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.
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.
“Discovering the location of patriarch Ben Ross Sr.’s home and artifacts he used has humanized a man responsible for giving us a woman of epic proportions, Harriet Ross Tubman,” Wyatt said.
“Dr. Schablitsky’s findings hold the promise of both deepening and broadening our understanding of the remarkable life not only of the patriarch and his beloved wife, but also, of course, that of his legendary daughter and heroine, Harriet Tubman. On this joyous occasion, more than 160 years after Ben Ross departed his humble cabin never to return, all freedom-and-justice-loving Americans are Ross kin, celebrating this immensely important archaeological discovery and the priceless revelations it is destined to offer,” Mitchell said.
Schablitsky said the discovery is important because the area may become inaccessible as sea levels continue to rise on the Eastern Shore, according to Delmarva Now.
The property will be added to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which is a 125-mile drive with 30 stops related to Tubman’s life.
Contributing: Madeleine O’Neill, USA TODAY NETWORK; Associated Press. Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.