Archaeologists have unearthed the home of Harriet Tubman’s father in Maryland, authorities announced Tuesday. The home where Tubman’s father Ben Ross once lived was discovered on a 2,600-acre property acquired last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Maryland’s Department of Transportation archaeology team began the search in November 2020.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, in announcing the finding, said “this discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation.”
“It is important that we continue to uncover parts of our history that we can learn from, especially when they can be lost to time, and other forces. I hope that this latest success story can inspire similar efforts and help strengthen our partnerships in the future.”
Some of the items found on the site were glass, brick, nails, dish fragments, and a 50 cent 1808 coin. Historians say Ben Ross acquired the 10 acres of land in the early 1840s from slave owner Anthony Thompson, whose will stated that Ben Ross should be freed five years after his death and inherit the land.
Tubman was born Araminta Ross in the early 1820s. “For several years we believe that Mr. Ross harvested trees on the property and sold the timber, and the timber was then transported to shipyards by free Black mariners to use to make ships in Baltimore,” Rutherford said.
Historians believe that Tubman worked on the property alongside her father as a teenager. Dr. Julie Schablitsky, who led the team of archaeologists during the search, said it’s possible the area helped Tubman conduct the Underground Railroad. “This was the opportunity she had to learn about how to navigate and survive in the wetlands and the woods. We believe this experience was able to benefit her when she began to move people to freedom,” Schablitsky said in a news release.
Tubman was a key figure of the Underground Railroad, a large movement in North America consisting of several individuals who worked together to aid slaves in their escape from their captors. The daring abolitionist helped free slaves while risking her own freedom. Records show that she helped free about 70 people, including family and friends during 13 trips to Maryland.
In November 2020 when archaeologists began digging the site in search of her father’s home, one of the first items they found was the 50 cent 1808 coin. That was the year Ben Ross and his wife were married. “And this to me was my clue that we were getting close,” Schablitsky said, adding that the team of archaeologists later began to find broken pieces of ceramics.
However, due to financial constraints, the team had to leave the project. Returning in March, the team was able to confirm that the site belonged to Ben Ross after looking closer at artifacts found and verifying that those artifacts dated to the time period when he was living there.
Descendants of Tubman said the discovery means so much to the family. “Discovering the location of patriarch Ben Ross Sr.’s home and artifacts he used has humanized a man responsible for giving us a woman of epic proportions, Harriet Ross Tubman,” Tina Wyatt, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ross’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter said.
Archaeologists will still work on the site to discover more. The site will secure a spot on the 125-mile-long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.