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Riding the Underground Railroad

by Janice (BigBike4)

Harriet Tubman has always been a personal hero of mine. It has been my life's ambition to study her and the details of her life. Harriet was born a slave in North Central Maryland in 1820 on a plantation near a small rural town (Bucktown). One day while heading west on Route 50 from Ocean City, MD towards the Bay Bridge, I saw a historic marker about this woman and decided sometime when I had the time I would love to find out more.

Wednesday was that day. I live in SE Pennsylvania and it is about a 3 hour ride down to the area where Harriet was born. The slave shack is no longer there, but the plantation home is. "Tara" it ain't. Contrary to many beliefs, you did not need to be rich to own slaves, just having more ground than you could possibly work could do the trick. Then a short trip over to Baltimore and Harbor area (which by the way has a monument dedicated to Kunta Kinte (Alex Haley's ancestor) with a few dollars in your pocket and you could by the next person to work your ground. Slaves were property to be bought and sold. Older persons or ones in poor health could be had cheap. You could rent a "buck" to impregnate your woman slaves or do it yourself. Harriet was "lucky". She had 2 parents with which she lived until the plantation owner died. She was in her late teens when she saw her parents sold off and she knew that her brother and herself would be next. She was not about to let that happen. She decided to escape.

As I stood at the site of the historic marker, I looked around. This area is very rural yet. It probably was not much different when Harriet was there. I tried to imagine a scared, but determined young woman, and what must have been going thru her mind. Imagine traveling by night, hiding by day, taking only the clothes on your back without food or water running toward the North and people you have heard rumors of. You are uneducated (you can't read or write), so how do you travel? You can't follow a map, because you can't read it. So you follow what a sympathizer told you to do, follow the water till it gets small enough to walk across-then you will be near Dover (Delaware). All along your way, you hide where you can.

Maryland has a very nice tourism website should get you there. On their site you can find many nice scenic routes to ride. It is there that you can get a copy of what is now the "known" underground railroad system. You can use it to help guide you in your travels. I did it without the map, and stumbled upon many of the sites that you should visit. Today we think of churches as places of help and hope. To white folks back before the turn of the century pretty near all were, but if you were black, then you had to choose carefully. Some would help a runaway slave get to the next destination on the underground railroad (physically taking them there), others would provide food and shelter for a while, still others would turn you in for the reward. Same as people. Who do you trust when you are considered an "animal" to be owned and used any way the master saw fit? Here in the east, the Quakers (Society of Friends) helped quite a bit. Delaware (usually above Dover) was quite sympathetic toward runaway slaves. Thomas Garrett was a huge help to them. Unfortunately Tom's house is no longer there, but a historic marker is.

All along the route which I started off of Rte 50 (MD) and Bucktown road (about 8 miles down to get to Harriet's birth place), you will see signs helping point the way to other stops along the underground railroad. Basically if you leave Harriet Tubman's birthplace and wind your way back up to the main highway, you will come to MD route 16 which was a main thoroughfare on the U.R. If you decide to ride Rte 16 North of 50 about 9 miles up you will find the birthplace of Frederic Douglas, born a free black man, who was also very influential in freeing slaves. Harriet and Frederic would later become good friends. Harriet traveled along (apparently) Rte 16 up towards Maryland/Delaware, where she would have turned eastward towards Smyrna/Dover Del. From there she would have received transport (probably hidden in a wagon) to Wilmington, Del. From Wilmington to Philadelphia could have been done any number of ways, but probably again by hiding in a wagon. Once in Philadelphia, the trip would then usually be by rail to upstate NY and then into Canada (also by train). It was not until you were in Canada that you would be safe. After 6 or 7 years you could then come back into the states (if you choose) and lived anywhere in the free north, but always wary of slave catchers.

Riding Maryland's Scenic or Historic routes can be complicated. There are many and the maps are not that great. The road signs also can be somewhat lacking, but if you have the time to wander thru this beautiful state and take the Underground railroad "tour", I know you will enjoy the beautiful scenery, nice smooth roads and hopefully get a better understanding of where we have come from so that we never repeat these horrible atrocities again.

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From Janice:
"I am a 45 year old woman who has been riding for well over 30 years. I am currently a state ambassador for Women On Wheels as well as a Life member of the American Motorcyclist Association." When she's not busy riding or wrenching you might find Janice in the
Women Who Ride (WWR) Forum or the
Women Riders International Forum.

WHAT YOU NEED to Know! Cyclechex Motorcycle History Report.
Motorcycle History Report - What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle.

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