Turkey Point lighthouse

The Upper Chesapeake

Turkey Point lighthouse

At the headwaters of the Bay, the expansive rivers, canals, barges, ferry boats and waterways presented both challenges and pathways to freedom for many resourceful and quick-witted runaways, including Harriet Tubman, who found their way to the North.

Paddle the Sassafras River from Turner’s Creek Landing and Hike Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area
Enjoy a Kayak trip on the Sassafras River.
Chris Cerino

While Harriet Tubman was active as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, other abolitionists and Underground Railroad agents were busy directing people safely out of Maryland to freedom. Just south of the Elk River, George Wilmer led a precarious dual life as an enslaved man and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Wilmer and his wife Margaret provided a safehouse near Georgetown Crossroads on the Sassafras River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay along a strategic path to northern Delaware, another step closer to freedom. During a four-month period in 1855, Wilmer forwarded 25 freedom seekers to Quaker Thomas Garrett in Wilmington.

Take in the stunning views of the Sassafras River and Chesapeake Bay from the high banks perched above them at the Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area. Walk trails and listen to the sounds of songbirds or waterfowl. Launch your kayak or powerboat at Turner’s Creek Landing Boat Ramp to see the wide waters of the river and the landscapes where George Wilmer escorted freedom seekers to safety.

Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area
Knock’s Folly Visitor Center
13761 Turners Creek Road
Kennedyville, MD 21645
410 820-1668

Walk or Bike the C & D Canal Trail and Visit Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Museum
The Ben Cardin C & D Canal Trail begins at beautiful Chesapeake City, along the wide Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

A waterside paved trail from Chesapeake City in Maryland guides you along the 30-plus miles to Delaware City in Delaware. The trail is ideal for a stroll and a favorite among cyclists, with a few stops along the way for food, libations and fun. The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Museum, run by the US Army Corps of Engineers, displays the history, building and operations of the canal, a documented Underground Railroad route. 

Many freedom seekers sailed this canal between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River and onto Philadelphia by boarding steamboats and schooners en route to Philadelphia. The canal was safer for smaller watercraft than a voyage into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Local newspapers reported unsuccessful escapes on the canal and complained about suspicious Philadelphia oyster boats with crews assisting escapes. Today the canal is busy with barges delivering goods between the cities, and recreational boats serving the fancies of their passengers.

Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Museum
815 Bethel Road
Chesapeake City, MD  21915
410 855-5622
Learn More

Ben Cardin C & D Canal Trail
Base of Lock Street, adjacent to the town Ferry Dock
North Chesapeake City, MD 21915 

Hike to Turkey Point Lighthouse and Be Inspired by Sweeping Chesapeake Views
Crystal Beach Sunset
Joanne Richart Young

While heading north, freedom seekers navigating the Chesapeake Bay and Elk River were reassured they were following the right course when they saw the beams of light streaming from the Turkey Point Light Station. Using the lighthouse as a guidepost to direct them on their journey, the freedom seekers were hopeful they would find their way. Perched on a tall sandy bluff on a peninsula at the north end of the Bay, the lighthouse still inspires people who see it from the water or by walking the short trail to Turkey Point. Standing high above the water, the sweeping views of the Bay conjure images of those who traveled this pathway in search of liberty. Experience this revelation for yourself.

Turkey Point Lighthouse
Elk Neck State Park
4395 Turkey Point Road
North East, MD 21901

Experience The Underground Railroad: Other Voices of Freedom at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and Environmental Center
Exhibits at the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and Environmental Center describe the role the Havre de Grace waterfront played in the Underground Railroad.

The waterfront city of Havre de Grace, situated where the broad Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake, witnessed several escapes along nearby rivers, creeks, canals and waterways. An interactive and artistic exhibit portrays the stories of people, places, routes and destinations that were a critical part of these freedom journeys. The colorful displays demonstrate the role of waterways and the individuals who assisted in the escaping slaves’ journeys. Discover how water, ferry boats, barges and railroads presented opportunities and challenges, yet resourceful and quick-witted freedom seekers were able to succeed.    

100 Lafayette Street
Havre de Grace, MD 21078
410 939-4800