In a marshy woodland in Maryland, a teenage Harriet Tubman learned the skills that would carry herself, her family, and countless others out of slave states along the Underground Railroad. And now, we know exactly where that was. Archaeologists have located the likely site of the home Tubman's father inhabited in the early 1800s. Ben Ross had been given his freedom and a 10-acre plot of land near Maryland's Blackwater River with his enslaver's death, per the Baltimore Sun. Ross purchased his wife, Rita, out of enslavement, but their children remained enslaved even as Tubman lived at the cabin from 1839 to 1844, from age 17 to 22, reports the Washington Post. During that time, her father, a timber foreman and Underground Railroad "agent," taught her about the network of safe houses used to ferry enslaved people out of the South and how to survive in the woods by trapping muskrat and reading the stars.
When the US Fish and Wildlife Service purchased a 2,600-acre tract of land next to the Blackwater River last year, archaeologist Julie Schablitsky of the State Highway Administration jumped at the chance to explore what might be left of the cabin. The problem was finding it. Her team dug more than 1,000 test pits before Schablitsky spotted a muddy coin dated 1808. About a quarter-mile away emerged bricks, a button, a drawer pull, a pipe stem, and fragments of pottery dating to the first half of the 19th century. "There was nothing else [in the area] … that dated to that time period," says Schablitsky. After marrying, Tubman fled the area in 1849 but returned 13 times over the next decade, helping 70 people out of enslavement, including at least two brothers, per the Post. She helped her free parents escape the South, too. The hope is to make the site accessible to visitors within a year or two. (Tubman could be the first Black person on US currency.)