She’d been frustrated that there had been no hint that she was anywhere near the home of Tubman’s father, Ben Ross. But as she cleaned the coin, the profile of a woman with flowing hair, and wearing a cap that said, “Liberty,” emerged. At the bottom was the date: 1808.
Tuesday morning state and federal officials announced that Schablitsky, guided in part by the coin, believes she has found the site where Tubman lived with her parents and several siblings during her formative teenage years before she escaped enslavement.
It was the spot, experts said, where a long-vanished cabin stood, which had served for a time as Tubman’s family home.
The structure, of unknown form, was owned by her father. A timber foreman and lumberjack who had been enslaved, he had been given his freedom, the house where he lived and a piece of land near the Blackwater River by his enslaver.
Officials said bricks, datable pieces of 19th-century pottery, a button, a drawer pull, a pipe stem, old records and the location all pointed to the spot being the likely site of the Ben Ross cabin.
The announcement was made at 10 a.m. at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, in Church Creek, Md.
The find is a crucial piece of Tubman’s story, experts said. And it illuminates the role that her father, and her family, played in her development into the fearless Underground Railroad conductor that she became.
The Underground Railroad was the clandestine network of guides, like Tubman, and safe houses mostly across the eastern United States that rescued thousands of enslaved people from bondage in the South in the years before the Civil War.
Between about 1850 and 1860, using stealth and disguise, Tubman made 13 trips home, spiriting 70 people out of enslavement, historians believe. Among those she saved were several brothers and her parents, who, while no longer enslaved, were still in danger in Maryland.
Her father was a devout patriarch who taught Tubman the ways of the marshy woodlands where they lived and struggled to keep his family together within the machinery of slavery, experts said.
Once free, Ben purchased his enslaved wife, Rit, and for a time sheltered Tubman and several of her siblings, all still enslaved, in his cabin in what is now the federal Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, south of Cambridge, Md.
“Think of it as a place where [Harriet] came of age in a loving household within a close knit community,” Tubman biographer Kate Clifford Larson said in an email.