The Black Bucket List: Underground Railroad

Retrace the steps to freedom many escaped slaves made to the North.

A re-enactor at Belmont Museum

Using her smarts and connections throughout the area, Tubman helped lead slaves to safe houses and eventually to points North, where they were out of the reach of slave holders. She often stayed with Sam Green, a freed minister in the nearby town of East New Market, Md. Using guides to get her from one stop to the next, she and the escaped slaves eventually ended up in the Philadelphia area, where Quakers and abolitionists found places for them. In all, Tubman made 19 trips to escort slaves to freedom.

At the Dorchester County Visitor’s Center, a display gives a detailed explanation of how the Underground Railroad was organized throughout the area. The center also distributes a map telling visitors how they can navigate the historical sites on their own.

Driving through the flat plains, the area seems little changed since Tubman’s days. The marshes where slaves lay in hiding line the flat, slow-moving highway.

Remnants of Black History in These Parts

In the town of Madison, Md., John Stewart Canal, a six-mile canal hand-dug by slaves, is an example of the handiwork of slave labor. About 15 miles further along, in the hamlet of Preston, Md., the James Webb Cabin — a one-room log structure built by Webb, a freed slave — offers a glimpse into how blacks of the era lived. A few miles away, in the town of Linchester, Md., is the antebellum-era Leverton House and Farm, a two-story brick house with a gable, where owners Jacob and Hannah Leverton allowed escaping slaves to stay.

From Maryland, my retrace of the footsteps of escaped slaves took me to Cincinnati. Ohio, which offered the first taste of freedom from the Confederacy for many slaves, has more than a dozen different stations of the Railroad that are still intact.

My destination was the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a modern complex opened in 2004. Strategically constructed along the banks of the Ohio River, it offers a view across the water into Kentucky, the final stop in the South for many escaping slaves.

The Freedom Center gives visitors a broad, absorbing history lesson, including an overview of the conditions that made the Underground Railroad so inviting for so many slaves.

One exhibition, “From Slavery to Freedom,” is a vivid, well-curated show that tells the story of slavery in the Americas. It starts with details of the capture of unsuspecting victims in Sierra Leone and other countries along Africa’s Gold Coast, and includes timelines and facts about the importance of slavery to the U.S. economy. It ends with an account of the emancipation of slaves at the end of the Civil War.

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