The story of a runaway slave from Gilpin Point in Caroline County is now memorialized on a new sign funded by the National Park Service’s “Network to Freedom” program.
The sign telling the story of Joseph Cornish was unveiled in May at Gilpin Point Park on Holly Road in Preston before a small audience. Several dignitaries were present, including Barbara Tagger, a representative from Atlanta, Ga. National Park Service Office; Dr. Kate C. Larson, author of Harriet Tubman’s biography “Bound for the Promised Land” and historian for the Harriet Tubman UGRR Byway; Tony Cohen of the Menare Foundation and local Historic Society members.
“This is another momentous Underground Railroad occasion here in Caroline County,” said Caroline Office of Tourism Director Kathy Mackel.
The 40-year-old Cornish, a blacksmith and minister, was enslaved by Capt. Samuel W. LeCompte, USN, who worked him very hard. Cornish was married to a free woman and the father of five children. His struggle for freedom came at great personal cost.
On Dec. 8, 1855, Cornish most likely knew about the Underground Railroad network Harriet Tubman relied upon in Philadelphia and New York, when he started out from Cambridge on foot for Gilpin’s Point, where he had heard there was a vessel about to sail.
Cornish worked his passage to Baltimore, and then he made his way to UGRR agent William Still in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. From there, Cornish was rushed to agent Sydney H. Gay in New York City, who forwarded Cornish to St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, where Harriet Tubman, and many others from Maryland’s Eastern Shore were cherishing their newfound freedom.
The sign is the second in Caroline County that tells the story of a successful freedom seekers escape. The first sign is in Denton at Crouse Park.
Mackel said the Network to Freedom signs promote the sites of slaves’ escape attempts and creates places for visitors to learn more about the Underground Railroad’s history in our county. She said she is working on two more sign sites and will have another unveiling in late fall down in Choptank.
Mackel said the Choptank River was a guide for slaves seeking freedom, yet it also was also an impediment, because they had to cross it and most freedom seekers did not swim.