.

     A mile down the road from the present-day marker is the spot where the Bucktown store once stood. That was where a teen-aged Tubman, then a field hand, refused to tie up a slave for a lashing and blocked her overseer from pursuing the runaway.

     The overseer picked up a two-pound weight, Tubman told her biographer, Sarah Bradford (in “Harriet Tubman, The Moses of Her People”) and threw it at the runaway. But the weight hit Tubman in the head instead, and the injury caused her to suffer from sleep-like seizures the rest of her life.

     She married John Tubman in 1844, according to an 1863 newspaper account of her life, but in 1849 her master died—and vowing not to be sold as part of his estate—Tubman left the home she shared with her husband.

     In an effort to ensure her escape, she never told her parents her plan, Travers said. “She went up to the big house, where her sister worked as a maid and sang ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ to let Marianne know she was leaving.” Travers said, quoting the recollections of local people. Tubman then fled on foot, following the North Star.

     Some time later. She arrived in Philadelphia, where she worked in kitchens and saved money to return to the South a year later, again under cover of darkness.

     Tubman told Bradford, whose book was published in the 1890s, that she had crossed the line “of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in the old cabin quarter, with the old folks and my brothers and sisters.”

     She vowed then that they would be free as well, and that she would make a better home for them in the North, Bradford wrote.

     As quietly as Tubman had left Bucktown, she returned signaling fugitive slaves with the old hymn, “Go Down Moses.”

     She led them north, hiding in swamps and houses during the day and traveling at night, using one of several routes of the “underground railroad” that relied on the kindness of Northern abolitionists and Southern sympathizers for shelter and food.

     Tubman was said to carry a tincture of opium to keep infants asleep and a pistol to threaten slaves who wanted to turn back. She said later that she refused to let any return to the Eastern Shore, for fear they would reveal her route.

     When, in the years immediately preceding the Civil War, slaves were pursued in the North under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Tubman went across the Niagara River to Canada. At one time, she had a total bounty of $40,000 on her head, but she never was caught and said she had never lost a passenger on her “railroad.”

     About 1860, she moved her family to Auburn, N.Y., where she bought land from Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, and winters were milder.  She returned to that home at the end of the war after serving as a nurse, spy and scout for the Union army.

     Before she died in 1913, she also had established a home for indigent and aged blacks with the help of townspeople in Auburn.

     After her death, the people of Auburn erected a monument honoring her in the town square, and her home there has been preserved. Travers, who made a pilgrimage to Auburn last month, would like to see similar recognition of Tubman there, and hopes a current fund-raising drive will allow for the construction of a community hall and museum.

     Travers said she takes heart from the increasing amount of attention Tubman is getting, but said the notice has been slow in coming. The Dorchester County Commissioners have been cooperative in arranging Tubman Day festivities, Travers said, but Tubman was not mentioned in a calendar recently issued by the Dorchester County Historical Society.

     “The whole area just overlooked Harriet Tubman,” said Richard Bailey, a 31-year-old seafood processor who became interested in Tubman through her biography and by talking to Travers. Now, Bailey is president of the Tubman association, “trying to get people interested in the true story of Harriet Tubman.”

     “We were so close to it. You wanted to forget it. We had to come back 100 years to appreciate it,” Travers said. “What makes me so proud is so many of the young people are interested. Their ancestors came so far so that their feet would be on free soil.”

     Said association secretary Linda Wheatley: “The reason why we need ceremonies and landmarks to remember Harriet Tubman is not so much to remember her personally, but to remember the movement she established.”    

 Photos by Sharon Farmer for The Washington Post

Interior view of former slave church in Bucktown area that Addie Clash Travers is trying to preserve Exterior view of former slave church, located on the edge of a swamp near Bazel AME Church Addie Travers visits her family’s graves outside the Bucktown Methodist Church Historic marker honors Harriet ‘Moses’ Tubman along Cambridge Road in Bucktown between cornfields near slave churches.

The Washington Post

This article was retyped from the original. Photos are faded and not included. For reading and appreciation of the enormous past contributions and advocacy in the grassroots community, Tubman’s community to preserve the legacy of  Harriet Tubman. Not for historical accuracy.

Page 14     The Lowcountry Ledger                               Wednesday, January 3, 1990

Early Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Was Where
U.S. Naval Hospital is Now Located


     One of the most famous people in American black history, Harriet Tubman was among those present in Port Royal during one of the most significant events in southern history.

     It was Jan. 1, 1863 and blacks were being freed with the first reading at the Old Fort (Smith) Plantation (now the U.S. Naval Hospital grounds) of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

     But, the Tubman story began many years before in Bucktown, Md., where she was born a slave.

     Her name was Araminta Ross, but as a child, she became known by her mother’s name, Harriet. Her father taught her knowledge of the woods that helped her later in her rescue missions.

     Tubman had a childhood similar to that of most slave children; no schooling, little play, much hard work and severe punishment.

     When Harriet was 13, she interfered with a supervisor to save another slave from punishment. The enraged supervisor fractured Harriet’s skull with a two-pound weight. She recovered, but suffered blackouts for the rest of her life.

     Sometime between 1848-49 she succeeded in escaping from the life of slavery, leaving her husband, John Tubman, who threatened to report her to their master.

     Once free, she went to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad. She vowed to return to Maryland and help her people. She began to devise practical ways to help other slaves to escape. Over the next 10 years, she made 20 trips from the North to the South, rescuing more than 300 slaves. A price of $40,000 was set on her head.

Steal away, steal away
Steal away to Jesus.
Steal away, steal away home.”

     Harriet Tubman’s reputation spread rapidly. She won the admiration of the leading white abolitionists; some of whom sheltered her “passengers.” One of her major disappointments was the ultimate failure of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. She had met and aided Brown in recruiting soldiers for his cause (in fact, he called her “General Tubman”), and she was to regard him, rather than Lincoln as the true emancipator of her people.

     The year 1850, in which Tubman began her southern travels, saw a great change in the operation of the Underground Railroad. Heretofore, runaways had been safe when they crossed the line which divided free territory from slave.

     But in this year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, an ordinance compelling sheriffs and marshals of the north to hunt down runaway slaves and return them to their masters. Under the new laws, the fugitives were denied the right to trial by jury; those assisting in their escape were punished by fines and imprisonment.

     When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, more than 50,000 who had escaped lived in the North. 

“When that old chariot come

I’m going to leave you.

I’m bound for the

Promised land.

Friends, I’m going to leave you

When that old chariot comes,

Who’s going with me?” 

     Very little has been said of Harriet Tubman’s exploits in South Carolina. She came to Beaufort on the U.S.S. Atlantic and when it arrived off the coast of the sea islands it was greeted with salutes from two forts that guarded the entrance to Port Royal Sound, Forts Beauregard on St. Helena Island and Walker on Hilton Head Island. She carried a letter from Gov. Andrew of Massachusetts.

     Tubman was to report to Maj. Gen. David Hunter, former abolitionist, who was in charge of the Department of the South.

     At this time she was a member of the Union Army and she was helpful along with the general in forming the first South Carolina infantry (Colored).

“Our time is coming”

     Most of the people are very destitute, almost naked,” she dictated in her first letter to Boston friends. “I am trying to find places for those able to work and provide for them at best I can,” while at the same time they learn to respect themselves by earning their own living.”

     Ranging up and down the coast, South Carolina to Florida Tubman organized classes in washing, sewing and cooking. She taught women who had been field hands all their lives how to keep house and how to make things which the northern soldiers would want to buy. With her own meager savings she built a community washhouse in Beaufort where the freed women could earn money by doing the soldier’s laundry.

     She was sent to Fernandina in Florida, a Union-held town on the coast, to do some of her nursing duties with her herb teas.

     At this time the First South Carolina was still not formally recognized by the Secretary of War. On Jan. 1, 1863 the “Contrabands” of war were freed.

     There was a roll of the drums, and all heads turned toward the platform. A Beaufort doctor who had long ago freed his own slaves stepped forward to read the proclamation of the President of the United States:

     “That, on the first of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people hereof shall then be thence forward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States; including the military and naval authority thereof will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, or any of them, in efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

     There was breathless silence in the grove. Throats were too choked for cheers. The commander of the First South Carolina stepped forward to present a flag to his regiment, a flag made for freedom by a ladies’ sewing circle in New York State. As he held out the Stars and Stripes, a voice broke the stillness. It was a voice which had been heard before, on lonely paths in the woods under the north star:

“My country,‘tis of thee.
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountain side
“Let freedom ring.” 

     Tubman spoke the final words of the ceremony:  “This is the first flag we have ever seen which promised us anything. This is the first day we ever had a country.”

     Tubman acted as a spy for the Union Army out of Beaufort. In 1863, she  led the Union Army on a raid which resulted in the freedom of over 750 slaves, also slipping behind Confederate lines to ferret out information,  nursing the sick and wounded, and shouldering a rifle alongside the men in blue.

     She was with Col. Shaw when the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts led the assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston Harbor. She was with Col. Montgomery when he steamed up the St. John’s River and captured Jacksonville, Fla.

     She also worked in a bakery in Beaufort. The building is still standing and is known as the “Lucius Cuthbert House” at 915 Port Republic St. The Federal army used the house as a bakery during the Civil War.

     Tubman never received a scratch from a real sword of gun. Her first “wound” came when she was on her way home and was tossed off a train. 

“Now,” the flag sergeant cried,
“Through death and hell beside,
Let the nation see
If we are fit to be
Free in this land or bound…
Bound with red stripes of pain
In our cold chains again! ”
“Freedom” their battle cry.
“Freedom! or leave to die!”
This was that “Freedom” lent
“To the black regiment.”
“Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for  to carry me home…” 

     It was dusk on a March day in 1913 and the north star was shining in the darkening sky, when her eyes closed for the last time.

     Despite her many honors and tributes (including a medal from Queen Victoria of England), Harriet Tubman spent her last years in poverty. She did not receive a pension until more than 30 years after the close of the Civil War. Awarded $20 a month for the remainder of her life, she used most of her money to help found a place for the aged and the needy later to be called “The Harriet Tubman Home.”

     The home at 180-182 South St. in Auburn, N.Y. stands as a monument to the woman who is believed to had led 300 slaves to freedom via the Underground  Railroad.

     The home was declared a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior on May 30, 1974.

“I never ran my train off the
Track and
I never lost a passenger.
“Let us break their bond
Cast away their cords from us.
I’ve served my master all my day:
Without a dime’s reward,
And now I’m forced to run away
To flee the lash abroad
Farewell, old master,
Don’t think hard of me,
I’m on my way to Canada,
Where all the slaves are free,” 

     On June 12, 1914, in Auburn, flags flew at half-mast.  Whites and blacks gathered together by the thousands to pay tribute to the great contribution Tubman had made to her country and to her people.

      In the words of Booker T. Washington, “She brought the two races together and made it possible for the White race to place a higher estimate on the Black race.”     

EDITORS NOTE: Several celebrations along the coast Monday commemorated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. The proclamation made slavery illegal in states still under Confederate control, but did not effect border states or Southern states under Union control, including portions of Tennessee, Virginia and Louisiana.

Linda Wheatley & her mother Elsie Pinder, Cambridge, Maryland sponsored a pilgrimage/tour for the 16th annual Penn Center Heritage Day, St. Helena Island – Nov. 7-9, 1996.  Walter Dennis attended the celebration. Pilgrimage travelers met Mr. Dennis at the Penn Center Heritage Day events.



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