brown doc martens Underground Railroad plaques unveiled in Denton
DENTON Plaques designating two Denton sites as official stops on the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom were unveiled Thursday, March 10, by representatives from the National Park Service and the Caroline County Office of Tourism.
The newest sites are just steps from each other: One plaque is on the Denton town office building at the corner of Market and Second streets, where a hotel once stood, and the other is affixed to the visitor’s center on the Caroline County Circuit Courthouse green, on the other side of the intersection. Virgin Islands.
The sites tell the story of escaping slavery and reaching freedom, said Diane Miller, program manager for the National Park Service, and are all connected by the Network to Freedom.
The National Park Service has printed a brochure mapping the sites, available in the Denton town office.
“We have some of the nation’s truly significant Underground Railroad history,” said Caroline County Office of Tourism Director Kathy Mackel.
Mackel said Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and William Still might be the most famous figures from the area, but there are plenty more lesser known stories that are just as compelling.
Three of those stories were told at the plaque unveilings March 10.
The first plaque, on the town office building, marks the site of a large celebration that was held when the Caroline County sheriff brought home a local boy, Richard Potter, who had been kidnapped into slavery. Walsh, president of the Caroline County Historical Society, said Potter is one of the few people from his era about which a lot is known, because he wrote a book, several copies of which still exist today.
Walsh said Potter was the 11 year old son of two former slaves who lived in Denton in 1853. Potter’s father was a blacksmith, but his parents did not want Potter to be a blacksmith, too. So they arranged an indentured apprenticeship for him on a farm in Greensboro.
While Potter, who was born free, was living and working on the Greensboro farm, he was kidnapped by a gang from Seaford, Del., who intended to sell him to a slave trader who would take him farther south to be sold into slavery.
Walsh said a gang member was supposed to meet up with a slave trader on the Chesapeake Bay to hand off Potter, but he got struck by lightning. The other gang members had to hide Potter in Delaware, where it was a crime to kidnap free black people, until they could arrange another meeting.
To conceal Potter in plain sight, they dressed him as a girl and called him Susan, Walsh said.
Meanwhile, Walsh said, Potter’s family and the Caroline County sheriff were searching for him. They stopped by the known gang’s house several times, but every time, Potter was either forced to hide in a chest under a pile of blankets or under the covers of a “sick” woman’s bed, counting on the searchers to be too polite to force the woman to pull back the covers.
Walsh said eventually the gang members decided it was becoming too much of a risk trying to hide Potter until he could be sold, and Potter overheard one say he was going to kill Potter and bury him.
Potter escaped and ran to a neighbor’s house, who hid him in a shed and contacted the Caroline County sheriff.
Walsh said the sheriff brought Potter home to Denton, bringing him to the brick hotel that stood where the town offices are located now. The whole town came to the site to celebrate Potter’s safe return.
Potter wrote about his kidnapping and escape in a book that was published four times in the years leading up to the Civil War, Walsh said.
Walsh said Potter became a blacksmith like his father after all, before moving to Baltimore, where he later became a minister.
Potter’s Denton home still stands on Fourth Street, Walsh said, though it has been added onto many times over the years.
The second plaque, on the visitor’s center on the courthouse green, acknowledges the trial and imprisonment of two men who helped slaves escape.
Their stories were told by Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, who has written a biography on Tubman and is a consultant for the National Park Service.
Larson said the first story related to the courthouse green site is that of Isaac Gibson, a free black man who lived in Caroline County. In 1849, Gibson helped a slave named John Stokes try to flee but was caught. Gibson was tried and convicted at the courthouse that previously stood at the site and served more than three years in jail.
The second story was that of Hugh Hazlett, an Irish immigrant, who in July 1858 was caught between Henderson and Templeville, leading a group of seven slaves he had helped escape from Dorchester County, where he also lived.
Larson said Hazlett and the seven escaped slaves were held in the jail that once stood on the Denton courthouse green, before they were put on a steamboat back to Cambridge.
By the late 1850s, Larson said, Dorchester County slaveholders were angry about how many slaves were fleeing, and a mob had formed at Long Wharf to meet Hazlett. The local sheriff worried the mob would lynch Hazlett, so he ordered it to turn around and drop off Hazlett somewhere else along the Choptank River, perhaps Secretary or East New Market, Larson said.
Hazlett then was jailed in Cambridge. He managed to escape, but he was arrested again in East New Market.