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Archaeologists discover site that was once home of Harriet Tubman's father

Harriet Tubman's road to freedom
Harriet Tubman's road to freedom 08:27

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought 2,600 acres in Maryland for $6 million. The land was purchased to help mitigate future sea-level rise — but it turned out to have affected history. Archaeologists have determined part of the site was the home of Harriet Tubman's father, Ben Ross. 

The abolitionist and famed Underground Railroad conductor was born Araminta Ross in March 1822 on the Thompson Farm. 

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The abolitionist who rescued enslaved people via the Underground Railroad also led U.S. troops in a raid that freed hundreds during the Civil War. CBS News

Ten acres of the property were bequeathed to Tubman's father by owner Anthony Thompson in the 1800s. Ross was still a slave when Thompson died, but he was freed in the early 1840s and received the land. 

The site was discovered last year by a team was searching for evidence linked to Ross. When the team, led by the state highway administration's chief archaeologist Julie Schablitsky, returned in March, they found several artifacts like ails, brick, glass, dish fragments and even a button, dating back to the 1800s. 

"The importance of discovering Ben Ross' cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman," Schablitsky said in a statement Tuesday, when the discovery was announced. "She would've spent time here as a child, but also she would've come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him." 

"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. 

On Tuesday, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford announced the discovery of the Tubman connection at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.

"This discovery adds another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland, and our nation," Rutherford said. "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."

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In this image provided by the Maryland Department of Transportation, items found at an archaeological site near Church Creek, Maryland, are displayed on March 25, 2021. State officials say the site is the former home of Harriet Tubman's father, Ben Ross. Maryland Department of Transportation via AP

Douglas Mitchell, Ross' great-great-great-grandson, called the discovery "inestimable." Tina Wyatt, Harriet Tubman's great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross' great-great-great-great-granddaughter, said the home and artifacts discovered "humanized a man responsible for giving us a woman of epic proportions, Harriet Ross Tubman."

"The world benefits also from the study of these artifacts concerning objects used by the enslaved; are they common to this plantation, to his position, or to this region? It gives us so much more to explore, explain and exhibit," she said. 

The service originally purchased the area, called Peter's Neck, as an addition to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland's Dorchester County. 

"When we protect vulnerable habitats, we help preserve the stories of those who came before us, like Harriet Tubman's father, Ben Ross," said Cynthia Martinez, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. "We look forward to working with our partners to create more opportunities to connect people to nature and strengthen the bond between the land and community."

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