Along Underground Railroad
Excavation May Yield More Evidence of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Role in Underground Railroad
Archaeologists with the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) are examining artifacts to determine the age of a rustic cabin, believed to have been a slave quarter along the route of the Underground Railroad in Cambridge, Dorchester County. The Bayly Cabin is located behind the Caile-Bayly House, the oldest residence in Cambridge.
“Each artifact has a story to tell. A porcelain doll head and a toy tea set, along with other personal items, tell us a family lived here, including a little girl,” said MDOT SHA Chief Archaeologist Dr. Julie Schablitsky.
As part of a public outreach initiative to explore historic sites along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway, MDOT SHA is partnering with Dorchester County to determine the age of the cabin and learn more about the people who once called this place home. Dorchester County, known as “Harriet Tubman Country,” actively promotes and shares the history of African Americans and their heroic stories of survival.
“Our mission is rooted in historical preservation and documenting our unique, rich history,” said Julie Gilberto-Brady, manager of the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area. “The hundreds of artifacts unearthed by the archaeologists are important pieces to incorporate into the stories of historic sites along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.”
Fifteen years prior to emancipation, enslaved African Americans fled north to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses organized by Harriet Tubman. Lizzie Amby, a woman enslaved by Dr. Alexander Bayly, left the Bayly House in 1858 with her husband, Nat. They successfully made it to New York and never returned to Maryland. Other enslaved African Americans such as Mariah Nichols Camper and her children remained on the Bayly property.
“We need to know what happened here, and how they lived,” said Cambridge community member Hershel Johnson. “So much of our history was never documented and the archaeology is a way to get back what was once lost. We must realize the importance of exploring this difficult history.”
The cabin behind the main house was thought to have been a slave quarter, but there has been no proof anyone lived inside – until now. To prepare for the archaeological dig, floorboards were removed, revealing layers of soils filled with artifacts. Items discovered include broken teacups, chicken bones and crab claws, as well as children’s toys.
“The artifacts, including an 1885 Sanborn Insurance Map and census records, leave little room for doubt that people lived in the cabin,” said Chief Archaeologist Dr. Schablitsky.
Archaeologists began their survey of the site in September and continue working to determine when the cabin was first used as a home. The brick foundation and mid-19th century artifacts indicate a pre-emancipation date, but closer study of the artifacts in the laboratory is still needed. Additional work also will include DNA analysis of several tobacco pipe stems from the cabin. It is hoped that new cutting-edge applications will help identify living descendants of the cabin occupants, or at least reveal their ancestry.
“We think of ourselves more as stewards of the property, fortunate to be passing through its history, knowing that it will be here long after we’re gone,” said Catherine Morrison, the current property owner. “We hope to learn about how the people lived, and this is an important step in the process of healing the racial divides in our communities.”
For more information about the site, visit https://visitdorchester.org/bayly-house.
For more information about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway, visit
For more information about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor’s Center, visit https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/eastern/tubman.aspx.