History buffs with an interest in the Underground Railroad will find plenty of sites to explore in the Mid-Atlantic. Two of the most prominent people involved in the Underground Railroad and the fight for equality — Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass — were both born in Maryland and escaped from slavery there. Now you can follow in their footsteps and find other sites that helped conduct slaves to freedom.
One of the most well-known “conductors” on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was born in Maryland and escaped from slavery on the Eastern Shore. She boldly returned to the state several times to free others, including several members of her own family. Her detailed instructions, use of disguises, and a system of safe houses and aides helped many flee enslavement and find freedom.
To learn more about Tubman, pick up a map at the Dorchester County Visitor Center or online. There are 32 locations to explore on a 125-mile driving tour known as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. A free audio guide is also available online for the tour.
On the driving tour, learn about the daring Christmas Eve escape of Jane Kane with Tubman and see the Buttons Creek site. You can also drive past the home of Jacob and Hannah Leverton, which was a station house on the Underground Railroad. In the process, you’ll learn valuable lessons in U.S. and African-American history.
At the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center in Cambridge you can watch the film, learn about both Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and hear from the well-informed and passionate docents. The free museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.
You can see both sides of the slave story at the Seaford Museum in Seaford, Del. An exhibit depicts Tubman’s only known trip into Delaware, a daring escape with her charge, posing as passengers on an actual train.
Then, meet Patty Cannon, whose reign of terror in Southern Delaware lasted 30 years and included kidnapping free blacks and selling them into slavery in the South.
Born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Frederick Douglass escaped at a young age to freedom in the North. He settled in Rochester, N.Y., but his footprint remained large as Douglass became the editor and publisher of The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, and was active in the Underground Railroad.
The St. Michaels Museum in Talbot County, includes an exhibit, “Frederick Douglass: His world 1818-1895.” The museum’s signature tour “Frederick Douglass, a slave, in St. Michaels 1833-36,” gives an even more detailed view of the early life of St. Michaels’ most famous 19th- century resident and probably the most important African-American abolitionist in the Civil War era. The tours are generally scheduled in late summer and early fall.
After the Civil War, Douglass went to Washington, D.C., where he served as the marshal of the District of Columbia and was appointed recorder of deeds for the city. His home, Cedar Hill, is located at 1411 W St. SE and now known as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. While Douglass did not live in the house during his days with the Underground Railroad, the home and its exhibits share about his life, as well as his tireless advocacy and passionate devotion to civil rights.
Walk in the library where Douglass wrote and studied, see his dumbbells and Panama hat in his bedroom, and walk in the footsteps of other civil rights pioneers who visited him at Cedar Hill. You can also learn about our changing way of life — see the kitchen with a coal stove, considered revolutionary for its time — and consider how the family and their guests lived without indoor plumbing in the historic 14-room house.
You can only enter the house while on a guided tour (offered at intervals throughout the day) with National Park Service rangers. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 877-444-6777. There is a $1.50 fee for each reserved ticket. Reservations must be made at least one day in advance. If available, unreserved tickets are free to the public and may be claimed on a first-come, first-served basis.
The historic house is on top of a 51-foot hill offering lovely views. It can be reached either by climbing 85 stairs or by taking a ramp. A visitors center offers restrooms and a film about Douglass. Parking is available on-site and the location can be reached by public transit. In the summer months, the Smithsonian shuttle will bring you to the site from the National Mall/Smithsonian area at no charge.
A Northern connection
With Maryland remaining a slaveholding state, Pennsylvania was the first true abolitionist state along the Underground Railroad and every county in the state has at least one site of significance to the effort. The Kennett Square Underground Railroad Center teaches about 16 nearby sites that aided slaves making their way North.
In Reading, the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum building was once a stop on the way to freedom. You can spend the night at the Across the Way Bed and Breakfast in Reading, a restored Victorian that was once an Underground Railroad safe house, or at the Pheasant Field Bed and Breakfast in Carlisle, Cumberland County, which was also a station along the “trackless railroad.”
Indiana County, Pa., offers a three-hour self-guided Underground Railroad tour of sites that have existing structures or markers. Indiana County was a hotbed of abolitionist activity and held a well-known collection of stops along the Underground Railroad.
The tour starts at the Underground Railroad History Center in Blairs-ville and its “Freedom in the Air” exhibit. Along the route, a marker tells the story of Richard Newman, who escaped slavery and settled in Blairsville. When a bounty hunter and deputy U.S. marshall arrived in town seeking Newman, a mob ran the two out of town. There’s an annual reenactment of the 1858 rescue.
You’ll also see numerous homes and commercial buildings that were stops along the Underground Railroad’s path to the North.
Harriet Tubman Byway
The Bucktown Village Store is a location closely associated with Harriet Tubman’s youth.