Slaves heading north passed through here

Conference: Events highlight role Maryland and Baltimore played in the antebellum Underground Railroad.

March 09, 2000|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

$100 REWARD -- Ran away from the subscriber on Saturday, 7th August [1858], a NEGRO WOMAN, called Emeline, aged about 31 years, dark color, 5 feet high. She took with her a female child aged 22 months. I will give the above reward if they are returned to me, or lodged in jail within the State so I can get them.

Henry Devries

Marriottsville, Carroll county, Md.

In pre-Civil-War Baltimore, runaway slaves such as Emeline found aid, rest and direction with the largest population of free African-Americans in the United State and a small but dedicated band of abolitionists.

Baltimore was still a city of slave holders and slave traders. But Baltimore was also an important way station on the Underground Railroad, and Maryland had a network of well-traveled routes to the North Star and freedom.

"A runaway fugitive could go right down to Fells Point, mingle with the free blacks," says Louis C. Fields, local director of the International Network of Freedom Associations.

"Perhaps get taken in by one of them, and live in one of the alley houses down there, Dallas Street, Durham Street, and live like a free man, almost. And make a good living caulking ships."

So it's very fitting, Fields says, that the 2000 Network to Freedom Education Roundtable is meeting here through Sunday, "commemorating the history of the Underground Railroad." Organizers of the event, which is open to the public, expect about 400 participants.

Scholars, researchers, historians and preservationists are leading panel discussions about Underground Railroad sites from St. Augustine, Fla., to Windsor, Ontario.

"Maryland is the home place of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Josiah Henson," says Fields. "We call them the big three of the Underground Railroad. All Marylanders and all had some impact in Baltimore.

"And you had the Abolitionists, such as the Quakers, Elisha Tyson, Enoch Pratt and Moses Sheppard."

The Underground Railroad movement has been growing rapidly since 1997 when Congress established the Underground Network to Freedom Program in the National Park Service, according to Addie Richburg, the executive director of the Freedom Associations who helped organize the first roundtable last year in Memphis.

The Park Service, which operates several landmark Underground Railroad sites, joins the conference here, as does the National Forest Service.

"The forest was a critical hiding place for enslaved people," says Richburg. "They would not have been able to get to freedom without those hiding places. Just here in Dorchester County, in the marshes the water was a way to keep the dogs from being able to pick up the scent.

"Rivers were routes followed by enslaved people. The Choptank River being one of Harriet Tubman's routes."

Acknowledging International Women's Day yesterday, the roundtable opened with discussions of the contributions of women in the Underground Railroad, with much emphasis on Tubman. Born in Dorchester, "the Moses of her People" rescued 300 enslaved people on at least 19 trips on the railroad.

Dr. Joanne M. Martin, co-founder of Baltimore's Great Blacks in Wax Museum, will receive the Distinguished Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award at a luncheon tomorrow at the Omni Hotel.

On Saturday, some conference participants will visit historic Baltimore stops on the Underground Railroad such as President Street Station and the Orchard Street Methodist Church. Others will tour places on the Eastern Shore where Douglass and Tubman were born and then will follow the paths that led to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Freedom forum

What: National Underground Railroad Conference Workshops

Where: Mount Vernon Hotel, Franklin and Cathedral streets

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday

Call: 410-783-5469

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