Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Harriet "Rit" Ross (b. circa 1787 - d. 1880)
MSA SC 5496-8444
Fled from slavery, Caroline County, Maryland, 1857

    Harriet "Rit" Green was born the property of Atthow Pattison of Dorchester County around 1787. In 1797, Atthow Pattison died, leaving Harriet to Mary Pattison Brodess, his grandaughter. Years later, in 1803, Brodess married Anthony Thompson of Dorchester County. It is here that Harriet met Benjamin Ross, one of Thompson's slaves, and they were married. In 1808, Harriet and Ben had their first of nine children, Linah. In 1822, they had their fourth child, Araminta, who was later known as Harriet Tubman, notable agent of the Underground Railroad. 1
    According to her biographer, Tubman hired a lawyer in the late 1840's to find Atthow Pattison's will. Suspecting that Rit's then owner Edward Brodess had been dishonest regarding the topic, Harriet wanted to get the details about earlier manumissions. The lawyer discovered that Atthow had left Harriet Green to his granddaughter, Mary, with the provision that her and children be manumitted when they reach forty-five years old.2 When Mary died in 1809 and Edward took full ownership of the slaves, he neglected to follow those directions. It was not uncommon for owners to defy such specifications regarding enslaved blacks. Naturally, they faced little opposition from the largely illiterate slave population and other white citizens were rarely concerned with the rights of blacks. Brodess did not stop there in his disrespectful affronts to the Ross family. He would also eventually sell two of Rit's children south, while hiring out many of the others, including Harriet Tubman.  

    After Edward died, his wife, Eliza Ann Brodess, managed his estate.  In 1853, Gourney Pattison filed the lawsuit against Eliza Ann Brodess for the profits from hiring out Harriet and her children and the sale of Linah and Soph because he felt that the Pattison family had a right to the profits derived against the wishes of his great-grandfather.  The case was dismissed despite the validity of Atthow Pattison's will and Harriet Ross' right to be manumitted (along with most of her children over the age of forty-five). 3 Between 1853 and June of 1855 Ben Ross purchased Harriet for $20 from Eliza Ann Brodess. 4 At this time, Rit became as close to freedom as she would ever be in Maryland. She could not be granted manumission from her new owner/husband because of a Maryland law that forbade slaveowners freeing slaves over forty-five years of age.
    Many accounts about Harriet Ross depict her as being very devoted to the safety of her family.  For example, after the sale of Linah, Ross became weary of Edward Brodess. One day, possibly in the early 1840s, she overheard Edward Brodess bargaining with a Georgia slave trader for her son Moses. Harriet cunningly hid Moses in the woods until Edward finally devised a plan for getting him.  A slave from a nearby plantation went to her and offered to bring Moses some food in the woods. Harriet was aware of the plot, but assured the slave that it would be all right to bring food to her son. However, before the slave reached him, Rit told Moses to come back to her cabin, where she hid him until Edward Brodess gave up and the Georgia trader left. 5
    In March of 1857, Ben Ross hid a group of eight runaways from Dorchester County in his cabin in Caroline County. This group came to be known as the "Dover Eight" because they were captured in a jail in Dover, Delaware, but escaped. The news of their escape caused a panic among Dorchester County slaveholders who called for the arrest of individuals that aided the flight of the "Dover Eight". Upon hearing that Ben's freedom was in danger, Harriet Tubman made a trip down to Caroline County to escort her aging parents to safety. 6 At almost seventy years of age, Harriet and Benjamin Ross fled Caroline County for Canada in June, 1857. Some years after reaching Canada, they moved to Auburn, New York into a home purchased by Tubman. Despite enduring economic instability and health issues, the Rosses lived out there years once again surrounded by family and enjoyed a measure of freedom that would not have been possible in Maryland. Harriet Ross died there in October, 1880, having lived nearly a century. 


1 Kate Clifford Larson, Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (New York: Random House, 2004), 10. 

2 Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn: W.J. Moses, Printer, 1869), 107.  ( This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. )

3 DORCHESTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Papers) Gourney Pattison, et al. v. Eliza Brodess, et al, 1829-1842, MSA T2318-2.

4 DORCHESTER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Chattel Records), Bill of Sale for Ritty, FJH 2, 163, MSA C692-2.

5 Larson, p. 33.

6 Ibid., 140.

Researched and Written by David Armenti, 2011.

Return to Harriet Ross' Introductory Page

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