Monthly Discussion Group Explores Harriet Tubman-Underground Railroad History

Stanley Institute in Cambridge, location of last months meeting

It was an enjoyable day in East New Market attending the Harriet Tubman-Underground Railroad Discussion Group at Faith Community United Methodist Church.  This knowledgeable group meets once a month at locations around Dorchester County as they dig deeply into African-American antebellum history on the Eastern Shore.  For the past two months, the group has focused on analyzing events leading to the trial and imprisonment of the Rev. Samuel Green of East New Market in 1857.  He was charged with owning a copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and for that the Circuit Court of Dorchester County sent him to prison.

John Creighton, Swarthmore graduate, oysterman, poet, and teacher, and Pat Lewis lead the exchanges, drawing on decades of research with some excellent manuscript materials from court records and archives.  Their scholarship is exceptional and they freely share their research data.  In addition they’re open to interpretive exchanges as established history is frequently challenged and new findings emerge.

When they started decades ago the history of the African-American community before emancipation was largely ignored.  John was oystering on the Chesapeake in the 1970s.  After he returned to Cambridge dock with the days catch, he’d amble over to the courthouse to spend afternoons digging through dusty old public records.  Pat’s interest initially focused on the Underground Railroad around Wilmington where she conducted research.  Some years ago they teamed up to work together and connect the route across the Delmarva Peninsula.

Their work has encouraged others to investigate this subject.  Communities throughout the entire region have joined in, searching out their own stories to contribute to the growing body of literature.  In addition, the state and national heritage trails, as well as a Harriet Tubman Visitor’s Center are under development.

I’ve only attended two meetings, but they’re a valuable investment of my time and what a welcoming group they are.   The meeting this time took place at Faith Community United Methodist Church, which sponsored Sarah Young Day afterwards.  Sarah Young was a slave from East New Market.  She was freed by her master and given land in the area decades before the civil war.  Today many of her relatives still reside in northern Dorchester County.  As they remembered Sarah Young, the Rev. Jonathan Whitney of the East New Market Church and the Rev. Turhan Potter conducted some stirring services.  The Rev. Potter had a powerful message for the audience, reminding them to remember their story.  From East New Market and probably related to Sarah Young, the Rev Potter had a message for everyone in the audience about remembering our post and I’m glad I didn’t miss that.

I’m looking forward to next month’s discussion and wish I had discovered such a helpful and informative group long ago for their sessions are valuable.   I attended my first discussion last month at the Stanley Institute because Pat found me digging into the research collections and old newspapers at the Dorchester County Library.  I’m sure glad she let me know about these programs.

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