Home where Harriet Tubman likely learned ‘how to navigate and survive’ discovered in Maryland

A home owned by the father of abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader Harriett Tubman has been discovered in Maryland, and experts say the discovery helps present a clearer picture of Tubman’s childhood.

The house, owned by Ben Ross, was discovered amid a search that began in November 2020. Maryland’s Department of Transportation archaeology team began the project after a 2,600-acre property was acquired in 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Maryland, Lt. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford was joined by archeologists, historians and government officials Tuesday to announce the finding.

“This discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation,” said Rutherford. “It is important that we continue to uncover parts of our history that we can learn from, especially when they can be lost to time, and other forces. I hope that this latest success story can inspire similar efforts and help strengthen our partnerships in the future.”

When archeologists returned in March to continue their search, the team, led by chief archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky, found nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and even a button dating back to the 1800s.

Schablitsky said Tubman spent time at the house as a child and teenager, and the area may have helped her conduct the Underground Railroad.

“This was the opportunity she had to learn about how to navigate and survive in the wetlands and the woods. We believe this experience was able to benefit her when she began to move people to freedom,” Schablitsky said in a news release.

Dr. Julie Schablitsky examines artifacts found at the home of Harriet Tubman's father (Photo: Courtesy: Maryland Department of Transportation)

Ten acres of land were bequeathed to Ross by slave owner Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. In Thompson’s will, Ross was to be freed five years after Thompson’s death in 1836, which happened and he received the land in the early 1840s.

Tubman was born Araminta Ross on the Thompson Farm in March 1822. She and her mother were enslaved by the Brodess family and moved away from the farm when she was a toddler. 

After escaping enslavement in 1849 going to Philadelphia, Tubman returned to Maryland, a slave state, and rescued about 70 enslaved people in 13 trips in the following years. She also helped instruct another 70 people who later escaped slavery on their own, according to the National Park Service. Tina Wyatt, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ross’s great-great-great-great granddaughter as well as Douglas Mitchell, Ross’ great-great-great-grandson, were at the announcement of the finding.

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