Life In Dorchester County

There are questions regarding the history of Harriet Tubman's life in Dorchester County, particularly where she lived when she was born, who owned her, to which landowners was she hired out, where she lived when working for other landowners, where she lived at the time of her escape, and more.

There is indication that Harriet likely lived in several locations, as happened with many enslaved people. The question of where she was born, where she lived and from where did she escape has involved the efforts of researchers. There are indications that Harriet worked for and likely lived on or close to property owned by Dr. Anthony C. Thompson.

Some questions:

  • Where did Harriet Tubman ("Minty") and her free husband John Tubman live when she ran away in the Fall of 1849?
  • Where did Dr. Anthony C. Thompson ("Dr. Thompson") live from the Fall of 1847 through the Fall of 1849?

The following are sources of information describing her life as a slave in Dorchester County.


Excerpts from Franklin Sanborn's article in the Boston Commonwealth newspaper 1863, reprinted in Scenes in The Life of Harriet Tubman, Sarah Bradford, 1869

"Soon after she entered her teens she was hired out as a field hand, and it was while thus employed that she received a wound which nearly proved fatal, from the effects of which she still suffers. In the fall of the year, the slaves there work in the evening, cleaning up wheat, husking corn, etc. On this occasion, one of the slaves of a farmer named Barrett, left his work, and went to the village store in the evening. The overseer followed him, and so did Harriet. When the slave was found, the overseer swore he should be whipped, and called on Harriet, among others, to help tie him. She refused, and as the man ran away, she placed herself in the door to stop pursuit. The overseer caught up a two-pound weight from the counter and threw it at the fugitive, but it fell short and struck Harriet a stunning blow on the head. It was long before she recovered from this, and it has left her subject to a sort of stupor or lethargy at times; coming upon her in the midst of conversation, or whatever she may be doing, and throwing her into a deep slumber, from which she will presently rouse herself, and go on with her conversation or work.

"After this she lived for five or six years with John Stewart, where at first she worked in the house, but afterwards 'hired her time,' and Dr. Thompson, son of her master's guardian, 'stood for her,' that is, was her surety for the payment of what she owed. She employed the time thus hired in the rudest labors, — drove oxen, carted, plowed, and did all the work of a man,— sometimes earning money enough in a year, beyond what she paid her master, 'to buy a pair of steers,' worth forty dollars. The amount exacted of a woman for her time was fifty or sixty dollars,— of a man, one hundred to onehundred and fifty dollars. Frequently Harriet worked for her father, who was a timber inspector, and superintended the cutting and hauling of great quantities of timber for the Baltimore ship-yards. Stewart, his temporary master, was a builder, and for the work of Ross used to receive as much as five dollars a day sometimes, he being a superior workman. While engaged with her father, she would cut wood, haul logs, etc. Her usual 'stint' was half a cord of wood in a day.

"Harriet was married somewhere about 1844, to a free colored man named John Tubman, but she had no children. For the last two years of slavery she lived with Dr. Thompson, before mentioned, her own master not being yet of age, and Dr. T.'s father being his guardian, as well as the owner of her father. In 1849 the young man died, and the slaves were to be sold, though previously set free by an old will. Harriet resolved not to be sold, and so, with no knowledge of the North — having only heard of Pennsylvania and New Jersey — she walked away one night alone. She found a friend in a white lady, who knew her story and helped her on her way. After many adventures, she reached Philadelphia, where she found work and earned a small stock of money."


Excerpts from 1865 article by Ednoh DowCheney, from Freedman's Record, I (Marcy 1865), 34-38, reprinted in Blassingame, 1977, 458-459

"Owing to changes in her owner's family, it was determined to sell her and some other slaves but her health was so much injured, that a purchaser was not easily found. At length she became convinced that she would soon be carried away, and she decided to escape. Her brothers did not agree with her plans; and she walked off alone, following the guidance of the brooks, which she had observed to run North. The evening before she left, she wished very much to bid her companions farewell, but was afraid of being betrayed, if any one knew of her intentions; so she passed through the street singing,— 'Good bye, I'm going to leave you,
Good bye, I'll meet you in the kingdom,' — and similar snatches of Methodist songs. As she passed on singing, she saw her master, Dr. Thompson, standing at his gate, and her native humor breaking out, she sung yet louder, bowing down to him, — 'Good by, I'm going for to leave you.'

"He stopped and looked after h er as she passed on; and he afterwards said, that, as her voice came floating back in the evening air it seemed as if — 'A wave of trouble never rolled Across her peaceful breast.'

"Wise judges are we of each other! — She was only quitting h ome, husband, father, mother, friends, to go out alone, friendless and penniless into the world."


1850 U.S. Census, from 1850 Census abstract by Debra Moxey

The 1850 Census, as abstracted by Debra Moxey, shows the following heads of households living in consecutive houses visited by the census taker:

494. Vinebin Hollan, age 40
495. Gabriel Kiah, age 40
496. John Tubman, age 50 [residence shared with Mahala Tubman, age 45; and Prissy Stanley, age 25]
497. Easer Jolley, age 26


Certificate of Freedom book

January 4, 1850 — "Negro man John Tubman aged about 32 years, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches high, dark mulatto complexion, with a small scar on back of left hand, also one other at the top of calf of left leg, was born free and raised in Dorchester County"


State record, dated November 22, 1892

" State of Maryland,
County of Dorchester,
Eazur W. Jolly, being duly sworn, says he is 68 years of age and resided in Cambridge, state of Maryland and that his post office address is Cambridge, Maryland. Deponent further says he knew in his lifetime one John Tubman, a colored man, who was brought up at White Marsh, near Tobacco Stick, Maryland, and who subsequently moved to and lived at a point between Aireys and Cambridge, Maryland. Deponent knows that said John Tubman was killed in the county and between the points above mentioned on or about September 30th, 1867. The fact of the homicide was widely known in this community. Deponent saw the body of said Tubman after death.
Subscribed and sworn to me, Eazur W. Jolly."


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