The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake
The water-laced Eastern Shore landscape is Harriet Tubman’s homeland. From the misery of slavery and the lasting love of family, she learned survival and navigation skills on the land and water, became strong and self-determined, and developed significant maritime connections that served her successful escape and repeated rescue missions that followed.
Along trails at Adkins Arboretum, walk through verdant woodlands, cross sparking streams and view freshwater wetlands, all the while contemplating how freedom seekers found their way and survived on foot in these environs. Discover their secrets and the myriad ways they used the natural environment to hide, find food and shelter, communicate and avoid being caught. Just how did they do it? What did they endure? Experience this for yourself while surrounded by the beauty, opportunity and challenge that the natural world provides. Following your forest journey and experiential tour, watch the film Rooted Wisdom to discover more clues.
With its forests, thickets, marshes, rivers and creeks, the Eastern Shore's natural landscapes provided a passageway to freedom along the Underground Railroad for hundreds, and possibly thousands of freedom seekers, including abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Tubman and enslaved and free Blacks throughout the Chesapeake were naturalists with enormous wells of knowledge about the flora and fauna of their worlds. Their methods reflect a deep connection to, and understanding of, the natural environment. They offer us a fresh look at landscapes teeming with life through the four seasons of the year.
12610 Eveland Road
Ridgely, MD 21660
Come to the Oxford waterfront to honor and give reverence to the hundreds of enslaved Africans who were shipped to auction at this colonial port town. Oxford was one of the first ports of entry authorized by Maryland’s colonial government in the Chesapeake and remained so until the mid-18th century. It is the only UNESCO documented international slave trade site on the Eastern Shore. At least 29 slave trade voyages disembarked their enslaved cargo here.
Explore the quaint historic town of Oxford and feel the bay breezes on your cheek as you catch the rosy sunset to the west. While you’re there, stay at the historic Robert Morris Inn, then visit the Oxford Museum, stop for a homemade ice cream cone at Scottish Highland Creamery, and take the ferry across the Tred Avon River to Belleview, a historic Black settlement with deep roots in the Chesapeake region’s vast maritime community.
Oxford - Bellevue Ferry
27456 Oxford Road
Oxford, MD 21654
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County and worked farms and plantations in St. Michaels where he watched sailing ships glide with the wind through the Miles River, inspiring him to hope for freedom, and enlightening him to a method of escape.
“It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the water. This very bay shall yet bear me into freedom.”
Douglass later escaped and became one of the leading Americans in the Abolition Movement. His eloquent words inspired many to work on the Underground Railroad. A self-guided driving tour of 14 sites in Talbot County gives an overview of Frederick Douglass's early life. Paddle the Miles River on water trails to get a first-hand account of the freedom of being on the Bay.
Frederick Douglass Driving Tour of Talbot County
11 South Harrison Street
Easton, MD 21601
Tilghman Island and Bay Hundred Water Trails
The landscapes of Kent Island figure prominently in Frederick Douglass’s dreams of freedom. His view of the Chesapeake Bay across the Miles River included the lush greenery of southern Kent Island. He lived and worked in Bayside in Talbot County as a young teenager in the 1830s. Douglass later recalled that his slave quarters “stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. … The sight of these always affected me powerfully.”
Experience these glorious bay views from the pier at Romancoke Wharf County Park and look across the water toward Bayside where Douglass lived. Paddle a water trail to feel the joy of being out on the water.
Romancoke Wharf County Park
9700 Romancoke Road
Stevensville, MD 21666
Kent Island Water Trails
Chesapeake Heritage & Visitors Center
425 Piney Narrows Road
Chester, MD 21619
A bustling port, ferry crossing, and a moveable bridge structure once occupied this location on the Choptank River. Today you can walk the dock, see the historic Joppa Steamboat Wharf and view artwork depicting historic scenes at this location.
During the 1850s, steamboats loaded with freight and passengers made weekly departures from this wharf in Denton and headed to Baltimore. Enslaved African Americans worked in shipyards on the Choptank River where there were opportunities for escape. The Choptank River served as a vital artery to find freedom and simultaneously a barrier to liberation.
When Underground Railroad conductor Hugh Hazlett was arrested for assisting enslaved people to flee, he boarded a steamboat here in 1858 on his way to trial downriver in Cambridge, where he faced possible mob violence.
Download the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Audio Tour to listen to stories from this site and many others. Drive the byway to experience the landscapes of Harriet Tubman’s homeland that witnessed hundreds of escapes.
10219 River Landing Road
Denton, MD 21629
Enslaved Joseph Cornish raced to Gilpin’s Point in Caroline County on December 8, 1855 where he had heard there was a vessel about to sail on which he could get passage to freedom. Gilpin Point was one of the busiest wharves along the Choptank River and served as a landing for both steamboats and sailing vessels that transported people, timber, produce, seafood, and other products.
Harriet Tubman likely directed Joseph Cornish’s escape from Captain Samuel W. LeCompte in Cambridge. The vessel he took passed by Marsh Creek, where Tubman’s parents, Ben and Rit Ross, lived at Poplar Neck, just downriver from Gilpin Point. Ship captains were always eager for crew members, so Cornish worked his passage to Baltimore.
He stopped in Philadelphia to seek assistance from William Still who recorded his narrative. Still offered him food and rest and sent him on to New York and finally to Canada.
Explore the peaceful wooded waterfront park and picnic area whose tranquility belies the activity this site once witnessed. Launch a kayak to paddle the Choptank River and envision a beleaguered Cornish racing to freedom on these same waters at the once-busy wharf.
Gilpin Point Park
Holly Park Drive
Harmony, MD 21655
Explore Choptank Landing Park and Marina, walk to the Marsh Creek Bridge and imagine Harriet Tubman conducting escapes in the 1850s from this former waterfront plantation, once owned by Dr. Anthony C. Thompson. She guided her brothers Ben, Henry and Robert, Ben’s fiance Jane Kane, and friends John Chase and Peter Jackson to freedom on Christmas Day 1854 from this large plantation in Caroline County. Harriet Tubman's parents, Ben and Rit Ross were active in assisting freedom seekers from their meager cabin on this property.
Walk the dirt road and pathways that may have bore the footsteps of Tubman herself. Feel the marsh breezes and see their grasses waving in the wind and moving with the stream currents. Look for fish jumping in the river. This place holds the spirit and memory of Tubman and her family members who envisioned freedom for themselves and others. Experience it for yourself.
Paddle or launch a boat from the Choptank Landing Marina and travel upriver to view the former plantation from the water. Learn more about these thrilling rescue missions through the captivating Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Audio Tour to enhance your visit.
Northwest side of Marsh Creek Bridge
Choptank Road at Choptank River
Preston, MD 21655
Take a cruise on the Choptank River with the Choptank Riverboat Company and see the beautiful river that served as a route and barrier to freedom for many freedom seekers from Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot counties. With its headwaters near the Delaware border, freedom seekers from the region could travel by boat or follow its banks northeast and be within fifty miles of the Pennsylvania line and freedom. Using their own maritime skills, relying on the aid of other mariners, or secreting themselves aboard vessels sailing along the river, freedom seekers used a variety of resources to utilize the river as their means of escape from slavery.
Choptank Riverboat Company is a certified Chesapeake Bay Storyteller and provides tours with information about Harriet Tubman and other freedom seekers who used the Choptank as their guide and pathway to freedom. The riverboat is docked at Suicide Bridge Restaurant where you can enjoy a seafood dinner following your cruise.
6304 Suicide Bridge Road
Hurlock, MD, 21643
Sail on the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester from Long Wharf in Cambridge. The Skipjack Nathan worked as an oystering vessel, plying the Bay to collect oysters and sell them in Chesapeake ports. Feel the freedom of the river’s breezes and the waves rocking the boat on waters that once bore the sorrows and pains of enslaved Africans who were also carried on this river to port at Long Wharf. Imagine the fears of those who were enslaved, arriving here for the first time after a harrowing trans-Atlantic journey facing sale at auction.
In addition to channeling people into slavery, the Choptank River acted as a conduit to freedom for some runaways and ferried those who were captured in the act of escape or in assisting escapes to trial. Long Wharf was the place they arrived and were taken to jail.
Harriet Tubman’s Chesapeake holds memories both joyful and tragic. The poignancy of this place is apparent in Long Wharf’s ironic histories of slavery and freedom, and its juxtaposed harshness and beauty.
Today you can enjoy the publicly owned waterfront on foot, bike, boat or car. Discover the fate of Underground Railroad conductor Hugh Hazlett and others at Long Wharf through the award-winning Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Audio Tour. See Cambridge from a different perspective - from the water on a pleasant and scenic cruise.
Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester
100 High Street
Cambridge, MD 21613
Be immersed in Harriet Tubman’s world and discover other freedom seekers through multimedia exhibits that are emotionally evocative. Discover the training ground these Chesapeake land and waterscapes provided Tubman during her early years. Find out about her work while enslaved, tending muskrat traps in nearby marshes. Learn about the context of slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Underground Railroad as a resistance movement, and Tubman’s rescue missions, including the communication networks that relied upon the Chesapeake’s waterways.
Park rangers facilitate meaningful connections between visitors and Tubman’s life and legacy through interpretive programs. An orientation film, Harriet Tubman: Soldier of Freedom provides an introduction and overview to her life.
4068 Golden Hill Road
Church Creek, MD 21622
Experience the wild landscapes that Harriet Tubman traversed, labored, conquered and admired. The vast open marshes on the wide Blackwater River teeming with migratory waterfowl, the deep loblolly pine and white oak forests laden with thickets of thorny greenbrier and the unforgiving sharp burrs of sweet gum fruits all would be familiar to Tubman. Download the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Audio Tour to reveal the stories of Tubman’s childhood and flights to freedom on the Underground Railroad near the Blackwater River.
As you immerse yourself in Tubman’s homeland, you have options to hike trails through the woods, climb overlooks, peer through bird blinds and walk boardwalks over the marshlands to absorb the sights, sounds, smells and the feeling of the land, air and waterscapes of her childhood. Imagine what it was like for Tubman to live in this area. Were there areas so dense that she or her family members could retreat to for safety from slaveholders who intended to sell them? How did she find her way through the thick woodlands to navigate to freedom? Can you find natural foods she could have consumed?
Here is the place where you can find land and waterscapes so similar to those Tubman experienced, that if she were to be here today, she would know where she was standing.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Cambridge, MD 21613
Rent a kayak or canoe or take a guided paddling tour on the Little Blackwater River to see where Harriet Tubman lived and worked and had family ties. Other options include paddling the Blackwater River Water Trail in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge by launching at the boat ramp on MD 335. These environs are the very places where she set foot in her childhood.
Tubman’s roots here run deep. On the east banks of the Little Blackwater River near the Little Blackwater River Bridge, Tubman’s grandmother Modesty, a first generation African, was enslaved and delivered a daughter, Rit Green who would become Tubman’s mother. As a young, enslaved girl, Tubman checked muskrat traps in the icy cold Little Blackwater River for her slaveholder, James Cook.
Come and experience this incredible landscape by canoe or kayak. Learn of the quests of those who lived on the river and the flights to freedom for those able and daring enough to escape. The tour affords visitors a unique opportunity and perspective on the nearly pristine environment virtually unchanged from Tubman's days while enslaved here - a place that provided an outdoor survival training ground, communication and transportation network, and a barrier and pathway to freedom.
2524 Key Wallace Drive
Cambridge, MD 21613
Parson’s Creek served as an escape route for numerous enslaved people and provided easy access to the Chesapeake Bay, but its history includes a grueling and sometimes deadly past - the digging of Stewart’s Canal. The creek connected to the historic port of Madison via the 7-mile Stewart’s Canal, laboriously hand dug by enslaved men and free Blacks.
Tubman moved logs via the canal on oxen-drawn rafts, heading toward Madison where she worked the wharves, loading cargo onto ships bound for faraway ports. Here she made important connections with Black mariners and dock workers, both free and enslaved, who could carry messages to family in Baltimore and elsewhere when the sailors traveled to those cities. She learned ways to navigate by using the stars from these mariners, skills she would later employ in her Underground Railroad missions.
Drive the Harriet Tubman Byway over Stewart’s Canal and view the endless channel that once witnessed the blood, sweat and tears of the enslaved men who birthed her. The canal now silently and peacefully flows to the bay, mute to the events and activity that once transpired here.
Stop at Madison and launch your power boat or kayak from the Madison Boat Ramp to explore these waterways that once served as a vital communication network and highway to freedom for Harriet Tubman and many other enslaved people. Listen to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Audio Tour for stories of flights to freedom, such as the escapes of Winnebar Johnson, Jane Pennington and Joseph and Nellie Keene, a well as Tubman’s brothers that highlight the importance of Madison’s and Parson Creek’s Chesapeake connections.
MD Route 16 and Madison Canning House Road
Madison, MD 21648