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Officials announce discovery of Harriet Tubman's father's cabin site

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 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.”


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.

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Four arrests made in Cambridge murder

CAMBRIDGE — Police arrested four men in connection with a fatal shooting on April 5 in Cambridge.

Maryland State Police took custody of the four men in separate arrests over a five-day period. Each are charged with first-degree murder.

The accused are identified as 21-year-old Da’Yon Lofland of Hurlock, 19-year-old Troy Rose Jr. of Federalsburg, 21-year-old Elijah Jordan of Cambridge and 21-year-old Justin Boyce of Hackensack, New Jersey.

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Elijah Jordan

All four men were located and arrested without incident at different locations; and after consultation with the Dorchester County State’s Attorney, all four have been charged with first-degree murder. The four men are being held without bond at the Dorchester County Detention Center.

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Troy Rose Jr.

Lofland was arrested on Thursday, April 15, in Annapolis, and Rose was arrested on Friday, April 16, in Easton. Carmon and Boyce were officially charged in Cambridge on Monday, April 19.

mdetmer / MSP PHOTO 

Da’Yon Lofland

Police identified the victim in the April 5 shooting as 22-year-old Da’Jour Sorrell of Cambridge. He was pronounced deceased by personnel at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester after being transported from the scene. An autopsy determined Sorrell’s death was the result of multiple gunshot wounds, and his death was ruled a homicide.

mdetmer / MSP PHOTO 

Justin Boyce

Shortly before 9:55 p.m. on April 5, officers from the Cambridge Police Department responded to the area of Greenwood Avenue and Gloria Richardson Circle in Cambridge for a reported shooting. Officers found the victim, later identified as Sorrell, lying on the ground with evidence of gunshot wounds.


The intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Gloria Richardson Circle where police say a man was fatally shot on Monday evening, April 5.

A request was made for the Maryland State Police Homicide Unit to respond and conduct the investigation. Investigators from the Homicide Unit and the Criminal Enforcement Division responded to the scene, as did crime scene technicians from the State Police Forensic Sciences Division.

Police believe Sorrell was riding a bicycle in the area when shots were fired in his direction. Sorrell subsequently fell off of his bicycle, got up and ran onto Gloria Richardson Circle, where additional shots were fired. Sorrell was taken by ambulance by emergency medical personnel to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

State Police Homicide Unit investigators are actively investigating the incident with assistance from the State Police Criminal Enforcement Division Lower Shore and forensic analysts from the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division. Cambridge Police, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, Federalsburg Police Department and personnel from the Dorchester County Narcotics Task Force are also assisting with the investigation. The Dorchester County State’s Attorney’s Office has been actively involved in providing guidance to support police during this investigation.

Anyone with information relevant to this case is asked to call 202-510-2847. The investigation continues.

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Mom of murder victim creates reward fund

CAMBRIDGE — The mother of a murder victim is setting up a reward fund to help find the suspect in her son’s murder.

Jeanne Elliott, mother of Roderick Russ, received a check for $1,000 from store owner Frank Azl on Monday, April, 19 at Short Stop Food Mart on the corner of Washington Street and Greenwood Avenue.

Azl owns and operates Short Stop as well as Cambridge Super Soda on Cedar Street. He told Elliott that the check was not a donation, but rather was to show her, “The community cares, we care for her loss.”

“It’s to make her feel that we stand with her,” he said.

“Words can’t express how much it means,” said Elliott, “I’ve been feeling like I’m alone, like I’ve been fighting alone.”

The Cambridge Police Department has an active arrest warrant for 22-year-old Ryshon Kelly, 22, on a charge of first-degree murder in connection Russ’s fatal stabbing on Douglas Street on Oct. 24, 2020.

“We as communities and neighbors need to band together when tragedies happen,” said Cambridge City Council President Lajan Cephas. “We need to stop protecting individuals who commit crimes in our neighborhoods.

“If anyone has any information on the Roderick Russ case, they need to reach out to CPD. Let’s work towards giving the family and our city some peace. If you know something, please say something.”

Cambridge Mayor Andrew Bradshaw said the renewed effort and focus on finding the suspect fits with the current climate of law enforcement in the city, with police recently making five arrests over two weeks in the cases of two separate murders.

“We’re going to ensure that anyone who commits that type of crime is held responsible,” Bradshaw said, “If there’s anything we can do to make it easy or safer for individuals to get involved (solving the crimes), we’re going to do it.”

Bradshaw said the police can investigate and research, but without assistance from citizens, some crimes cannot be solved: “It takes all of us working together — we have to value the lives of our neighbors more than anything else.”

Elliott said that some members of the community needed to change the way they view violence: “People have to think before they act. Nothing is worth taking a person’s life. You can’t take it back.”

Donations to the reward fund are being accepted via Cash App at $Justice4Ra.

CPD spokesman Capt. Justin Todd said Kelly may have changed his appearance and hair style.

Kelly is described as having black hair and brown eyes, standing 5’7” tall and weighing 143 pounds.

Kelly’s whereabouts are unknown at this time, and anyone with information is asked to contact their local police agency or the CPD at 410-228-3333.

Tips can be phoned in to CPD anonymously by calling 410-228-3784.