Commemorating Harriet Tubman's Legacy at Pier 4

Signage from the Network to Freedom near Pier 4, once known as Dugan's Wharf, commemorates the story of Harriet Tubman and a young, enslaved woman named Tilly who boarded a steamboat there to escape from slavery.

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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.

Unlike Tubman, Tilly had no paperwork, which presented a challenging obstacle. Aware of the dangers of traveling north without a $500 bond or a certificate of freedom, Tubman decided to take an unconventional route: head south to go north. She knew that the steamboat Kent stopped in Dugan's Wharf and traveled Maryland's Eastern Shore to deliver freight, mail and passengers all along the Chesapeake as well as the Choptank and Nanticoke Rivers.

Knowing that they needed to be aboard the Kent, Tubman convinced the captain to give Tilly a travel pass or another kind of paperwork that allowed her to travel on the steamboat. It is unclear whether the captain knew of Tubman's plan. Finally, the Kent made its way to Seaford, Delaware, on the banks of the Nanticoke River. From there, Tubman and Tilly traveled on the Delaware Railroad north to Camden. They continued on toward Wilmington, Delaware, where they connected with other members of the Underground Railroad who then escorted Tilly up to Philadelphia and freedom.

Tubman's successful, innovative plan not only impresses people today, but it also inspired people during her time. Tubman's clever plan gained attention and motivated abolitionists from outside of the United States to donate money to the Underground Railroad. Tubman's commitment to Tilly's escape demonstrated her unwavering resilience and dedication.

A special thanks to all the partners involved in telling this important story through the Network to Freedom signage on Pier 4, including the State of Maryland, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, National Park Service, Visit Baltimore, Visit Baltimore County, Visit Howard County, Visit Harford County, Visit Cecil County, B&O Railroad Museum and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

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