Home, artifacts discovered at Harriet Tubman's birthplace in Dorchester County

Maryland leaders announce the discovery of a home on Tuesday where enslaved people lived on the Thompson Farm, the birthplace of Harriet Tubman. 

Maryland Governor Wes Moore joined local, state and federal partners at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Dorchester County to announce the discovery.

The discovery of the home believed to be that of an enslaved overseer, possibly Jerry Manokey, follows the April 2021 announcement of the discovery of the home of Ben Ross, Harriet Tubman’s father. 

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"Harriet Tubman’s birthplace is sacred ground, and this discovery is part of our ongoing commitment to preserve the legacy of those who lived here," said Gov. Moore. "The find reveals untold stories of the past that help us both understand the history we share and inspire us to make a better future."

Beneath layers of soil, archaeologists uncovered a substantial brick building foundation of the home. The excavation also revealed hundreds of artifacts, including a West African spirit cache. The cache, found during excavations last year, included a glass heart-shaped perfume bottle stopper, a white ceramic dish, and a copper alloy button.

Enslaved people are believed to have placed the cache in front of the home’s fireplace to protect the occupants from negative spirits.

READ MORE: Harriet Tubman statue's staff recovered by police after stolen in December

Maryland Department of Transportation Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky and her team have been searching for the homes of those enslaved on the Thompson Farm for more than two years.

At one time, more than 40 enslaved people lived there. The home discovery is on private property, while the archaeological remains of Mr. Ross’s home are located on the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 

The findings will soon be on display at the visitor center. Maryland Department of Transportation archaeologists will continue their research on the Eastern Shore this spring and summer and plan to revisit both Mr. Ross’s homesite and the overseer’s quarters.

"Such painstaking work excavating and reassembling the shattered remnants of such a nuanced and, for far too many, nightmarish past, act as a bridge to both self-empowerment and transcendence for an oppressed people, and of much-needed heightened awareness, empathy understanding, and personal growth by the community—and indeed, the nation at large," said Douglas Mitchell, Ben Ross’s great-great-great-grandson. "To underestimate the value and the importance of Dr. Schablitsky’s work here is to underestimate the capacity and the will of the human spirit for redemption, renewal and self-empowerment."

Since opening in 2017, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center has welcomed 350,000 guests from all 50 states and more than 60 countries and territories, averaging about 70,000 visitors annually. 

"Archaeologists are able to discover artifacts, each one representing a piece of a puzzle," said Tina Wyatt, Harriet Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece and Ben Ross’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter. "When gathered together, studied, and analyzed, we are then able to provide an important tangible experience, allowing a real-life connection between ancestors and descendants."

The visitor center is honoring the famed abolitionist with a series of events on Saturdays in February during Black History Month. Learn more about the programs here.