The highly anticipated ribbon cutting for the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May finally took place; it had been delayed by the pandemic. While the museum is now open, it is mainly by invitation only; a more public opening will be held once the pandemic restrictions are eased. The museum had been scheduled to have its grand opening on June 19th, or Juneteenth, but it was delayed by the pandemic.
Cape May played an important role in the Underground Railroad that Tubman used to smuggle slaves to freedom. According to the museum, Tubman lived in Cape May in the 1850s, working there to raise funds for her enterprise of helping fugitive slaves escape to the North. Tubman often led slaves to Philadelphia for their freedom (she herself had escaped slavery in Maryland by going to Philadelphia), later taking them to Canada to avoid capture under the Fugitive Slave Act: that legislation gave wide latitude to slave owners to reclaim escaped slaves, even in free states.
Harriet Tubman returned to Cape May, however, knowing she could find work there in hotels. According to Cape May Magazine, there is no definitive record of exactly how often she was in Cape May or the particular hotels where she is said to have worked, but it is believed she was there at least intermittently from 1850-52. It is believed, in total, that she rescued at least 70 slaves via the Underground Railroad.
The Harriet Tubman Museum building is located on a block that anti-slavery activists called home in Cape May. Lafayette Street and Franklin Street became a center of abolitionist activity centered around three important buildings developed in 1846. The museum itself is located at 632 Lafayette St., housed in a historic building known as the Howell House. The building had served as the parsonage for the neighboring Macedonia Baptist Church but had fallen into disrepair and seemed likely to be demolished when the project began more than two years ago.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle’s own.