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NCA Chapter Sponsors An Underground Railroad Bus Tour
Beverly Bentley, CTA, ACC, DS


“There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death. If I could not have one,
I would have the other.” --- Harriet Tubman

In conjunction with the Centennial Celebration of the death of Harriet Tubman, the National Capital Area Chapter of TPOC (Travel Professionals of Color) recently sponsored a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad tour. Tubman was born in Dorchester County, Maryland (Bucktown) around 1820 and died on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York from pneumonia. She was buried with full military honors.

Our region has an abundance of significant Underground Railroad (UGRR) sites because of Maryland’s pivotal place as the last “station” for enslaved people seeking freedom in the northern states. The Eastern Shore area is not only the birthplace of Tubman but also Frederick Douglas and other Blacks (and Whites) who joined in the struggle for freedom. Many sites on the “Road to Freedom” are still standing and located about 90 miles from Washington, D.C.

Friday – March 8, 2013

After a light lunch, the weekend began as an escort-guided bus tour. We were greeted by our certified Harriet Tubman Byway guide, Priscilla Timken of Chesapeake Tours and Promotions. Ms. Timken pointed out various sites including the Linchester Mill where enslaved and free Blacks worked side-by-side and the location of a shallow creek which was used as a crossing point for freedom seekers heading north. The significance of this crossing point and safe houses in this area was further explained by J.O.K. Walsh, of the Caroline County Historical Society.



Our next stop was the marshlands of Poplar Neck, the site of Tubman’s most daring rescues. The highlight at Poplar Neck was a presentation by Underground Railroad (UGRR) historian, Tony Cohen. Mr. Cohen shared with our group many stories from his research of approximately 3,000 enslaved and 3,000 free Blacks of the region. He has traced his family tree and walked the route of his slave ancestor’s escape to freedom from Alabama and Maryland into Canada. As the sun was setting over the marshlands, we visited the Webb Cabin (c. 1852) which is the only log dwelling still standing on the Eastern Shore known to have been built by a free Black man. The evening ended with a reception at the Denton Museum of Rural Life and an artistic salute to Harriet Tubman by Mark Priest. For a decade, Priest has been researching Tubman’s life and capturing her inspiring stories on canvas. The artist autographed his work for those who purchased copies of his beautiful paintings.

Saturday – March 9, 2013

Our tour resumed around 8:30am with a visit to the Stanley Institute — a one room African-American schoolhouse which was used from 1867 to desegregation in the 1960s. This school and the small church across the street are located in the region where 28 men, women and children safely escaped to Canada in 1857. National newspapers during that time reported the escape as the “Stampede of Slaves.” From the Stanley Institute we journeyed to Joseph Stewart’s Canal, a seven-mile canal that was hand dug through the marsh by enslaved and free Blacks. The canal was used to float logs and other agricultural products to the shipyards on the Eastern Shore. It is on this canal that Harriet learned important outdoor survival skills while working with her father and other men in the timber industry. Around mid-day we enjoyed the charm of historic downtown Cambridge. We had the opportunity to enjoy Maryland’s famous seafood for lunch, browse in quaint shops and boutiques, and visit the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center.

One of the many highlights was a stop at the Bucktown Village Store, the site of young Harriet’s first act of defiance that resulted in a blow to her head that fractured her skull while she attempted to assist a fellow enslaved man. As a result of the injury, she experienced life-long health problems and spiritual visions that changed her views and guided the rest of her life.

It is in the area of Bucktown where Araminta “Minty” Ross (Harriet’s birth name) was born on the Brodess Farm. The original buildings no longer exist but there is a historical marker that not only acknowledges Harriet’s role in the UGRR but her roles as a Union Army nurse, spy, and scout. The day ended with our attendance at the Annual Harriet Tubman Day Banquet. History professor, Dr. Clara Small, was the guest speaker. Travel Professionals of Color NCAC was recognized at the banquet and our tour participants were given individual memberships to the Harriet Tubman Organization.

Sunday – March 10, 2013
On Sunday afternoon we concluded our tour to historical sites with a stop at the Dorchester County Courthouse where Harriet’s niece and her two children escaped from the auction block; a ride down High Street to view the in-town homes of the slaveholding families; and a stop at Long Warf where ships from Africa and the West Indies brought kidnapped slaves and sold them along the waterfront. From there the Choptank River extends 65 miles northeast to Delaware. The waterway served as a passageway (as well as an obstacle) for slaves who would either stowaway on vessels or walk to find safe crossings at shallow points.

Our last event of the awesome weekend was a musical tribute to Harriet Tubman. We were entertained at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake by Marcus Shelby and his quartet with vocals by Faye Carol. Mr. Shelby is a jazz musician from the San Francisco Bay area who composed a moving musical tribute to Harriet entitled Bound for the Promise Land.

As the saying goes, “all good things must come to end”. After the concert, we returned home with pictures, memories, and a new appreciation for our She-ro — Harriet Araminta Ross Tubman Davis, UGRR conductor, Union Army spy, scout, nurse, and in her later years women’s suffrage movement advocate.

The National Capital Area Chapter plans to make this tour an annual event during the month of March in celebration of Tubman and Women’s History Month. If you would like additional information when available contact us at tpoc_ncac@hotmail.com.

On March 25, 2013 President Obama signed a bill under the Antiquities Act designating a 480-acre property on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a National Park in honor of Tubman. “As our nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service is committed to connecting people with the places and stories of the diverse peoples who have come together to create the common heritage of the United States,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Harriet Tubman’s story and accomplishments are profound and inspirational and we are excited to be able to preserve and interpret part of her life’s story.

To view additional pictures of this tour visit our facebook page:
TPOC-NCA Harriet Tubman Centennial -Underground Railroad Tour
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