The Tilly Escape
Harriet Tubman’s mission to rescue “Tilly,” an enslaved woman living in Baltimore, was one of the most harrowing and complicated of her 13 rescue missions, taking her from Canada to Baltimore and then through Seaford, Delaware.
Harriet Tubman was contacted in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, by a man who had claimed his freedom seven years earlier and was anxious to find a courageous guide for his fiancée, Laura, who was enslaved in Baltimore. Tubman was acquainted with the woman from her time in Dorchester County and agreed to go for her. She traveled by steamer from Philadelphia, shrewdly obtaining a pass from the captain on her way. She located the young woman, who became known as “Tilly,” and the two boarded another steamer. However, because of the requirement for an expensive travel bond, they did not go directly north. Instead, they went south through the Chesapeake Bay and to the port of Seaford, on the Nanticoke River. Tubman obtained a pass from that steamboat captain for Tilly on the way.
After landing in Seaford, the pair rested at a hotel, intending to head north overland the next morning. If not for the intervention of the hotel keeper, who had seen their passes the night before, Tubman and Tilly would have been apprehended in the morning by a pair of lurking “slave catchers.” The women walked to a nearby railroad station of the new Delaware Railroad, probably in Bridgeville, and from there traveled to Camden, to the home of Tubman’s friends William and Nathaniel Brinkley. They also rested in Wilmington with Thomas and Rachel Garrett, recounting their journey before continuing north to Canada. Three days later, Garrett captured the story in a letter to Eliza Wigham of the Edinburgh Ladies Emancipation Society, a faithful supporter of Garrett’s and Tubman’s Underground Railroad work. This letter, preserved in the Friends Historical Library collections in Pennsylvania, became the basis for documentation leading to designating the story as part of the National Park Service Network to Freedom.