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Portrait of Harriet Tubman by an anonymous photographer (ca. 1860-1880) (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The long-lost homesite of the famed abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman has been found, the Washington Post reports. Scanning a metal detector over marshy terrain at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, archaeologist Julie Schablitsky discovered a small coin dated 1808 depicting a woman in a cap that said “Liberty.”

The coin helped Schablitsky, chief archaeologist at the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, identify the area as the former site of the plantation where Tubman lived with her parents and siblings before escaping enslavement in 1849. Historians had been searching for the exact spot of Tubman’s family home, a cabin owned by her father Ben Ross, for at least two decades.

A coin from the early 1800s found at the site helped identify the spot of Tubman’s family home. (photo courtesy the Maryland Department of Transportation)

Schablitsky’s team also found nails, dish fragments, shards of glass and ceramic, and even a button dating to the 1800s that she believes are linked to Ross’s cabin. The discovery was announced yesterday by Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd K. Rutherford and state and federal partners at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center.

Tubman is best known as the most prominent operator of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses, routes, and resources that helped thousands of enslaved people in the American South escape to the North. She made 13 trips into the South between 1850 and 1860, freeing approximately 70 enslaved people.

Tubman is also considered the first African American woman to serve in the military, working as a guerrilla soldier and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Archaeologists Diannah Bowman, left; Kayla Marciniszyn, center; and Brandon Ellis document their findings. (photo courtesy the Maryland Department of Transportation)

“The importance of discovering Ben Ross’ cabin here is the connection to Harriet Tubman. She would’ve spent time here as a child, but also she would’ve come back and been living here with her father in her teenage years, working alongside him,” said Schablitsky in a press release about the findings.

“This was the opportunity she had to learn about how to navigate and survive in the wetlands and the woods,” she added. “We believe this experience was able to benefit her when she began to move people to freedom.”

The site of Ben Ross’s cabin will be highlighted on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a 125-mile, self-guided scenic drive including more than 30 points of interest related to Tubman’s life and legacy.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...