A piece of the Underground Railroad's rich history can be found right on Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Dugan's Wharf, now known as Pier 4, was the site of one of Harriet Tubman's most daring escape plans in 1856. Aboard the steamboat Kent, Tubman helped an enslaved woman named Tilly escape slavery. To honor their story and memorialize the bravery of all who contributed to the success of the Underground Railroad, the National Aquarium co-hosted an event on August 29, 2023, with the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism and Film to commemorate the installation of Network of Freedom signage.
This installment, titled "Dugan's Wharf: Site of Tilly's Escape," is the first stop on the Underground Railroad story in Baltimore. With installments planned around the state, this signage will be part of the journey that moves people from Howard County to Cecil County as the Underground Railroad's history in Maryland unfolds. This marker is the first physical signage in Baltimore City to identify a Network to Freedom site.
Visitors can find the signage on the south side of the bridge between Piers 4 and 5.
Tubman's Innovative Plan: Travel South to Go North
Born in Maryland, Harriet Tubman dedicated her life to helping enslaved people escape to freedom. Tubman learned about Tilly from Tilly's fiance who had escaped from slavery by fleeing to Canada. With money from Tilly's fiance and a promise to help Tilly, Tubman acquired a certificate from a steamboat captain that identified her as a Philadelphia resident and a free woman. Tubman used this paperwork to make her way down to Baltimore to find Tilly.
Historically, Baltimore was known as a strong industrial hub due to its accessibility via the harbor. Dugan's Wharf on Pratt Street was a popular commercial port that hosted both merchant and passenger ships until the early 1900s. The wharf's prime position and heavy ship traffic also made it an asset to the Underground Railroad.