January-February 2016 | DARING DEEDS




A true hero of Maryland and Americans nationwide, Harriet Tubman wasn’t just brave; she was resourceful, too. Read about her dangerous liberation of a slave named Tilly at the headwaters of the Nanticoke River.

Written By: Nick Brandi | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

Harriet Tubman escorted more than 300 slaves to freedom. But scholars say one of her most daring and clever occurred in 1856, with her rescue of a slave named Tilly. When Tilly’s fiancé learned he was to be sold by his master, he escaped to the North, vowing not to leave Tilly behind. It took seven years, but her fiancé eventually raised some money and arranged for Tubman to rescue her. Armed with papers declaring her a free black woman residing in Philadelphia, Tubman hopped a steamboat in that city and made her way through the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. She eventually found Tilly following an extensive search and was able to liberate her from her captors. Now the trick was getting both of them to safety. Determining that a steamship journey would be too risky and expensive, she and Tilly instead took a steamboat down the Chesapeake, then up the Nanticoke River to Seaford, likely disembarking at the Seaford Riverwalk. The two women ate supper and stayed overnight in a hotel at the top of a hill where Gateway Park is today.

Though slave traders attempted to arrest them the following day, Harriet produced her documents of freedom, and the hotel’s manager, John Colbourn, intervened on their behalf, so the two were permitted to leave. Harriet and Tilly traveled north, first by train to Camden, Delaware, then by carriage to Wilmington, where they met up with Thomas Garrett, a well-known abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad campaign. In a letter sent to Eliza Wigham in Scotland dated Oct. 27, 1856, three days after Tilly escaped, Garrett wrote a vivid account of the women’s “remarkable” trip, stating it “manifested great shrewdness.”

The liberation of Tilly represents Tubman’s only documented case of slave rescue at the headwaters of the Nanticoke River, bordering Tubman’s home county of Dorchester. Poetically, Tubman’s route on this journey would have had her and Tilly crossing the same path the notorious Patty Cannon had taken decades earlier, when she was transporting abducted free blacks and slaves.

There are no comments. Be the first to post a comment.