Little Blackwater Bridge
A bridge has crossed the Little Blackwater near here since the late 1700s, when Harriet Tubman’s grandmother, Modesty, was enslaved on Atthow Pattison’s tobacco farm, situated on the southeast side of the river. Modesty gave birth to Harriet’s mother, Rit Green, there.
When Atthow Pattison died in January 1797, he gave an enslaved girl named “Rittia” to his granddaughter, Mary Pattison, with the stipulation that Rit and all of her future children be set free when “she and they arrive to forty-five years of age.” Rit later was moved to Madison when her owner, and young widow, Mary Pattison Brodess, married Anthony Thompson in 1803. It was then that Rit met and eventually married Ben Ross and began building her own family. Atthow Pattison’s wish that Rit and her children eventually be set free was never honored.
Years later, Ben and Rit’s child Minty, the young Harriet Tubman, was hired to work for the James Cook family who lived near this bridge. Initially, Minty was expected to learn the trade of weaving. Instead, at barely seven years old, she was sent into the nearby marshes to watch Cook’s muskrat traps, set on the banks of streams and marshes. It was harsh, dangerous work for a child, done in the winter, when muskrat furs are at their finest.
Forced to labor in the frigid cold without proper clothing, Minty became weak and eventually caught the measles. She grew gravely ill, and her mother convinced their master, Edward Brodess, to bring her little girl home, where she nursed her back to health. The Cooks’ cruelty included frequent whippings and beatings, and Harriet Tubman bore scars from their treatment until she died at age 91.
The Marsh Edge Trail at Blackwater NWR takes visitors along the west bank of the Blackwater River and Little Blackwater. The trail provides views of the former Pattison farm, as well as open water and thick marsh grass. It reveals some of the opportunities and challenges presented by the landscape. Tubman’s trapping work would have involved stepping into the soft soil and ample waters of stream banks and marsh grass like those seen here.
GPS Coordinates: 38.445901,-76.087575