March 21, 2013
The Conservation Fund is extremely grateful to President Obama for his commitment to use the Antiquities Act to establish the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We are honored to have played an instrumental role in the protection of key historic lands for the foundation of the new monument that will pay tribute to an American hero who escaped slavery but returned repeatedly to lead dozens of family members and friends to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

The Conservation Fund has donated a property to the National Park Service, adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), that 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. This site, together with additional historic lands to be included in the monument, has 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.

“One hundred years after her death, we still look to Harriet Tubman as an American symbol of heroism, equality, justice and self-determination. President Obama’s designation of a national monument honoring her life and legacy will be a testament to Harriet’s courageous efforts and the dedicated work of so many to preserve the landscape where she made her mark on history,” said Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “The Conservation Fund is thrilled to facilitate the protection and donation of a significant property to the National Park Service for the new monument designation in her honor.”

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.

Establishing a national monument is likely to strengthen Dorchester County’s local economy, where tourism represents one-fifth of employment, generating over $132 million in 2010.  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.   

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. While estimates vary considerably, potentially more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaped to Canada via the Underground 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.

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. 

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land since 1985.