Archaeologists excavate the homesite of Harriet Tubman's father

Archaeologists excavate the homesite of Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross.

CHURCH CREEK — Officials announced the recent discovery and partial excavation of the homesite of Harriet Tubman’s father in southern Dorchester County.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford joined state and federal partners at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center on Tuesday, April 20, to announce the discovery of the historic homesite of the cabin once owned by the father of famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. The former home of Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, was discovered on property acquired in 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as an addition to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County. An archaeology team led by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration conducted research that led to the discovery.

“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.”

USFWS purchased the 2,600-acre Peter’s Neck property for $6 million with Land and Water Conservation Funds and revenues from the Federal Duck Stamps program, along with assistance from The Conservation Fund. This land was purchased as a critical addition with the impact of sea-level rise to provide future marsh migration and outdoor recreation. The property contains 10 acres bequeathed to Ben Ross by Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. As outlined in Thompson’s will, Ben Ross was to be freed five years after Thompson’s death in 1836. Ben Ross was freed from slavery and received the land in the early 1840s.

“When we protect vulnerable habitats, we help preserve the stories of those who came before us, like Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross,” said USFWS Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System Cynthia Martinez. “Acquiring Peter’s Neck last year was a critical addition to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, as the area is predicted to naturally convert to marsh by 2100 because of sea-level rise. We look forward to working with our partners to create more opportunities to connect people to nature and strengthen the bond between the land and community.”

Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky holds Ben's Cabin coin

Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky holds a coin she discovered at Tubman’s father’s cabin.

MDOT SHA’s archaeology team, led by MDOT SHA Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky, began searching for evidence linked to Ben Ross in November. When they returned in March to continue their search, Schablitsky and her team found numerous artifacts dating to the 1800s, including nails, brick, glass, dish fragments and even a button. At today’s event announcing the confirmation that these artifacts were evidence of Ben Ross’s cabin, Schablitsky discussed their historical and cultural significance.

Schablitsky described the initial unsuccessful search for the site, and how the use of a metal detector as a last investigative tool revealed the discovery of an 1808 half dollar as the first find at what researchers recognize as the site of Ross’s cabin.

“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,” said Schablitsky. “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.”

Archeologist holds coin

Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky holds a coin found at the site of Harriet Tubman’s father’s cabin.

Harriet 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. Ben Ross felled and sold timber, which was transported by free black mariners to Baltimore shipyards and used to build ships. Harriet 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.

“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,” said Tina Wyatt, Harriet Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter. “This brings enlightenment, revealing how he lived his daily life making it a real-life connection to and for me, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter.”

Wyatt remarked that seeing the decorative nature of some of the pottery made her rethink the nature of everyday life for her ancestors.

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.

“The landscape surrounding our 17-acre park looks much the same today as it did then. This view offers a powerful experience that really allows you to appreciate how well Tubman knew the terrain and how she used it to help others to freedom,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. “Preserving and protecting these newly discovered artifacts provides an additional way to experience her heroic story and connection to the land.”

FHWA provided funding for this archaeological dig and has provided funding to support operation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway because of the link to Maryland’s transportation network.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.