Maryland proclaimed 2022 as the “Year of Harriet Tubman,” to celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth. The most famous Underground Railroad agent in our country’s history, Tubman was born into an enslaved family near the marshes, waterways, and woodlands of the Chesapeake Bay.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a self-guided, scenic driving tour of more than 30 sites, provides an opportunity to explore a landscape that hasn’t changed much in the 200 years since she traversed these same lands.
The City of Cambridge, Maryland, is a good place to center your activities as there are plenty of places to stay, shop and eat. In downtown Cambridge ponder the historical significance of Long Wharf, which witnessed ships arriving or departing as part of the slave trade, and the Dorchester County Courthouse, which was once the site of auctions where people bought and sold enslaved men, women and children. Joseph Stewart’s Canal at Parson Creek was built by enslaved people so that timber and other products could easily be floated to nearby ships for pickup.
Nearby is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, with an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop and research library all dedicated to understanding Tubman’s life as an enslaved woman, a suffragist, a civil rights worker, and a humanitarian.
Tubman’s early years were spent near Bucktown on the Brodess Farm until she escaped in 1849, but she made frequent trips back to the area to help others secure their freedom as well. Although you cannot go onto the farm, as it is privately owned, there is a historical marker and a safe place to pull off. It is powerful to pause for a moment and imagine what it could have been like two centuries prior.
Just down the road is the Bucktown General Store. Walking into the store is like walking back in time. The owners do a fantastic job of sharing the story of a tragic accident at the store that had lasting implications on Tubman’s life and health.
Another place to visit is the Linchester Mill, a hub for Underground Railroad activity thanks to the Quakers, abolitionists, and free Blacks in the community.
You can transport yourself back in time over the course of a weekend, visiting many of the 25 stops on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. It is one of 150 roads in this country that has been designated a National Scenic Byway.
By Shuan Butcher