Quest for Freedom tour brings history to life

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Visiting the Bucktown Store on a beautiful fall morning.

CAMBRIDGE – Harriet Tubman was an original freedom fighter, and her mark is evident throughout the county. We read the roadside signs, and occasionally pass the Harriet Tubman Museum in downtown Cambridge, but nothing brings the history of Harriet Tubman alive as well as the Heritage Museums’ Quest for Freedom tour.

On a beautiful late fall morning, a small bus tour left from the Historical Society’s Heritage Museum and trekked out on a very small section of Harriet Tubman’s early homeland. Under the tutelage of DCHS docent Bill Jarmon, we saw the local sites and enjoyed an almost overwhelming narrative of people, places and anecdotes of not only Tubman but of many others who fled from slavery, in this corner of Dorchester County. Bill is an inexhaustible source of knowledge of the area, and he tells the story with such intimacy you start believing that these people are Bill’s contemporaries.

The tour began with a pass by the Courthouse in Cambridge, where a little imagination had to be used to visualize the slave auctions that once occurred there. The same was true at Long Wharf, which once docked ships that carried human cargo. These enslaved people would then be dispersed to all areas of Dorchester, to toil on the numerous farms, timber out the forests and basically provide the labor necessary to keep the economy moving, in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From Cambridge, the tour moved out of town and Bill shared about the Town Point area, where more than 40 slaves escaped over a two week period in October of 1857. Tradition holds that the escapees had information to aid their escape from Tubman.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Herschel Johnson tells the story of the Stanley Institute, the oldest African American school in Maryland.

The bus visited the Stanley Institute, that small yellow building at the corner of Church Creek Road and Bayly Road. We met Herschel Johnson there, who is the chief docent, and heard tales about the oldest African American school in Maryland. Also known as the Rock School, it served as both a learning institution and a church. The building was originally constructed in Church Creek in 1865, and it was moved to its present location in 1867.

Renovated in the last century, the school still features original blackboards on the walls, and a collection of desks ready for a room full of students. The center of the school is dominated by a large woodstove, and the walls are decorated with photos and pictures from the old days.

We traveled through Church Creek, with Bill pointing out landmarks and locations of plantations along the way, past the location of the upcoming Harriet Tubman National Monument, under construction in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Crossing the Blackwater River, we moved on to the “Harriet Tubman house,” a location a little deceiving since the roadside marker sits in front of a property housing a private hunting camp. The location is presumed to be one spot where Harriet Tubman lived during her life; however, no proof exists due to a courthouse fire in 1852 that destroyed the majority of the county records of the time.

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Susan Meredith tells tales of Bucktown from the old days, and how Harriet Tubman received the head injury that would plague her the rest of her life.

We visited the Bucktown Store, where owner Susan Meredith (who also happened to be the bus driver) took over and told the story of the altercation that gave Tubman a severe head injury when she was 13 years old. Here at the store you can be very close to the actual spot of Harriet Tubman’s first act of defiance, and hear the story of the injury that changed and affected the rest of her life. Bucktown is a fascinating corner, and Susan and Jay Meredith have restored the old store lovingly.

From Bucktown, the tour comes back into Cambridge, where participants are encouraged to visit the downtown Harriet Tubman Museum for more background on this famous woman. For us, the tour was two hours and a vast flood of information, but in truth it only scratches the surface of Harriet Tubman’s early life. Tubman helped many slaves escape cruel oppression, it’s true, but she also went on to help her people in many ways once she settled “up north.”

The Heritage Museums’ Quest for Freedom tour is a fascinating, personal look at the old times and people in our region, and will only whet your appetite for more knowledge of our unique regional history.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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