National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Adds Four Locations in Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland— The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom has added four new sites in Maryland as part of its mission to preserve the history of those who sought freedom from slavery.

According to multiple researchers and network representatives, these last Underground Railroad sites provide additional insight into the history of slavery in Maryland by reconstructing the stories of freedom seekers using research to safeguard the past for generations. future.

Historically, freedom seekers were slaves who sought freedom by escaping. The network recognizes the journey freedom seekers took using the Underground Railroad and those who aided in their escape.

“We empower communities and descendants to tell their stories,” Diane Miller, National Program Manager for the Underground Railroad Network at Freedom, told Capital News Service.

the National Underground Railway Network to Freedom aims to remember and acknowledge the history of slaves who ventured to escape slavery, and those who aided their journey to freedom, Miller said.

Since its inception in 1998, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom has been responsible for introducing nearly 700 sites, programs and facilities to multiple states and territories across the country.

As of this fall, Maryland holds more than 90 National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom listings, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism.

Maryland’s considerable contribution to the network is largely due to its history of having a large free black population and its proximity to border states that did not use slave labor, making freedom more accessible than others. States.

The state has a long history in its association with the Underground Railroad.

Prominent abolitionist figure Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in Maryland and later helped free several other slaves using Underground Railroad sites. His contributions to freeing slaves from slavery in the state make Maryland a standout destination for those seeking to learn more about the Underground Railroad.

Of Maryland’s fall 2021 submissions, only four have passed the network’s rigorous test for review – the Elkridge Furnace at Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County, the Eliza Parker Escape Site at Belle Vue Farm in the Harford County, the Henry Massey Escape Site at Stoopley Gibson Manor on Kent Island, and the Mount Clare Railroad Station in Baltimore.

Historians Seeking Nominations National Underground Railroad Network Freedom Work with site managers to prepare applications that use primary sources linking the site to the Underground Railroad. Primary sources often include newspapers containing advertisements for runaway slaves, diaries of freedom seekers, and family records.

“It’s kind of like being a detective because you find bits and pieces of information and a whole bunch of different sources (that) you kind of have to put together to make sense of it,” Miller said.

Applicants meet with regional coordinators, and if a site meets the criteria, the documents are then forwarded to a review committee for decision. Sites that can prove their legitimacy through historical evidence and gain a majority vote from review board members are accepted into the network, according to Miller.

The four new sites inducted into the National Underground Network to Freedom were made possible through the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism’s “Four Fellowships for 400: Sharing Maryland’s Underground Railroad Stories” project. The project partnered with the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery program and was funded by a grant from the Commission on 400 Years of African American History,” said a press release issued Nov. 1. by the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism.

The legacy of slavery at the Maryland State Archives, a network-recognized research program, has provided researchers with the tools to find records that would link freedom seekers to Underground Railroad sites, said Chris Haley, director of the Legacy of Slavery program, at Capital News Service.

In addition to Underground Railroad sites, the National Underground Railroad to Freedom Network accepts programs and facilities that aim to educate the public about the history of slavery.

The Maryland State Archives is one of five facilities in the state to be recognized as part of the national Underground Railroad to Freedom system. Credit: Catherine Wilson / Capital News Service

The Maryland State Archives is a valuable resource for those researching potential sites and is recognized as one of the facilities included as part of the network.

“The Network to Freedom asks fellows to research and hopefully find (evidence) to confirm either a Network to Freedom site or a research center,” Haley said.

The original structure of Mount Clare Station now part of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Research by B&O Railroad Museum Executive Director Anna Kresmer, Museum Chief Curator Jonathan Goldman and their team uncovered evidence of more than 20 freedom seekers who passed through the station on their way to freedom .

Goldman worked with several other researchers for a year to research and produce a 63-page document that led to the recent addition of Mount Clare Rail Station to the Freedom Network.

“Our archivist (Anna Kresmer) said it was the equivalent of doing (her) thesis,” said B&O Railroad Museum executive director Kris Hoellen. “It was like peeling the layers of an onion in the sense that they would find more information and that would lead to other elements of the story,” she said.

For freedom seekers traveling north, Mount Clare Station, which connected Baltimore and Ohio via the B&O Railroad, offered a physical and innovative mode of transportation to escape on the Underground Railroad.

Henry “Box” Brown was one such character who used the rail system at Mount Clare station. His harrowing journey included being shipped to a box where he had to stay still despite the erratic movement of the train, Hoellen said.

Brown’s story along with several other freedom seekers is set to be featured in a new B&O Railroad Museum exhibit on the history of Mount Clare Station scheduled for 2022.

Matthew LaRoche, graduate student assistant for the University of Maryland College Park’s Special Collection and Academic Archives, was one of four recipients to receive a scholarship.

LaRoche contributed to the research and writing process of two inducted sites into the network – the Parker and Massey sites.

LaRoche’s research helped identify two freedom seekers who suffered the harsh consequences of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – Eliza Parker and Henry Massey. Belle Vue Farm and Stoopley Gibson Manor were the sites of their escapes from slavery.

Parker and his family successfully escaped and settled in Free Christiana, Pennsylvania. While living among several runaway slaves, they were involved in a shootout protecting those men from capture due to the Fugitive Slave Law, LaRoche said.

Little is known about the escapes of Parker and Massey, evidence uncovered by LaRoche revealed that Massey was named as a victim of the Fugitive Slave Law and returned.

With work done by LaRoche to prove that the people and stories were connected to these places, the two escape sites were added to the National Underground Railroad network to Freedom.

“(The National Underground Railroad to Freedom) is the gold standard for Underground Railroad research. So having a site that you can document that will be accepted into this program is a truly remarkable thing for the site,” LaRoche said.

Of the three sites LaRoche worked on, he wrote 120 pages in seven months. However, one site didn’t make the cut. For many sites looking to get added to the network, some don’t make it the first time.

For LaRoche, documenting and having access to historic resources is important to help preserve and promote the sites.

The fourth Maryland site to receive the honor of being inducted into the National Underground Railroad to Freedom this year is Elkridge Furnace.

The research consisting of several runaway slave advertisements that resulted in a 15-page application proving the site’s legitimacy as part of the Underground Railroad was authored by Sophie Hess, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland.

What remains of the structure of Elkridge Furnace. Credit: Catherine Wilson / Capital News Service

Through his research, Hess was able to confirm that seven slaves escaped the backbreaking labor required to operate the furnace and produce iron. However, not all managed to escape the deplorable and inhumane conditions.

Two detailed runaway slave advertisements feature the same person named Toby. The ads are about a year apart and the second said he ran away the day before.

Using runaway slave advertisements from Toby and several others, dated around the same time of year, Hess was able to discern that slaves from Elkridge escaped during the summer months, when the working conditions were the harshest.

“(What’s) really important in doing these kinds of Underground Railroad projects is really centering and retrieving the stories of people who risked their own lives to resist slavery in an attempt to win the freedom,” Hess said.

With the addition of four sites to the National Underground Network to Freedom, Maryland has more than 90 network-recognized sites, programs and facilities, according to a press release from the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism.

“Adding these networks to the Freedom sites allows visitors to learn more about the Underground Railroad and hear stories that may have never been told before,” said Tom Riford, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Tourism, Cinema of the Maryland Department of Commerce. and the Arts.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s lucrative tourism industry has taken a crippling blow and lost more than 150,000 members of its workforce, Riford told Capital News Service.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased, the state’s tourism industry has begun to recover from the loss, including hiring more employees. But much more needs to be done to restore it, Riford said.

Riford aims to reach 100 underground network sites in the near future.

“We continue to research other sites that can be certified as Network to Freedom sites to help showcase Maryland as what it truly is known as the most powerful Underground Railroad storytelling destination in the world,” Riford said.

This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.


Bonny J. Streater