Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge at Sunrise

The Chesapeake Bay
Through Harriet Tubman’s Eyes

When Harriet Tubman set foot on the fields and marshes surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and worked its waterways, America was a different place. Woodlands were expansive, wilderness seemed endless, and she, like many other African-Americans, was held in the bonds of slavery, surviving while wrestling an existence from the land. As she stood on the Chesapeake’s shores, worked its docks and shipyards, and peered across its vast open waters, what did she think and feel about the natural world which surrounded her and the maritime superhighway that stood before her?

Tubman developed skills as a naturalist to read the land and its cycles, navigate by the stars, detect the changing tides, predict the weather, and sense approaching danger by watching the reactions of wildlife. She was intimately familiar with the Chesapeake’s thickets, marshes and coves - with places to hide, food to gather, and pathways to secretly meet up with loved ones. Her life was intertwined with the Chesapeake’s land and waterscapes, its beauty and wildness - from which she drew spiritual comfort and strength.


Harriet Tubman Mural
Crab Dredger at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Boat on the Water
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

For Harriet Tubman and many other free and enslaved African Americans, the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams served as a pathway and port into slavery, a food pantry and medicine chest, a survival training ground, a hidden world of secret communication, a highway and a barrier to freedom, and, during the Civil War, a battleground for liberation. The lessons the Hidden Chesapeake provided Tubman were an integral part of her everyday life and a key to her skills, survival, savvy and long-term activist success.

Explore the Chesapeake Bay’s land and waterscapes and see them with new eyes. Imagine the Chesapeake as Harriet Tubman and her contemporaries experienced the Bay. Look closely and listen carefully to reveal her stories of survival, incomparable courage, and memories of events, both joyful and tragic.

Learn More about Harriet Tubman's Chesapeake.