President Obama Designates National Monument Honoring Harriet Tubman

March 25, 2013

Photograph of Harriet Tubman/Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Harriet Tubman. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Antiquities Act Proclamation designates Conservation Fund property part of Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument.

Dorchester County, Md. — The Conservation Fund is pleased to assist President Obama and the National Park Service in the establishment of a national monument honoring the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, an American hero who escaped slavery but returned repeatedly to the familiar Maryland landscape to lead dozens of family members and friends to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

The President signed a proclamation today to designate a historic 480-acre property on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as the foundation of the new monument.  The Conservation Fund donated the property to the National Park Service, making the designation possible. Adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), the site once included the home of Jacob Jackson, a former neighbor and free black who used coded messages from Tubman to help free her brothers just before they were due to be sold. The proclamation also establishes an approximate 11,750-acre monument boundary, which includes lands within Blackwater NWR and additional lands that could be added to the monument in the future.

“As our nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service is committed to connecting people with the places and stories of the diverse peoples who have come together to create the common heritage of the United States,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Harriet Tubman’s story and accomplishments are profound and inspirational and we are excited to be able to preserve and interpret part of her life’s story.”

These historic lands, mostly forested wetlands and marsh, have the extraordinary power to tell Tubman’s story where it happened and in a landscape that still looks much as it did during her famed journeys. Recognizing the importance of these lands to the state, Governor Martin O’Malley, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and U.S. Representative Andy Harris (R-1-MD) urged Presidential action to establish the monument in July 2012.   

“A national monument designation commemorating the extraordinary life of Harriet Tubman is an important step in the process of establishing National Historic Parks to honor her,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who has introduced S. 247 to create two National Historical Parks in her honor.  “Harriet Tubman was an iconic figure in our nation’s history, and as we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her death, this designation is an important step in honoring this iconic American heroine. I am going to continue to work hard in Congress to pass legislation to establish the two National Historical Parks—one in Maryland and one in New York—and today’s action from the President will help us achieve our goal of fully commemorating  and honoring her legacy.”

Born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tubman spent nearly 30 years of her life as a slave. She escaped in 1849, at age 27, but returned to Dorchester and Caroline counties an estimated 13 times over the next decade to help slaves escape to the North. These daring rescues happened along the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that ran from the Deep South all the way up into Canada. Under cover of night, on foot or by wagon, Tubman and other “conductors” snuck runaways across fields, through towns, and over waterways, stopping to hide during daylight hours in barns, homes, and other quiet spots.  While estimates vary considerably, potentially more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaped to Canada via the Railroad.

These escapes would have been impossible without people like Jackson, a free black who could read. In 1854, Tubman learned that her brothers were soon to be sold. She had a friend in Philadelphia write a letter to Jackson, who lived near the plantation where her brothers worked. Within the letter was a carefully coded message to let Tubman’s brothers know that she was coming for them on Christmas Day. With Jackson’s help, Tubman’s brothers were able to meet her and escape out of Maryland and eventually into Canada. 

“Journeys along the Underground Railroad were a dangerous scramble across wilderness and through populated areas, and success required heroes like Harriet Tubman to know the land, travel swiftly, and repeatedly take risks,” says Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “We’re thrilled to honor Tubman’s heroism by participating in a monument designation in her honor. We’d like to thank President Obama, Secretary Salazar, Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, Representative Andy Harris, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and all the others who have worked for years to preserve these lands.”

Harriet Tubman property in Maryland to become National Monument

Harriet Tubman property in Maryland. Photo by The Conservation Fund.

The Fund has partnered with the State of Maryland and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to protect more than 7,000 acres within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and along the Eastern Shore. The Fund and its partners have protected roughly 155,000 acres across Maryland.

After serving as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman served her country as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union during the Civil War. She later became active in the women’s suffrage movement and created a home “for aged and indigent colored people” before her death on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York. This spring marks the 100th anniversary of her death. 

In 2008, the National Park Service completed a Special Resource Study which concluded that two separate national parks should be established to recognize the life of Harriet Tubman: one located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the second located in Auburn, New York. The Maryland and New York Congressional delegations, the State of Maryland and a broad coalition of supporters, including The Conservation Fund, have worked to advance preservation of these sites. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Representatives Andy Harris (R-MD-1) and Daniel Maffei (D-NY-24) introduced bills (S. 247, H.R. 513, and H.R. 664, respectively) in both houses of Congress in February to establish the Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks. The passage of this legislation would increase the boundary of the national monument to include historically significant lands in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot Counties, as well as in Western New York. 

“Harriet Tubman remains one of America’s most beloved and respected icons, but little is publicly shared about the courage and conviction she had for her people and her country that made her such a legend,” said Tom Kiernan, President, National Parks Conservation Association. “The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument will enhance public understanding of her life as an enslaved woman who became the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad as well as a nurse, spy, and scout for the Union army during the Civil War. We also thank Governor Martin O’ Malley and Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski for their efforts to honor the legacy of Harriet Tubman at the national level it deserves. We will continue to support legislative action that will help share the full story of Harriet Tubman’s inspiring and fearless life and work, through additional national park sites in Auburn, New York.”

The Antiquities Act provides presidents with executive authority to protect irreplaceable lands and waters by designating them as national monuments. Since 1906, 16 presidents (eight Democrats, eight Republicans) have used the Antiquities Act to protect national icons like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. Some of America’s favorite national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park, were first named national monuments. 


About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected more than 7 million acres across America.


  • Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

    Photograph of Harriet Tubman/Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

    Harriet Tubman was a true American hero. Born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tubman spent nearly 30 years of her life as a slave. She escaped but repeatedly returned to Dorchester and Caroline counties to rescue other African Americans, leading them… Read More