Before the Civil War, enslaved people used a secret network of routes and sanctuaries to help them reach freedom known as the Underground Railroad. The leader of this effort was Harriet Tubman, who led more than 70 people to freedom. Learn more about Harriet Tubman and how you can still follow the Underground Railroad Byway.
About Harriet Tubman
Born into slavery in Maryland around 1822, Tubman successfully escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. Once free, she became an operator of the Underground Railroad—a secret network of people, places and routes that provided shelter and assistance to escaping slaves. She boldly returned south at least 13 times to rescue family and friends, guiding them safely to freedom.
The Underground Railroad’s Connection to Baltimore
In December 1850, Harriett Tubman conducted her first rescue mission. Her niece, Kessiah Jolley Bowley and her two children were set to be auctioned to the highest bidder at the County Courthouse. Kessiah’s free husband, John Bowley, devised a plan with Tubman to bring Kessiah and the children away before they could be sold. On the day of the auction, John bid on his wife and children, even though he did not have the money to pay for them. Before the auctioneer could call for payment, John hid his family in a nearby home. That night, he secretly sailed them to the Fell’s Point waterfront in Baltimore where Tubman hid them until she was able to safely bring them to Philadelphia.
Follow the Path of the Underground Railroad Today
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway preserves and recounts the life story of Tubman and her courageous actions. Originating on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, this 125-mile scenic road reveals distinctive and beautiful Chesapeake landscapes. From Baltimore, it’s easy to follow the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, where you will encounter stories and sites that will help you appreciate the dangers Tubman and all those who “took their freedom” faced.
More Black History to Explore
Explore Baltimore’s legends and legacies by visiting the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, where you’ll learn more about the Underground Railroad and the experience of African American Marylanders living in the 1800s.