Moviegoers are heading to theaters to see director Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet” film, starring Cynthia Erivo in the role of Harriet Tubman. The movie finally brings to light the inspirational stories behind the legendary conductor on the Underground Railroad. On one of Tubman’s 13 trips to free the enslaved, the explosive case of the “Dover Eight” made national headlines.
The Dover Eight were Thomas Elliott, Denard Hughes, Henry Predeaux, James and Lavinia Woolford, Bill and Emily Kiah, and a man who just went by the name Tubman. While Elliott and Hughes were enslaved at a farm in Bucktown, Md., they hatched a plan to escape. It isn’t known why the pair picked the specific day, March 8, 1857 to run but their owner was known as one of the region’s hardest. Armed with knives and guns, the men followed a route likely set by Harriet Tubman, working with different people at several stops along the Underground Railroad.
A free Black man who was a trusted Underground conductor, Thomas Otwell, betrayed the escapees due to greed. A reward of $3,000 made Otwell plot with a Delaware slaveowner to ensnare the Dover Eight. Otwell convinced the group to follow him to a jail in Dover where the nefarious plot fell apart.
The eight were holed up in one room while Otwell and the sheriff arranged a meet that failed because Otwell was late. The men became suspicious. Predeaux started a fire which allowed the rest of the Eight to jump 12 feet from a window to freedom below.
After a harrowing journey through Delaware all of the Dover Eight eventually made their way to Philadelphia and then to freedom following the route set by Tubman and the conductors. Though Woolford was separated from her husband and the group, she found shelter in Delaware for some months and then, she too made it Philadelphia and was eventually reunited with her husband in Canada.