Historic Harriet Tubman Sites at Risk of Rising Seas on Eastern Shore


.

As a tour guide on the Eastern Shore’s Harriet Tubman Byway, Alex Green has an up-close view of historic landmarks associated with the iconic abolitionist.

Such as Long Wharf, now a park on the water’s edge of Cambridge, which once served as a hub for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Stewart’s Canal, a seven-mile logging waterway dug by enslaved and free Black people. And the Bucktown General Store, where a young Tubman sustained a brutal head injury during her first act of defiance against an enslaver. 

“This is African American heritage and history in this area,” said Green, who calls this part of the world “Tubman Country.” “I’ve done tours where people just cry.”

But Green, who has lived in the region for decades, has noticed something changing on those historic sites as the years have passed. The water, he said, “is coming closer and closer.”

Green is well aware that rising seas are affecting communities like his. The seas are rising faster along the mid-Atlantic than in most parts of the world, with the sinking of land from natural forces conspiring with sea level rise from climate-changing pollution to push coastlines inland. 

That's not just threatening communities, roadways and buildings. In this section of coast, it’s threatening historical Tubman treasures.

The science and news group Climate Central used its coastal database to pinpoint risks from rising seas to some of this area’s most precious Tubman landmarks. The group published its findings on Tuesday, showing many of the most significant sites along Maryland's portion of the Tubman Byway are already experiencing or are in jeopardy of chronic flooding from sea level rise. 

Climate Central analyzed 45 sites along the byway, which stretches from Maryland to Delaware, and found 16 of the sites will experience significant flood risk by 2050; 25 of them face such threats by century's end. The report singles out 10 significant places around Dorchester County as likely to face occasional, frequent or chronic risk of flooding this century.

“It's entirely possible that some of the sites are going to be so badly flooded that they really won't be very accessible to the public anymore,” said Karen Florini, the non-profit's vice president for programs, adding: “The main message is that climate change is real, it is serious, there is scientific consensus and there are things to be done.” 

Though about a quarter of Long Wharf Park is already at chronic risk of flooding, the report projects 80 percent of the area will be at chronic risk by 2050.  

The marshes at Stewart’s Canal are already experiencing chronic flooding, too. But it's going to get worse. Climate Central found much of the land around the canal will fall below the high tide line before 2050 and the road leading to it could be at chronic flood risk by the end of this century. 

The study also warns the historic Malone’s Methodist Episcopal Church — founded by free and enslaved Black people in the 1860s — and its nearby cemetery could see almost monthly flooding by 2050. The I-Team observed standing water underneath the church, even on a sunny day. 

“I'm hoping that when we talk about it and people hear us talk about it, they start to realize this is for real,” said Herschel Johnson, a local Tubman historian, of the risk of rising seas to the byway. 

Johnson said it’s not just a crucial part of American history at stake, but a key part of the local economy. He said Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, helps fuel Dorchester County tourism as people seek to learn more about her history. 

“When people come here just to visit because of Harriet Tubman, they spend money at the restaurants, at the hotels,” he continued. “She's very important.”

The rising water is already posing challenges for archaeologists searching to uncover more of Tubman’s history. 

A team of archaeologists from the Maryland Department of Transportation have been searching federal wetlands since last fall for evidence of her father’s cabin. They’re also digging on nearby private land for the site they believe could be Tubman’s birthplace.

This area “was never very dry, but it has never been as wet as it has today,” said Julie Schablitsky, the chief archaeologist for MDOT’s State Highway Administration. “Because of that, we're in a bit of a race against time to try and rescue these sites.”

Schablitsky, whose team just finished a two week stint digging in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, showed the I-Team a collection of nails, fasteners and brick indicative of an old home site — clues that the scientists could be getting closer to confirming the location of Ben Ross’s homestead. 

“Out of a thousand holes we've excavated, this location seems to be the most likely place for Ben Ross's cabin” Schablitsky said. 

Her team spent weeks sifting through the brackish muck to locate tiny bits of plates, cups, bowls and other housewares, which the scientists will now analyze in their laboratory. 

But rising water, she said, can complicate pinpointing the age of these items. 

“As we dig deeper, things usually get older,” she said. “So it's important that we don't have water coming up into our site because, once that happens, it literally muddies the picture.”

Schablitzsky said rising seas don’t just make it harder to identify artifacts, but harder to access the sites themselves. The current sites are located off of long dirt and gravel roads in flooded woodlands.

“We are in a bit of a rush against time because, even certain times of the year when I'm out here, I can't always access the site,” Schablitsky said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the property last fall — part of an effort to preserve the land as well as its potential Tubman history, said Matt Whitbeck, supervisory wildlife biologist for the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

“We knew that there was a lot of potential for this area to have a high value for the Harriet Tubman story, and that added to the value of this property, in particular,” Whitbeck said. 

But he warned this area will eventually become an island as the seas rise. Data from the longest-operating tide gauge in the area, located on the opposite side of the Chesapeake, shows tides are already pushing roughly a foot higher than they did 80 years ago. 

“Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a bit of a poster child for the impacts of sea level rise and climate change,” Whitbeck told the News4 I-Team, adding the area has already seen over 5,000 acres of tidal marsh convert to open water.

As evidence of the change, he said visitors who travel the refuge’s Wildlife Drive can look to the south and see a vast area of open water. 

“It's beautiful. But if you understand that, in the ‘30s, when the refuge was established, that was all tidal marsh habitat that's been lost to sea level rise and subsidence,” he told the I-Team. “It's shocking.”

The encroaching saltwater kills the trees in this area where Tubman led people on their journey to freedom, turning lush landscapes into “ghost forests” of brittle, hollowed out trees.  

Green, the tour guide, said people sometimes notice the skeletal trees dotting much of southern Dorchester County. He said he explains saltwater intrusion to them and how it has worsened over the past few decades. 

The trees help tell a greater story about what is at risk because of climate change, he said — a conversation he hopes will fuel more efforts to slow the damage and save what’s possible. 

“There's so much information that has been left out of history that we should try to preserve what we have here now,” Green said. 

About The Author

climatecentral.org

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate Central

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.