Cambridge in Dorchester County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Born To Be Free
Harriet Tubman, known as "Minty", was born to Rittia 'Rit' Green Ross, her mother, and Benjamin 'Ben' Ross, her father. Ben and Rit Ross were both enslaved (but to different owners) at the time of Harriet's birth. The number of Harriet Tubman's brothers and sisters is unknown. Here is relevant testimony from a courthouse deposition by her father's last owner, Dr. Anthony C. Thompson. The testimony was given in 1853.
Inherits the Legal Status of Her Mother
Under the laws of Maryland before the Civil War, every African American child, at the time of birth, inherited the legal status of the mother. The child was either born free or born enslaved. When Harriet and her brothers and sisters were born, her mother Rit was enslaved to a young white man named Edward Brodess. He remained their owner until he died in 1849. The Brodess farm near Bucktown is shown in the map to the right (Cambridge). Near the property are the Big Blackwater River and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Very Difficult Childhood
Harriet's brother Henry Ross, however, believed that Edward Brodess would be freeing each of them by Brodess's own will. In spite of the will no one was freed. The Ross family soon realized that some of them would have to be sold tin order to pay off Brodes's debts.
One night, in the fall of 1849, Harriet walked away alone. Here is how one of her grand-nephews (Bowley, who later lived with her) has told the story.
"She told me of her escape. After being so ill-treated, she decided to run away hearing the people talk about the North and how some [were] guided by the North Star. She determined to strike out, so one dark night she left home guided by the North Star when she could see the stars, hiding in the woods in the day. She crossed the line into Delaware finding some friends who helped her through New Jersey into Pennsylvania."
Here are her own words, as transcribed by her biographer Sarah Bradford, after she knew she had "at last crossed the magic 'line' which then separated the land of bondage from the land of freedom.
"...When I found I had crossed that line," she said, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."
Return for Keziah, 1850
The specific objective of Harriet's first trip back to Maryland is not clear. One source says that on her first trip back to Maryland she went to Baltimore. There she met her "sister" Keziah Bowley, and conducted Keziah, her husband, and their two children to Canada. Keziah apparently was the niece of cousin of Harriet Tubman. Harriet probably called Keziah her "sister" because they were about the same age and must have known each other so well.
A key part of Keziah's escape (in December 1850) is described in a courthouse deposition by a white man named Polish Mills. Mills testified in a court case involving settlement of the estate of Edward Brodess. Mills explained how Keziah was taken by her owner's son to the courthouse to Cambridge. There she was auctioned off to the highest bidder, who was her husband. After the sale, she and her husband slipped away without making payment.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway marker series.
Location. Marker has been reported unreadable. 38° 33.588′ N, 76° 3.816′ W. Marker is in Cambridge, Maryland, in Dorchester County. Marker is at the intersection of Washington Street (Maryland Route 343) and Ocean Gateway (U.S. 50) on Washington Street. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Cambridge MD 21613, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this location. Station Stops: The Underground Railroad (a few steps from this marker); The Post War Years (a few steps from this marker); Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden (within shouting distance of this marker); Civil War: Abolitionist, Scout, Spy and Nurse (within shouting distance of this marker); Joe Bailey Shakes the Lion's Paw (within shouting distance of this marker); Meredith House (approx. half a mile away); Thomas Holliday Hicks (approx. ¾ mile away); Cambridge (approx. 0.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Cambridge.
Also see . . . Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden. (Submitted on November 11, 2017, by Devry Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland.)
Categories. • Abolition & Underground RR • African Americans • Women •
Credits. This page was last revised on November 15, 2017. This page originally submitted on November 11, 2017, by Devry Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 75 times since then and 21 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on November 11, 2017, by Devry Jones of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.