Washington Post 7-9-87
Eastern Shore Honors
Bucktown Seeks to Mark Birthplace Of ‘Underground Railroad’
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
Page 14 The Lowcountry
Ledger Wednesday, January 3,
Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Was Where
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
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
Tubman had a childhood similar to that of most slave
children; no schooling, little play, much hard work and severe
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.