Seaford to be part of Network to Freedom
By Lynn R. Parks
Seaford's Gateway Park and Riverwalk will become sites on the National Park Service's Network to Freedom. They will join 10 other sites in Delaware as places where activities of the Underground Railroad, a network of antislavery activists and safe houses for runaway slaves, have been documented to have taken place.
Jim Blackwell, representing the Seaford Historical Society, told the Seaford City Council Tuesday night that research has shown that Harriet Tubman, the native of Dorchester County who helped guide hundreds of slaves to freedom, disembarked from a steamboat at what is now the Riverwalk in October 1856. With her was a runaway slave, Tilly.
She and Tilly had dinner and spent the night at a hotel located at what is now Gateway Park.
Included in the historical society's documentation is a letter written by Wilmington abolitionist Thomas Garrett, describing Tubman's rescue of Tilly. "When the boat arrived at Seaford, she boldly went to the Hotel and called for supper and lodging," Garrett wrote.
The next morning, Tubman and Tilly were almost arrested, according to Garrett's account. But the hotel landlord interfered and the two were able to make their way to the railroad. While there was no train service yet in Seaford, Blackwell said, the railroad had just arrived in Bridgeville, in September of that year.
"They could have taken the stagecoach to Bridgeville, or even walked," Blackwell said. The northbound train left that town at 7:30 in the morning and again at 4 in the afternoon.
Tubman and Tilly rode to Camden, where abolitionist William Brinkley helped them make their way to Garrett's home in Wilmington.
From there, Tilly headed north and Tubman returned to the south, Blackwell said.
Blackwell told the council that Tubman's escape with Tilly is considered to be one of her most complicated and daring escapes. "Seaford should be proud because it's a great story," he said. One thing that makes the story special, he added, is the fact that it involves Tubman, Brinkley and Garrett, three well-known participants in the Underground Railroad.
Blackwell was at the city council meeting to ask for permission for the park and the Riverwalk, both owned by the city, to be part of the Network of Freedom. That permission was granted by unanimous vote. Other Network of Freedom sites in Delaware include the John Dickinson Plantation near Dover, the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in Wilmington, the old New Castle County Courthouse in New Castle and the Friends Meeting House in Camden.
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