Archaeologists have found the site of a cabin belonging to Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross, at the BlackWater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland. Historians believe Tubman would have spent time at the house as a child but would have also returned in her teenage years to work there alongside her father. The discovery has been hailed as a major insight into the life of the civil rights pioneer.
Boyd Rutherford, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, said: “This discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation.
“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.”
Known as the Underground Railroad conductor, Tubman played an instrumental role in rallying and organising anti-slavery activists, as well as rescuing entire families of enslaved people.
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Historians estimate she managed to rescue some 70 people before her death in 1913.
Born into slavery herself as Araminta Ross, Tubman knew very well the pain and suffering of black people in the 19th and early 20th century.
The exact date of her birth is unknown, with various conflicting records stating 1815, 1820, 1822 or 1825.
She changed her named to Harriet after marrying a free Black man named John Tubman.
What is clear, however, is the plot of land at the BlackWater reserve was bequeathed to her father by Anthony Thompson in the 1800s.
Thompson’s will stipulated Ben Ross was to be freed from slavery after his death in 1836, and the former slave was granted the land in the 1840s.
The site was recently excavated after a large plot of land was acquired last year by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The 2,600-acre property covers the 10 acres of land given to Tubman’s father.
The land was purchased in an effort to protect it from the effects of sea-level rise and the encroachment of swampland that threatens the archaeological site.
Archaeologists began excavating the place in November last year, looking for evidence of Ben Ross’s cabin.
The teams returned in March this year to uncover a wealth of artefacts from the 1800s.
Dr Julie Schablitsky, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) State Highway Administration (SHA) Chief Archaeologist, said: “The importance of discovering Ben Ross’ cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman.
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“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.
“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.”
According to Douglas Mitchell, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandson, the discovery of the cabin and artefacts is “truly inestimable”.
He said: “Dr Schablitsky’s findings hold the promise of both deepening and broadening our understanding of the remarkable life not only of the patriarch and his beloved wife, but also, of course, that of his legendary daughter and heroine, Harriet Tubman.
“On this joyous occasion, more than 160 years after Ben Ross departed his humble cabin never to return, all freedom-and-justice-loving Americans are Ross kin, celebrating this immensely important archaeological discovery and the priceless revelations it is destined to offer.”
Tina Wyatt, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter, meanwhile, called the civil rights icon a woman of epic proportions.
She added: “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.
“The world benefits also from the study of these artefacts concerning objects used by the enslaved; are they common to this plantation, to his position, or to this region?
“It gives us so much more to explore, explain and exhibit.”