Cape May ‘underground’ — How NJ became Harriet Tubman’s home and beacon of freedom
No, this isn’t a reprint: the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May will have its third grand opening this Saturday, June 19, or Juneteenth.
Because of the pandemic, there was a low-key opening last Juneteenth and a more official ribbon cutting in September, but a bigger celebration once restrictions were lifted had always been planned.
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.
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.
It is believed that Tubman returned to Cape May and worked in various hotels between 1850-52.
The museum will finally be open regularly to visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children under 10.