In pictures: Harriet Tubman’s route on the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)
A photograph of Harriet Tubman is seen at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park's Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

Anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman, who herself escaped brutal slave owners in 1849, will become the first woman and first African American to be featured on a U.S. currency note starting in 2020. Her story as a “conductor” during the 19th century on the “Underground Railroad” is already well known to Americans and is being circulated anew thanks to a historical park that opened in 2017 in the part of rural Maryland where Tubman was born and raised.

The park attracts visitors from all parts of the globe who are curious about Tubman and the legendary Underground Railroad — a network of secret routes, passageways and safe houses used by slaves seeking freedom.

Angela Crenshaw, the park’s assistant manager, said visitors who are unfamiliar with the history will ask her questions like ‘Where is the station?’ and ‘Where are the tracks?’

Dirt road leading to small building (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)
Bucktown, Maryland: A pathway leads into the land where Harriet Tubman worked as a slave. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, Tubman escaped in 1849. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

But there was no real train. Runaway slaves traveled in the woods, at night, navigating by the North Star. They used a boat when they could, to prevent dogs from picking up their scent. Runaways were smuggled in hidden compartments of carriages and met in deserted places like cemeteries. Many used disguises. Throughout their journey, they were pursued by slave catchers and others who hoped to collect cash rewards offered for their capture.

Their “railroad without tracks” was run by a network of sympathetic blacks and whites who broke the law to help and hide fleeing slaves. By using railway terms like “stations” and “conductors” they were able to maintain secrecy. Working on the Underground Railroad was one of the first forms of civil disobedience in the United States.

Slave auctions

Historic building with fountain in yard (State Dept./Astrid Reicken)
Cambridge, Maryland: The Dorchester County Courthouse where slave auctions were held. Tubman’s niece and her niece’s two children escaped from here during one of the auctions. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

Quaker meeting house

Old house in woods (State Dept./Astrid Reicken)
Denton, Maryland: The Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House, built in 1803, was a Quaker meeting house used to sustain a local Underground Railroad network. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

Fugitive gathering place

Graveyard with aged, leaning gravestones (State Dept./Astrid Reicken)
Preston, Maryland: Mount Pleasant Cemetery, an African-American cemetery, served as a meeting place for fugitives on the Underground Railroad. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

Boat landing

Body of water and trees (State Dept./Astrid Reicken)
Church Creek, Maryland: The area around the Little Choptank River was familiar to escaping slaves who launched boats here. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say: ‘I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger,’” Tubman once said.

Many passengers made their way to William Still, a free black man in Philadelphia who was one of the Underground Railroad’s most important conductors. In his memoirs, Still wrote that many of Tubman’s contemporaries feared for Tubman’s safety as her journeys took her away for weeks at a time. But “she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear. The idea of being captured by slave hunters or slaveholders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries.”

Two views of small store, outside and inside (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)
The Bucktown Village Store is where Tubman was struck by a weight thrown by a slave owner that missed the intended slave. She was almost killed and suffered from the severe head injury for the rest of her life. (State Dept./Astrid Riecken)

During the 1861–1865 American Civil War, Tubman served as a scout, spy and nurse. She also led an armed expedition in South Carolina that liberated more than 700 slaves. Later in life, continuing her passion for freedom, she became a strong advocate for women’s suffrage, befriending leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland.

When then-Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced the decision to put Tubman on the new $20 bill, he described her as “not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.” Now, more than 100 years after her death in 1913, she is about to become one of America’s most recognizable faces.