Archaeologists discover homesite owned by Harriet Tubman’s father
Historic artifacts date back to early to mid 1800s
Updated: 11:10 AM EDT Apr 20, 2021
Good morning. Mhm. I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful spring. My name is need a subpoena. I am the superintendent of the Maryland park Service and it is my great pleasure to welcome all of you to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park. Since opening its doors in 2017, we have welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world to learn about the remarkable life of Harriet Tubman. I think you would all agree that the park looks beautiful on this spring day. And I just like to thank and acknowledge our staff in the back there. Who were waving you in as you joined us. Thank you guys. Okay, okay, of course. Led by our wonderful park manager ranger, Dana Patera, This state park, this National Historical Park. This visitor center interprets the legacy of Harriet Tubman as a courageous conductor, Liberator and humanitarian in the resistance movement of the Underground Railroad. Many partners, all dedicated to preserving the legacy of Harriet Tubman played a key role in making this park a reality and many are represented here. Today. We would like to acknowledge our partners and distinguished guests including Boyd Rutherford, Lieutenant governor, the state of Maryland, Jeannie Haddaway Rikio Secretary Maryland, Department of Natural Resources, Greg slater Secretary Maryland, Department of Transportation, Marcia, pray Dean’s project leader, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake marshlands, National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Diane Miller, National Program Manager, National Park Service, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Deanna Mitchell Superintendent Harriet tubman Underground Railroad, National Historical Park, Liz fitzsimmons, Managing director Maryland, Department of Commerce, Office of Tourism and Film. Dr julie schablitsky, chief archaeologist Maryland, Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. MS Tina Wyatt Harriet tubman’s great, great great grannies, herschel johnson, a local community historian representing Harriet tubman organization and also caretaker of the lovely Stanley Institute and state senator. Eddie Eckerd representing Caroline dorchester, talbot and Wicomico counties, delegate chris Adams, Representative for congressman, Harris, keith gravy, gravy as representative for senator Ben Cardin kim crowd of ill and also we have a representative here from the ah city council of Cambridge. So thank you all for joining us. Today. We gather here because our discovery and understanding of the life and times of Harriet tubman continues to be revealed and continues to inspire us and with that I am pleased to present our first speaker Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford, the lieutenant governor is someone uh we have gotten to know at the Maryland park service. Our staff has welcomed him to dozens of state parks as he continues his, what I like to call is odyssey to visit all of the state parks in Maryland and promote them most recently. Last week when he kicked off our first ever state parks week. Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford was elected to office with governor Larry Hogan in 2014 and re elected in 2018. He is an accomplished attorney with a lifetime of experience in both public and private service, including the U. S. General Service Administration, U. S. Department of Agriculture and his secretary of the Maryland Department of General Services. In addition to his public service, he has extensive legal and business experience, including service and business and government law, information technology, sales and small and minority business development. As lieutenant governor, he has been a strong partner with Governor Hogan, leading the administration’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic reform, burdensome regulations on job creators, uh break the cycle of poverty between family generations. And he has also led the state’s efforts to modernize procurement, improve the mental health delivery system and make Maryland a national leader in the implementation of the federal opportunity zones program. The lieutenant governor attended the dedication of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in 2017 and joins us today for this momentous occasion. Please welcome Lieutenant Governor Rutherford. Good morning and thank you Superintendent uh, Latina. Every time I hear that bio, I feel older and older every day. But you know, it’s a beautiful day here. Uh, it’s always beautiful day on the eastern shore. And so it’s great to be here at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park here in Dorchester County. And it brings me great joy to highlight a historic fine that that takes, that took a significant investment on the part of the state of Maryland. Our federal partners, historians and others who seek to preserve our, our history for the last year, archaeologists at the State Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration have searched the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge for a site where Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, once lived in november. They found signs that indicated that they were on the right track and a breakthrough occurred in March, Archaeologists uncovered evidence of a home site and its historic artifacts dating back to the early 1800s, early to mid 1800s. Today, I’m excited to announce that our archaeologists have confirmed that this site was once the home of Ben Ross and may have been where Harriet Tubman spent her early years. I want to share a little more about what we have learned about Ben Ross and his life on the eastern shore of Maryland. For several years. We believe that mr ross harvested trees on the property and sold the timber and the timber was then transported two shipyards by free Black Mariners to use to make ships in Baltimore. Harriet Tubman worked alongside her father as a teenager and historians believe that Tubman learned to navigate the land and waterways she would later traverse to lead enslaved people to freedom. The discovery of Ben rosters. Cabinet is a major fine and I’m proud that julie Schablitsky and her team of archaeologists at the Maryland Department of Transportation, we’re able to use their hard work and dedication to make this project a reality. And yes, the Department of Transportation does have archaeologists on staff and they are scientists who lend their expertise and planning in planning infrastructure in order to avoid disturbing structures, cemeteries and other significant historic areas. In that process. Their commitment to their work is illustrated by their willingness to brave the elements and other obstacles to preserve the nation’s history. And the State Department of Transportation also supports archaeological projects that chronicle how transportation systems and communities have evolved over time so that we can share those stories with the public and save precious remnants of our history. Maryland is full of history from the mountains of western Maryland to the beaches of the eastern shore. The addition of Ben Ross’s homesite to the Harriet Tubman by way, will bring a boost to Dor Dorchester County visitors and historical significance to this area. This discovery adds to another puzzle piece in the story of Harriet tubman, the state of Maryland and our nation. It is important that we continue to uncover parts of our history that we can learn from, especially when we can do this before time and other forces wash it away. I hope that this latest success story can inspire similar efforts and help strengthen our partnerships in the future. Thank you very much. Yeah, thank you. Lieutenant Governor. Our next speaker is a valued partner of the Harriet tubman Underground Railroad State Park and National Historical Park Marcia up ratings. Marcia is the project leader of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge complex with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since joining us on the Eastern Shore five years ago, she has focused on strengthening relationships with the community, helping new audiences engage with the outdoors through programs like mentored hunts and finding the connections between people and wildlife that make conservation successful. Please welcome Miss Marcia proteins. Thank you so much, Nita and thank you everybody for joining us here today. Yes, shocking. I was going to make some joke but I decided not to Thank you when I first started here. Not quite five years ago, I was so excited about the prospects ahead of me. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a magnet for residents all over the Maryland, D. C. Virginia area and even all over the globe. We have 30,000 acres of wildlife habitat that attract people as well as wildlife. But I was most excited about the potential to invite new audiences to the refuge to learn how conservation is valuable, not only to wildlife but also to people history, into the landscape that made us all who we are today. The future of conservation lies in the hands of people and it must have value to everyone when we can serve habitat. We also conserve the stories of those who came before us, like Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, and all the others whose names we may never ever hear about. And that worked alongside of him in the marshes and the forests of the refuge with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center is our immediate neighbour. We have an opportunity to welcome even more people and to do more together than any of us could do alone. The Peters Neck property has been an extremely important piece for the refuge to acquire ever since. Our comprehensive conservation plan was first written all the way back in 2000 and six, With rising sea levels, increased storms, loss of habitat, its value to us only increased. The area is predicted to naturally convert to marsh, with parts remaining forested all the way into the year 20 100. The 2600 acre parcel was bought for $6 million dollars, But not with taxpayer dollars. It was bought by dollars from those waterfowl hunters and birders who bought the federal duck stamp for only $25 each, and offshore oil and gas leases from the land and water conservation fund. So this is a major investment in conservation and outdoor recreation right here in Dorchester County. But we also heard that perhaps just perhaps Ben Ross’s Homestead might be on the parcel, we weren’t sure. But with that in mind, before we even stepped onto the property, we began discussions about what to do next with the state park and with the National Park Service, Thankfully, Maryland stepped up to meet the very first challenge before us to begin the search for what they call Ben’s 10. I don’t think they knew what they were getting into here with our outrageous mosquitoes that call us home. Yes, the relentless flooding from rain and tied. Yes. And the mud that results, we can’t thank them enough for their hard work and their dedication in the field. All of those weeks in october and then again in april In less than one year from when we purchased the site. The crew has indeed found Ben’s 10. And just in time as the river rises, invaluable, bits of the story were about to be lost forever. What happens next is just as exciting, but we need a team to make it reality. We opened the parcel to hunting already, but before doing so we set aside a potential trail system for interpretation with the help of our partners. Should we be able to secure path forward to improve the roads to the area for the public hand in hand with our partners in Maryland, Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service. We have a big vision that we’re excited to find a way to fulfill for conservation of our natural and cultural resources. When land is treated well, it is many values including wildlife and fish, habitat, sustainable timber, storm buffers, water quality, soil, health, recreation and even history. And when it comes to cultural history. This land has rich stories to tell from the native americans who first walked here harvesting from the woods in the river to Ben ross, teaching his daughter how to manage timber or even fred Bensley Maryland’s first state forester who owned this land and stayed in his family up until the point that we required it. We want to honor those stories And help create new stories from a refuge hunter who hears a sick of bugle before dawn in October two. A birdwatcher hiking the trail that we plan to bill perhaps hearing their very first pine warbler in spring or a family that comes to visit to immerse themselves in what the landscape was like when Harriet tubman was growing into the strong woman, she was to become Together, we will nurture all of these stories yet to be written. Thank you. Yeah. Okay. thank you Marcia. I was sitting there listening to your remarks and the birds uh surrounding us. I could hear eagles. Uh we are so fortunate to be surrounded by your your refuge. So thank you for your conservation service. It is now my pleasure to introduce dr Shuli julie Schablitsky, Otherwise known as I understand it very fondly by her colleagues. As Dr julie. She is the chief archaeologist at the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration. She is noted for her Maryland research on african american sites and the recovery of D. N. A from artifacts. In her role, she oversees archaeologists and architectural historians who managed projects for the Department of Transportation as well as local governments. Uh We recently partnered with the Maryland Department of Transportation and dr julie on several archaeology projects, including most recently at Newtown Next State Park, which is in southern Maryland, where dr Schablitsky is. Recent archaeological survey discovered a 300 year old slave quarters on a former Jesuit plantation that is part of Newtown Next state Park. And the lieutenant Governor and the Secretary and myself had an opportunity to meet you there and see the artifacts, some of the artifacts she recovered. Um It is really my pleasure to welcome dr julie Schablitsky whose work has made today possible. Thank you. Okay, thank you. So right before Covid hit, I got this call from Marcia and she said we just aren’t going to be being going to acquire some property that may have Ben’s 10 on it. And I asked I said what’s Ben’s 10? And she said, well it’s where Harriet tubman’s father lived and we believe that it could be in this location that we found. But we’re not sure. And I said all right, you know, this sounds like a great opportunity. We could, if we find it, put it on the heritage and underground railroad. By way, it would be a great way to share it with the public because that’s what we do. We have a stewardship program at m dot that also we have the ability to share it with the public. So we plan to going out in March. But of course everything shut down. And finally, in august the hottest time of the year and the worst time to be in a swamp is the time we decided to all gather together. So, so Marcia ratings, Ray Patera, um, dana terra, Deana Mitchell in my archaeology colleague and and um partner in Crime Aaron Leventhal. We all met out there and Peter’s neck with our mosquito netting on and our rubber boots to our knees in our four wheel drive vehicles. And we went out there when we began to look at the property and its wooded. It’s very wet, it’s very buggy. And I I was inspired. I thought, you know, we can find this if it’s here, we’re going to find it. And they’re like, yeah, that’s the spirit. But then in the back of my head I’m like, I don’t know, it’s really wet and you know when you dig holes, it’s muddy and you have to push all that that stuff through those screens, looking for little bits of broken things. You know, how can we possibly find this site? But we decided to do it anyway. So um trials in hand shovels at our side, rubber boots on. We decided to go out in november of last year. So How do we know where to even begin? Well, we know that in 1836, Anthony Thompson’s will and he was a person who enslaved Ben Ross. He put in there. That and five years from his death that that Ben would be monumental, freed and be given 10 acres. So that’s where you get that. Ben’s 10. So those 10 acres or where he was supposed to live, but where in this place? Would would it be? Not only with the will, but also some land deeds over time began to mention old bends place alongside the road in this location by the water and putting those clues together, we had a search area and within that search area we began to bring a dozen archaeologist along the roadways and dig hole after hole after hole after 1000 holes, I was getting a little frustrated. I’m like, where is this place? And then I thought, well, I have one more tool in my toolkit and that’s a military doctor. I’m gonna go and see if I can go out and find perhaps nails that are social with a building. So within five minutes I’m jumping inside the road with my mellow detector. I got this beep beep beep and I and I dug it out and it looked like a shock. I thought this was a shotgun shell signature. But no and I dug. And what came up was this coin from 1808, A 50 Cent Liberty, ironically had 50 cent piece. And this to me was my clue that we’re getting close 1808 was Ben Ross and rick Green. Harriet’s parents date that they were married and began their family. So I thought alright we’re gonna keep going. So we got to the end near the road and began to find little broken bits of ceramics. These are the calling cards to the archaeologist that you’re getting two something old, something important. But guess what? We found this in the last few days of the project, We ran out of time, ran out of money and our time was up. But we were inspired to come back yet again. So we came back last month with more archaeologists in tow and with our rubber boots and it wasn’t quite as wet and the bugs still weren’t out. And so we had, we felt inspired. So we went out to the location and began to to our little small holes that we used to find sites began to be dug larger sites, five ft by five ft units and each unit that we dug revealed more and more information artifacts dating to the first half of the 19th century because that’s what we’re looking for. But we also want to know, not only do we have a domestic site where someone live, but where is the building? Where is the home? Where’s the cabin? And what would that look like? Well, luckily enough, in fact, there’s a brick right there. That’s from Ben Ross’s cabin. He probably had a building set on brick piers. And within that associated with that site, we’re finding drawer pulls from his bureau. We’re finding a button from his shirt. We’re finding pipe bowls and pipe stems from what he smoked all that in this location. But was it old enough? Ben was there in 1830s 1840s. So we looked at the artifacts closer and confirm that these artifacts due date to the time period he was living there. So how do we know that? We have it? How are we? Sure. Well, we looked everywhere. We could with that search here. And the only thing, Only space that told us that this could be at something from the early 19th century is where the place that we have found. So with that, with the artifacts, the archaeology, the evidence of a building and just the location. Knowing he worked in in the timber wetlands. Those multiple lines of evidence tell us unequivocally that this is the home of Ben Ross. So why is this find important? Well, as someone who knows something about Harriet tubman, um I always thought, well, is this everything we’re ever going to learn? How do we learn more? And sometimes the answer is archaeology. When we’re able to find an extra sites, additional sites out of their people who inspired her, who gave that lesson of integrity and perseverance. Like her father, It’s not only it takes her kind of in a situation and puts her as a daughter as a child, as someone who is standing on the shoulder of a giant her father. And I think that kind of gives us that um excitement that we can learn more about Harriet tubman through her, her parents. We can learn more about the people who taught her how to navigate, negotiate through places like wetlands and woods. So I think that’s what’s important. We have also just begin to excavate that location. We’re keeping it private and so that no one will disturb it. But we want to return back because we want to learn more. What did, what did he eat? What did he have in his home? How big was this site? So all those questions have yet to be answered. And so we’re going to be able to learn more. Now the thing is, it’s great that archaeologists are out in this, in this marshland looking for this important site, but it means nothing if we don’t have a descendant community with us. So from the beginning we did have Herschell johnson who’s here today. He’s the local community member and historian. He was well this to help inspire us and help and have us reach out to the community. We have been able to make contact with Douglas Mitchell who’s in Washington state. Probably hopefully watching right now. He’s a descendant. He’s a great great great great grandson of Ben Ross. We also have Tina White here with us today and she’s the great great great grand niece of Harriet tubman and great great great great great grand daughter of Ben Ross. And while we’re out there every day I was sending them photographs of the things that would pop up a prettily painted piece of ceramic went through their phone for my phone to their phone. So in a way they were sitting on my shoulder, looking over my shoulder as we’re beginning to pull these things out of the earth and that is the reason we do this. It’s great for marylanders but it’s also very important that we’re in a way creating memories and giving them photographs of their family and their families items. So without thought any more talk about archaeology and I’m happy to have to answer questions later, but I’d like to introduce um Tina Wyatt, the descendant of Harriet Tubman and Ben Ross. Okay, yeah, greetings to you, Lieutenant Governor and to all those working in the Maryland State Department and it’s great to be here. I love coming down here. Um ever since that we, you know, had the opening and before we had the opening, it was just a wonderful place to be for something that occurred that was so horrific to my people. This place is so peaceful and so calm and I just love it. I love just coming standing out here and I’m just looking around and knowing that you know, this was a part of her life, the beginnings of her life and knowing that it’s and the other thing that is so wonderful about it is that it’s pretty much untouched from the time that she was here, that he was here. So we’re able to really see what she saw here, what she heard and look and just feel the environment. She embraced this environment, not her circumstances but the environment. And she learned from it. She learned from what her father had to teach her. And he also embraced that environment and made the best of it most of all I want to thank Dr julie yeah, who kept us abreast as family every step. You know, she contacted us even though we couldn’t be here and I wish I could have been here. I would have loved to have been here. Uh, but you know, safety and everything else comes first. So, uh, but she text us, she, she sent pictures as soon as it came. Uh, a parent to her. So it was, it was like, as she described as like we were right there with her, you know, the next best thing. Uh, and it means so much to the family to be able to, to see all of this. And and that’s why I want to thank the state of Maryland for having the vision and also to have to give the support to create this tourist center and also to keep funding things that that relate to it, that keep the story going and expanding because it’s so important not just for family but for, you know, the world to understand about our history, to know what happened and to, and uh, to be able to understand the differences between the different types of plantations and farms and things that existed then. And I think this is part of also what the dig that julie is doing um, shows because when she showed us the fragments of, of some of the plates, things like that. And I looked at him, I said, wow. I asked, I said, this is to me it looks highly decorative. I didn’t expect to see something like this used by enslaved people. I mean because my knowledge of seeing things were, you know, guards and wooden spoons and wooden plates, things like that. But to see that, I said, you know that, that dispels a myth, you know, how is that related, is it related to just this area uh, to this plantation? Was it related because who he was because for him to have been given 10 acres, You know, and, and, and freedom, but mostly that 10 acres, that’s something that’s not common, you know? So was it, was he using those kinds of uh, everyday utensils, uh, to be able to eat off of and use on the data because of who he was, The status that he had within the plantation. Um, we don’t know. And so that’s something that, you know, continues to be explored. And as you come up with more and more artifacts, it tells the story, it expands the story of our family, but also of telling the story of enslaved life, uh, and also afterwards for, you know, for United States and the world to be able to see. So um it also humanizes him. It makes a connection for us as a family to be able to be able to, because julie just showed me the the half dollar And I and 1808 and that’s when they were married. Uh So, you know, it helps me to visualize them getting married. Maybe they, maybe they were given that half dollar. Um and you know, it being there and then they dropped it or something like that. Um you know, making up my own story about what it was. Um And so it also tells me when, when she found the pipe, I said, oh, so he was a pipe smoker, you know, and uh, you know, so that helped me to visualize at the end of his day, did he have time to go and and sit in his cabin and uh, smoke his pipe? You know, sit down and contemplate what he was going to do next? Uh Because for for him to be a supervisor, um for the timbering, that was something unusual as well. But but but but with him being her father, I’m Harriet’s father. He taught her many valuable lessons, things that she used throughout her life, things. She used to liberate herself to liberate others, things that she used when she went down to fight in the civil war that made her so great at what she did. A lot of that came from her father and that knowledge that she uh embraced as she was growing up, no matter what her circumstances were. So, you know, I love you dr julie for being for persevering and being so determined to keep on trying to uncover uh their life story that brings it more of alive to us. Thank you
Archaeologists discover homesite owned by Harriet Tubman’s father
Historic artifacts date back to early to mid 1800s
Updated: 11:10 AM EDT Apr 20, 2021
Archaeologists in Maryland discovered the historic homesite once owned by the father of Harriet Tubman, state officials announced Tuesday.The former home of Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, was discovered on property acquired in 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County. “I am excited to announce our archaeologists have confirmed that this site was once the home of Ben Ross, and may have been where Harriet Tubman spent her early years,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said.In November 2020, 11 News reported on how archaeologists were combing through clues found in the Dorchester County woods, looking for Tubman’s birthplace.”A breakthrough occurred in March,” Rutherford said. “Archaeologists uncovered evidence of a homesite and historic artifacts dating back to the early to mid 1800s.”State Highway Administration Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky and her team found numerous artifacts dating to the 1800s, including nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and a button.See photos from the Maryland Department of Transportation”We looked at those artifacts closer and confirmed that these artifacts do date to the time period when he was living there,” Schablitsky said. “With the artifacts, the archaeology, the evidence of a building, and just the location — knowing he worked in the timbered wetlands — those multiple lines of evidence told us unequivocally that this is the home of Ben Ross.”State officials said the property acquired by the USFWS contains 10 acres bequeathed to Ross by Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. As outlined in Thompson’s will, Ross was to be freed five years after Thompson’s death in 1836. Ross was freed from slavery and received the land in the early 1840s.Tubman was born Araminta Ross in March 1822 on the Thompson Farm near Cambridge in Dorchester County. She and her mother were enslaved by the Brodess family and moved away from the farm when she was a toddler.”The importance of discovering Ben Ross’ cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman. She would’ve spent time here as a child, but also she would’ve come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him,” Schablitsky said.Ben Ross felled and sold timber, which was transported by free Black mariners to Baltimore shipyards and used to build ships. Tubman learned to navigate difficult terrain while working with her father. Interacting with mariners also provided knowledge of waterways on the East Coast, which may have helped her lead people to freedom via the Underground Railroad, state officials said.”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.Schablitsky kept in touch with family descendants, sending them photos of what they found as the search was underway.”It means so much to the family to be able to see all of this, and that’s why I want to thank the state of Maryland for having the vision and also to give the support to create this tourist center and also to keep funding things that relate to it and keep the story going and expanding because it’s so important, not just for a family, but for the world to understand about our history, to know what happened,” said Tina Wyatt, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter.The archaeological discovery of Ben Ross’ home site will be highlighted on the historic Thompson Farm where he and his family were enslaved. This new point of interest will be officially added to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, designated an All-American Road by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The byway is a 125-mile, self-guided scenic drive that includes more than 30 sites related to Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy.In October 2020, 11 News reported on the team of archaeologists from the Maryland Department of Transportation and St. Mary’s College who unearthed what they believe are slave quarters in Southern Maryland that are more than 300 years old.In September 2020, 11 News reported on the tiny log cabin in Hagerstown that is at the center of a major archaeology dig. Historians and archaeologists figured out the cabin, which was slated for demolition, had major ties to the history of African Americans in Western Maryland.In 2014, 11 News reported about the SHA’s archaeological find in Anne Arundel County that provided a look at life 200 years ago.
CHURCH CREEK, Md. —
Archaeologists in Maryland discovered the historic homesite once owned by the father of Harriet Tubman, state officials announced Tuesday.
The former home of Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, was discovered on property acquired in 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.
“I am excited to announce our archaeologists have confirmed that this site was once the home of Ben Ross, and may have been where Harriet Tubman spent her early years,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said.
“A breakthrough occurred in March,” Rutherford said. “Archaeologists uncovered evidence of a homesite and historic artifacts dating back to the early to mid 1800s.”
State Highway Administration Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky and her team found numerous artifacts dating to the 1800s, including nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and a button.
“We looked at those artifacts closer and confirmed that these artifacts do date to the time period when he was living there,” Schablitsky said. “With the artifacts, the archaeology, the evidence of a building, and just the location — knowing he worked in the timbered wetlands — those multiple lines of evidence told us unequivocally that this is the home of Ben Ross.”
State officials said the property acquired by the USFWS contains 10 acres bequeathed to Ross by Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. As outlined in Thompson’s will, Ross was to be freed five years after Thompson’s death in 1836. Ross was freed from slavery and received the land in the early 1840s.
Tubman was born Araminta Ross in March 1822 on the Thompson Farm near Cambridge in Dorchester County. She and her mother were enslaved by the Brodess family and moved away from the farm when she was a toddler.
“The importance of discovering Ben Ross’ cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman. She would’ve spent time here as a child, but also she would’ve come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him,” Schablitsky said.
Ben Ross felled and sold timber, which was transported by free Black mariners to Baltimore shipyards and used to build ships. Tubman learned to navigate difficult terrain while working with her father. Interacting with mariners also provided knowledge of waterways on the East Coast, which may have helped her lead people to freedom via the Underground Railroad, state officials said.
“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.
Schablitsky kept in touch with family descendants, sending them photos of what they found as the search was underway.
“It means so much to the family to be able to see all of this, and that’s why I want to thank the state of Maryland for having the vision and also to give the support to create this tourist center and also to keep funding things that relate to it and keep the story going and expanding because it’s so important, not just for a family, but for the world to understand about our history, to know what happened,” said Tina Wyatt, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter.
The archaeological discovery of Ben Ross’ home site will be highlighted on the historic Thompson Farm where he and his family were enslaved. This new point of interest will be officially added to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, designated an All-American Road by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The byway is a 125-mile, self-guided scenic drive that includes more than 30 sites related to Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy.
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“Today, I am excited to announce our archaeologists have confirmed that this site (searched in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge) was once home to Ben Ross, and may have been where Harriet Tubman spent her early years.” @MarylandDNR @MDOTNews @USFWS pic.twitter.com/Q7P1OuTC1d
In September 2020, 11 News reported on the tiny log cabin in Hagerstown that is at the center of a major archaeology dig. Historians and archaeologists figured out the cabin, which was slated for demolition, had major ties to the history of African Americans in Western Maryland.