10. Joseph Stewart’s Canal

Danger and Drudgery in the Marshes

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Over a period of 20 years, 1810-1832, enslaved and free blacks dug this seven-mile canal through the marsh by hand. It was a grueling and sometimes deadly endeavor. The wealthy, powerful, and slave-holding Stewart family owned large tracts of timber, shipyards, a store, and a mill near here. Joseph Stewart, Anthony Thompson, and nearby landowners designed this canal to float their logs and agricultural products to the ships at nearby wharves in Madison Bay.

Through her work on the docks and in the forests, Harriet learned the secret networks of communication that were the provenance of African-American men, particularly those employed as mariners, carrying timber and other goods to cities and towns around the Chesapeake Bay and into Delaware, Pennsylvania and New England. Beyond the watchful eye of white masters, they spoke of freedom in the North, the safe places along the way and the dangers in between. Feeding her own growing resentment of slavery’s injustices, the free world beyond the shores of Dorchester County emboldened Harriet.

In December 1854, after she had escaped to the north, Tubman communicated to her three brothers through Jacob Jackson, a Madison resident and free black veterinarian. Hearing through the secret maritime communication network that her brothers were about to be sold, she let Jackson know through a coded letter that she was ready to rescue them. Jackson lived south of this canal, and his former home site is now protected as part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.



MD Route 16 and Parsons Creek
Taylors Island, MD 21669

GPS Coordinates: 38.488349,-76.262765

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  • No public access

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