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Harriet Tubman's father's home discovered by archeologists in Maryland

"This discovery adds to another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland and our nation," Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said.
A portion of the land on which Harriet Tubman's father lived
The home of Harriet Tubman's father has been discovered by archaeologists in Maryland, state officials announced Tuesday.MDOT / via Flickr

The home of Harriet Tubman's father has been discovered by archaeologists in Maryland, state officials announced Tuesday from the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.

The site where Ben Ross once lived — dubbed Ben's 10 — was unearthed on property acquired last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said.

The artifacts on the site date back to the early and mid-1800s. Ross acquired the 10 acres in the early 1840s from a slave owner who wrote in his will that Ross should be freed five years after his death and inherit the land. Tubman was born Araminta Ross in the early 1820s.

"For several years we believe that Mr. Ross harvested trees on the property and sold the timber, and the timber was then transported to shipyards by free Black mariners to use to make ships in Baltimore," Rutherford explained.

The home of Harriet Tubman's father has been discovered by archaeologists in Maryland, state officials announced Tuesday.MDOT / via Flickr

"The discovery of Ben Ross’ cabin is a major find," Rutherford said. "This discovery adds to another puzzle piece to the story of Harriet Tubman, the state of Maryland and our nation."

"Harriet Tubman worked alongside her father as a teenager. And historians believe that Tubman learned to navigate the land and waterways she would later traverse to lead enslaved people to freedom," he said.

Tubman and her father were both enslaved on the Maryland plantation.

The land will eventually be added to the Tubman Byway.

State Highway Administration Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky explained how after digging about 1,000 holes with the help of a dozen other archaeologists, she decided to employ her metal detector. It was then, in November, that she discovered a 50 cent 1808 coin.

That was the year Ben Ross and his wife were married.

"And this to me was my clue that we were getting close," Schablitsky said.

The team began to also find broken pieces of ceramics, but they had run out of time and money on the project.

In March they returned to confirm the site indeed belonged to Ben Ross.

"We looked at those artifacts closer and confirmed that these artifacts do date to the time period when he was living there," Schablitsky said. "With the artifacts, the archaeology, the evidence of a building and just the location — knowing he worked in the timbered wetlands — those multiple lines of evidence told us unequivocally that this is the home of Ben Ross."

Archaeologists will continue to work on the site to learn more.

"As someone who knows something about Harriet Tubman, I always thought, 'Is this everything we’re ever going to learn?'" Schablitsky said.

A coin dated 1808 was unearthed by architects on the land.MDOT / via Flickr

"When we’re able to find extra sites, additional sites, other people who inspired her, who gave her that lesson of integrity and perseverance like her father, I think that kind of gives us that excitement that we can learn more about Harriet Tubman through her parents," she said.

Schablitsky kept descendants of Tubman updated during the dig of the site.

"It means so much to the family to be able to see all of this," said Tina Wyatt, Tubman's great-great-great-grandniece and Ross' great-great-great-great-granddaughter.

She said the discovery of things like plate parts, a pipe and the coin help her to humanize and visualize her ancestors.

"It's so important, not just for family, but for the world to understand about our history," Wyatt said.

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