"Heart of the Eastern Shore"
by Renée S. Gordon
From the first European sighting of the Chesapeake Bay area,
believed to have been Spanish explorers in the 1520s, the region
was lauded for its beauty and abundance of wildlife and fish.
Mid-16th century maps show that they called the bay
Santa Maria. The earliest
documented foreign visitor, Captain John Smith, arrived
82-years later and it is from his journals that we gather
information on the geography, native population and culture. The
Native Americans referred to the water as the “great shellfish
"Tschiswapeki," which to English ears became Chesapeake. The
major tribes in the region were the
Pocomoke-Assateague and Susquehannock. You can follow the
Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
Eagles in Blackwater
Waterways were our first roads and this made the 200-mile long
Chesapeake Bay Estuary, the largest in the nation, accessible
and lucrative land upon which to settle. More than 100,000
creeks, rivers and streams wind through the watershed. The first
permanent settlement in the area was a trading fort established
in 1631 by William Claiborne on Kent Island. He purchased and
named the island after his homeland and began to trade with the
Susquehannocks. Three-years later George Calvert, Lord
Baltimore, received 10-million acres and founded the colony of
Maryland. Dorchester County, “The Heart of the Eastern Shore,”
was founded in 1669 and named to honor the Earl of Dorset. It
has more miles of shoreline than any other county in the sate.
The Choptank River, the largest on the Delmarva Peninsula, is
named after a tribe and is said to mean a “stream that
separates.” Cambridge, one of Maryland’s most picturesque and
historic gems, owes much to its location on the river’s southern
shore. It was platted in 1684 and quickly became an important
river town with its prosperity based on water-based occupations.
It is the only deep-water port on the eastern shore of Maryland,
the second deepest port in the state and was incorporated in
1693. The Cambridge Historic District was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Visits should begin with a stop at the Dorchester County Visitor
Center in Sailwinds Park. This architecturally awesome structure
replicates a skipjack, its 100-ft. sails billowing in the wind,
moored at the eastern end of the bridge spanning Route 50 and
the Choptank River.
The center features area information, facilities, a fully
equipped playground and 2-levels of exhibits on regional history
and culture. There is a brief orientation film, interactive
exhibits and interpretive displays showcasing the Underground
Railroad, Harriet Tubman, Annie Oakley and local water-related
industries. A 2-mile boardwalk offers a fishing pier, beach and
walking and cycling path. The Harriet Tubman UGRR Byway begins
at Sailwinds and continues for 125-miles to the Delaware State
Just as the city began with the water so too should our
exploration of Cambridge. Long Wharf Park is today a public
marina and its serenity and panoramic vistas do not give
visitors a hint of its historic importance. The area is situated
on a man-made land because until the mid-1800s there was a
600-ft. wharf that extended into the water because of a huge
sandbar. Trading vessels, including slave ships from Africa and
the Caribbean, docked here until 1808 when the trans-Atlantic
slave trade became illegal and once the soil was depleted and
large numbers of slaves were no longer needed it was used as a
port to transport slaves to other regions. “Black Jacks,”
African American mariners arrived on merchant vessels bearing
news for the local black population and they, as well as white
abolitionists, assisted escapes using the maritime UGRR route
from this port. This area was known as Chesapeake Station and is
a prime example of the cooperative efforts of captains, pilots,
dockworkers and ordinary citizens in the UGRR.
Long Wharf was begun in the 1800s and was completed as one of
Roosevelt’s initial WPA projects because it was needed as a
location to dock the presidential yacht. Roosevelt visited on
October 26, 1935 to dedicate a bridge and a monument on the
wharf memorializes his visit. It is the actual elevator, encased
in a smokestack, used by the president on the U.S.S. Potomac.
Long Wharf Memorial
The Choptank Lighthouse is a replica of a lighthouse that
replaced the lightship LV-25 in 1871. The ship indicated the
entrance to the Choptank until an iron screwpile lighthouse was
constructed. The wooden lighthouse was hexagonal in shape with 6
screwpiles and 4 fenders to protect the foundation. In 1918 ice
floes destroyed the lighthouse and a pre-existing one was
relocated 100-miles to the Choptank River. The current
lighthouse is a replica of the 2nd structure. It sits
on a 60-ft. platform and was completed in 2012 on Pier A.
Self-guided tours and a museum are located inside.
One of Cambridge’s most unique adventures is a sail aboard the
authentic 65-ft. Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester. The skipjack,
Maryland’s official state boat, is named after species of fish
noted for their speed. The boats date from the 1890s and are
noted for shallow drafts and maneuverability. They are the only
working sailboats remaining in the country and are still used to
dredge oysters in the Chesapeake. One and three-hour narrated,
heritage tours leave from Long Wharf on a regular schedule.
Long Wharf is nestled at the foot of High Street and walking
tours of the historic street begin there. High Street is so well
preserved that it served as a model for one of James Michener’s
cities in “Chesapeake.” The homes arrayed along High Street
represent architectural trends from the late 1700s to the early
20th-century. Styles include American Foursquare,
Colonial Revival, Georgian, Gothic Revival and Queen Anne. Two
of downtown Cambridge’s three sites listed on the Harriet Tubman
UGRR Byway, Long Wharf and the Dorchester County Courthouse, are
located on High Street.
Notable aspects of the 100 and 200 blocks of High Street are the
individual properties with original outbuildings that served as
offices during colonial times. Josiah Bayley’s 1796 wooden law
office is the oldest extant office building in the city. Bayley
was the state’s 10th attorney general. His home, the
oldest in the city, is also on High Street and is featured on
The Church of England founded thirty parishes in 1692 in
Maryland and an Anglican Church was built in Great Choptank
Parish in Cambridge by the following year. The 3rd
and current Christ Episcopal Church is situated on the site of
the first structure. It is a High Victorian Gothic church built
of granite with a slate roof and adjoining cemetery used for
internments since the church’s founding. Four of the state’s
governors are buried there.
Directly across High Street stands the Italianate Dorchester
County Courthouse designed by Richard Upjohn. The original
courthouse burned in 1852 and was replaced in 1854. Slave sales
were held on the courthouse steps and a number of significant
cases were held in the courthouse.
Samuel Green was born a slave in 1802 in Dorchester. He obtained
his freedom in 1832 and became a highly regarded lay minister,
abolitionist and farmer. He was suspected of assisting fugitives
and shortly after returning from visiting his son, who had fled
to Canada, he was accused and his home was searched. No real
evidence was found but he was arrested for possessing a copy of
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The court appointed
a lawyer, a local slaveowner, and a 2-week trial began in April
of 1857. He was convicted and sentenced to 10-years of hard
labor. There were protests over the sentence and some local
whites raised $2000 to try to free him.
On March 26, 1862 a hearing was held and Governor Bradford
pardoned him on the condition that he leave the state within 60
days. He was freed on April 21, 1862. Because he was now
penniless he gave speeches along his route to Canada. In New
York he met Mrs. Stowe and while in Massachusetts when asked
what he wanted he is said to have requested a copy of “Uncle
Tom’s Cabin” because he had never finished the book.
The courthouse played an important role in the saga of Harriet
Tubman. She hired a lawyer for $5 and sued for her freedom based
on the fact that her mother was to have been freed upon the
death of a prior owner and she therefore would have been born
free. Her second, more incendiary interaction took place in
December 1850. Harriet’s niece Kessiah Bowley and her 2 children
were to be auctioned on the courthouse steps. John Bowley,
Kessiah’s free husband bid on his family and won. When payment
was called for they were gone. Tubman had arranged their escape
on the Chesapeake to Baltimore and then further north.
J.M. Clayton Company is the oldest working crab house in the
world. The family-owned company, established in 1890, gives
tours to groups of 15 or more. An on-site retail store sells
Epicure™ Crabmeat, prepared naturally without chemicals,
additives or preservatives. 108
In 1913 Annie Oakley, the award-winning sharpshooter, and her
husband constructed the Colonial Revival bungalow and garage for
their retirement in Cambridge. They chose the area because it
was beautiful, rural and wild game was abundant. The house was
designed for the couple and retains many of its original
features including floor-to-ceiling trophy cases in the living
room and a kitchen crafted for a 5-ft. woman. Annie was known to
climb out the upstairs windows and shoot ducks in the water from
her roof. She penned her first autobiography in this residence.
Annie’s husband, Frank Butler, said that Annie was a “rotten
housekeeper” and it appears she was an equally unhappy
housewife. In 1917 they came out of retirement and returned to
show business and living in hotels. The house,
28 Bellevue Ave.,
now a private residence, was listed on the National Register in
Cambridge is filled with both historic structures and
contemporary shops and the dining options are spectacular. In
the heart of the downtown area there are no chains and each
eatery puts a special spin on seafood dishes using fresh
ingredients that are locally sourced.
A gastropub is a casual and cozy restaurant that serves creative
dishes and has an extensive selection of brews and wines and the
High Spot Gastropub in Cambridge provides the perfect
experience. The dishes to try here are the Zombie Meltdown, any
of their numerous pizza selections and crapple, a combination of
crabmeat and scrapple.
Jimmie & Sook's Raw Bar and Grill
is open daily for lunch and dinner with the added attraction of
live entertainment from Thursday through Sunday. Patrons select
from indoor or patio seating.
The emphasis here is on Eastern Shore seafood and the
featured dish is the crab dip served in a warm bread bowl, the
winner of the Taste of Cambridge Crab Cook-Off People’s Choice
Award. The restaurant is named after the common terms used for a
male blue crab, a Jimmie, and a mature female crab, a Sook.
Stoked Wood-Fired Eatery is the trendy choice of locals and
visitors alike. The menu is huge and showcases local
ingredients, fresh baked breads and homemade desserts with
seasonal dishes prepared with a special twist. More than 60
specialty wines and beers are on offer.
The luxury Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa, and
completed in 2002, provides ideal accommodations for a
destination stay, a family vacation or a hub from which to visit
sites and attractions in the area. The resort offers all the
standard amenities plus Camp Hyatt for children, a kennel for
your pet, a golf course, a 150-slip marina and a program of
daily activities all in a bucolic setting. Most of the 400 rooms
have balconies and water views.
One of the most wonderful things about Cambridge is the fact
that much of the landscape looks as it did over 100 years ago
and teems with wildlife. This is what Harriet Tubman would have
seen and our final stop on this part of the journey, and first
stop on the Harriet Tubman Trail, is the 28,000-mile Blackwater
Wildlife Refuge, the “Everglades of the North.” The refuge is a
stop on the Atlantic Flyway and is home to the largest breeding
population of American bald eagles north of Florida. Visitors
can access the area by land or water and a 4-mile Wildlife
Drive, complete with pull-offs, is a great option for families.
Eagle sightings, up close and personal, are practically
guaranteed. Fugitives are known to have hidden in these marshes
when making an attempt to be free.
Harriet Tubman Underground Byway Tour is much more than the tale
of Harriet Tubman. It has been designated a “National Road”
based on its historic and cultural significance and it shines a
light on many of the lesser-known people who escaped and those
who risked their lives and livelihood in the cause of freedom.
The portion of the Byway that runs through Dorchester and
Caroline Counties relates a completely unique story that is
available on a CD and as a downloadable audio tour encompassing
35-sites. An accompanying Driving Tour Guide includes maps,
photographs and complete historic information about each site.
In 2013 President Obama designated a large section of the land
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument.
Portraits of Tubman
The first black slaves
brought into the area were from the Caribbean and were known as
Atlantic creoles and as early as 1653 there were also free
Even with the importation of Africans by 1776 90% of the black
population was native born. A large number of slaves were needed
because the primary crop was tobacco but the soil was quickly
depleted and in the 1790s it became apparent large numbers of
workers were no longer necessary. As a result of the changing
circumstances maritime trades and timbering became the backbone
of the economy and many area residents manumitted or hired out
their slaves. At the outset of the Civil War 79% of the blacks
in Caroline County were free. The combination of few large
plantations, access to information provided by the mariners, a
large free black population, black and white abolitionists and
the ability to move more freely and interact than slaves in
other areas made this a corridor of freedom.
The Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center is the perfect
place to begin your tour. The center is a community effort
founded in the 1980s to preserve and transmit the history and
legacy of Harriet Tubman and the UGRR. Exhibits include a series
of portraits of Tubman, a replica of a cradle made by Ben Ross
and a large mural depicting scenes from her life. An orientation
film and an opportunity to hear the oral testimony and discuss
her legacy with local residents are highlights of a visit. The
gift shop has a selection of books for all ages, educational
materials and handcrafted Tubman related items.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor
Center, a state-of-the-art facility designed to interpret the
story and lasting effect of Harriet Tubman and the UGRR through
displays and extensive use of the natural landscape, is to be
completed in 2016. The 10,600-sq. ft. complex will feature a
museum, welcome center, memorial garden, walking paths and a
2,400-sq. ft. pavilion available for rental. The center will be
environmentally friendly and handicapped accessible.
It is widely believed that Araminta, “Minty,” was born in
Bucktown on the Edward Brodess plantation in 1820. The farm is
private property but a historic plaque is located on the site.
She was one of 11 children of enslaved parents Benjamin and
Harriet Ross and her owner hired her out from the age of six.
She received severe beatings and other forms of harsh punishment
throughout the years of her bondage. In 1844 she married John
Tubman, a free black man.
At some point in the
1840s she shed the name Araminta, a derivation of the Greek word
for “defender,” and took her mother’s name, Harriet, meaning
“powerful.” In 1849 she fled the region on foot and alone with
only two names provided by a white abolitionist and directions
to an UGRR station. She made her way to Philadelphia where she
was introduced to William Still and obtained a job as a maid to
finance trips to return for her family and friends.
Because there were no really large plantations in the area it
was customary for several owners to hire a single overseer to
monitor the slaves. It is with one of these men, Thomas Barnett,
that Harriet would have one of the most important encounters in
her life circa 1835. She was hired out and had been sent to the
Bucktown Village Store and while there a slave, pursued by the
overseer, ran inside. The overseer demanded that Minty help him
in his capture and she refused. At this point Barnett picked up
a 2-lb. counterweight and threw it at the slave. He missed him
and hit Minty in the head, fracturing her skull. She was carried
back to the plantation and placed her on a bench at the loom
where she stayed for several days. Eventually she was returned
to her owner because her work suffered. For the remainder of her
life she would experience seizures and visions. She attributed
her symptoms to God.
The Bucktown Village Store remains much as it did at the time.
The shelves are stocked as they would have been and cases
display artifacts. A scale and 2-lb. counterweight are on view
and the floor plan is the same. The gem of the historic
collection here is an authentic newspaper ad featuring a reward
for Harriett Tubman. Tours are available upon request as well as
bicycle, canoe and kayak rentals.
Stanley Institute is a one-room schoolhouse that was relocated
to the site in 1867. It is one of Maryland’s oldest
African-American schools operated by a black community and was
in use until 1962. It is listed on the National Register and
tours are by appointment only.
A plaque on the premises tells the story of the “Stampede of
Slaves,” a nearby successful escape of 28-armed slaves in 1857.
Local landowners needed an effective way to transport goods and
lumber to nearby ports and in 1810 slaves and black freedmen
began work on Stewart’s Canal. For the next 20-years they
hand-dug a 7-mile canal. Minty and her father worked in the area
and it is through interactions here that she learned many of the
skills she would later employ while conducting slaves to
Harriet’s father, Ben Ross, was freed in 1840 as a result of the
will of his former master but the rest of the family remained
enslaved. Ben was a master logger and hired himself out to area
plantations. In 1844 Araminta, now Harriet, married a freedman,
John Tubman. Three-years later she hired herself out to Dr.
Anthony Thompson and worked with her family on his 2,166-acre
timber farm in Madison and Poplar Neck.
Harriet’s owner, Edward Brodess, died in 1849 and left his
family deeply in debt. When Harriet learned she was about to be
sold she decided to escape but John Tubman refused to join her.
She did later return to lead him to freedom but found that he
It was from Poplar Neck that Tubman launched three of her most
renowned escapes, her brothers in 1854 and Josiah Bailey in
1857. Harriet’s parents lived in Poplar Neck in Caroline County
and were UGRR operatives. Upon learning that they were indicated
in the escape of the Dover 8 and would probably be arrested
shortly Harriet assisted their escape in June of 1857.
Eight slaves escaped from the Pritchett Meredith Farm on March
8, 1857. Their initial contact was Rev. Samuel Green and then
they moved on to Ben Ross. Ben gave them instructions to move on
to Dover’s Thomas Otwell, another black UGRR conductor, trusted
by Tubman. Instead of leading them further north he tricked them
into entering the Dover jail in hopes of collecting the $3000
reward. Fortunately they became suspicious and made an audacious
escape to Wilmington, then Philadelphia and finally Canada.
William Still recorded their story in Philadelphia. It was this
escape that endangered Samuel Green and Ben and Harriet Ross.
The Jacob Jackson Home Site is a recent addition to the Tubman
National Monument. Jackson was a free black who passed a coded
message to the Ross family in 1854 to alert her brothers to
prepare themselves for her arrival and their escape.
Jacob and Hannah Leverton’s 1814 home was an important stop on
the UGRR and is likely one of the places Harriet stopped when
she fled. These white abolitionists along with Daniel Hubbard, a
freedman, ran the Leverton-Hubbard UGRR Network. In January of
1858 the network was uncovered and a mob gathered and Arthur
Leverton and Daniel Hubbard fled the area.Arthur, and eventually his mother Hannah, settled in
Indiana. Hubbard moved to Philadelphia. Jacob died of pneumonia
while being sued by a slave owner for helping his female slave
escape. The house is a private residence.
Linchester Mill is situated on the boundary between Dorchester
and Caroline Counties and the site has housed a mill since the
1680s. The mill complex included residences and stores for the
interracial workers. Self-emancipators received assistance here
and this was an important crossing point when traveling north.
Tours, events and educational programs are offered.
The James H. Webb Cabin is possibly the only existing pre-Civil
War cabin built by an African American. James, a free man,
married Mary Ann after purchasing her and her two children in
1850. He purchased the land on which the cabin sits for $200 and
added to his holdings throughout the years. The hand-hewn,
one-room cabin has a loft and an interior potato-hole. The hole
is large and may have been used to hide fugitives. The cabin has
been lovingly restored.
William Still was an UGRR stationmaster and chronicler of more
than 1,000 stories of freedom seekers as they passed through
Philadelphia. A marker stands at
244 South 12th Street
In 1871 he published
“The Underground Railroad” and preserved much of the UGRR
history for posterity. The William Still Family Interpretive
Center will be housed inside an 1820’s cottage and will relate
the story of the Still family’s escape, the UGRR and the life of
the enslaved. Opening date will be forthcoming.
Harriet Tubman’s service did not end with the onset of the Civil
War but continued until her death in 1913. She served as a Union
nurse in South Carolina and because of her special skills as a
scout and spy. She was also the first female to lead armed
troops into battle during the Civil War. For her service she was
given a monthly $20 military pension. She returned to Auburn, NY
after the war and married again. Her residence became the
Home for Indigent and Aged Negroes. She is buried in Fort Hill
Cemetery in Auburn.
While planning your journey you can enter the portal to the
interactive Pathways to Freedom website and participate in an
in her 90s
Information on every site and complete planning tools for this
adventure can be found at the links provided.