The Call of Freedom
Dorchester County occupies a central place in the story of the Underground Railroad, the secret network of "stations" and "conductors" that sheltered and shepherded hundreds of enslave African Americans to freedom in the mid-1800s. This county courthouse was the site of two famous Underground Railroad trials. An earlier courthouse her was the site of a dramatic escape engineered by the famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, a Dorchester native.
In December 1850, Kessiah Bowley and her two young children went up on the slave auction block at this site. John Bowley, a free black ship carpenter, outbid everyone for the right to buy his wife and children. By the time the auctioneer called for payment, John, Kessiah, and the children were nowhere to be found.
That night, the Bowleys made their way out of hiding to a waiting boat and sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. Kessiah's aunt, Harriet Tubman, anticipated their arrival. She had helped John plan this escape by communicating through the Underground Railroad. She then took them farther north to freedom.
Justice in Slavery Times
In April 1857, the county sheriff raided the East New Market home of Reverend Samuel Green, a free black man and a Methodist minister suspected of Underground Railroad activity, and found a copy of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Green was convicted at this courthouse and sentenced to 10 years in prison under a law that made it a felony to own antislavery publications. He was pardoned in 1862.
In 1858, a group of slaves fleeing Dorchester County with "conductor" Hugh Hazlett was arrested in neighboring Caroline County. Hazlett, a 27-year-old immigrant laborer from Ireland, made a dramatic escape from the county jail, only to be recaptured. He was tried here and sentenced to a prison term of 44 years, six months, and nine days. He was pardoned in 1864, after Maryland freed its slaves.