3. Dorchester County Courthouse

Challenging Slavery

In 1850, Harriet Tubman’s niece, Kessiah, and her two children escaped from the auction block at the front of the courthouse. On the day of the auction, Kessiah and her children stood before buyers when the bidding started. Kessiah’s husband, John Bowley, a free black ship carpenter, outbid everyone. When an official appeared to collect payment, no one came forward. Kessiah and her children were missing. John had secretly whisked them away and transported them by boat to Baltimore, where Harriet met them and led them to Philadelphia.

The original courthouse from this auction scene burned in 1852. This Italianate building, constructed in 1854, stood at the center of Cambridge’s political and economic life. Many records from the slavery era survived the courthouse fire, and are now part of the research collections at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.

Several significant incidents occurred at this site during the height of the Underground Railroad. In 1857, Samuel Green, a free black farmer, Methodist preacher and Underground Railroad agent, drew national attention when he was tried here and sentenced to 10 years in prison for owning a copy of the anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1858, Hugh Hazlett, an Irish laborer and Underground Railroad conductor, was captured and brought by boat to be imprisoned here. He escaped, was recaptured and later sentenced to 44 years for assisting fugitive slaves.

Information

Address

206 High Street
Cambridge, MD 21613

GPS Coordinates: 38.571992,-76.076497

Practical info
  • Network to Freedom Program site
  • Street parking only
  • Wayside exhibit
  • Shopping nearby
  • Restaurants nearby

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