Second day, Monday March 21st, continued
When I left you last, I was telling you the story of finding Frederick Douglass’ birthplace, and how moving an experience it was for me…
After a short while, I pull myself back out of the reverie I’ve fallen into; I have lots of places to visit today, and must get a move on. I head back to downtown Easton and begin my tour here on Hanson Rd, between South Lane and South Street, where Bethel A.M.E. Church stands on the east side of the street. The congregation had first assembled in 1818, the year that Douglass was born. When Douglass returned to Easton in 1878, he dedicated this new church building; what a consecration!
When Douglass returned here in 1878 to rediscover his birthplace, he also visited central Easton and gave speeches, including a famous one in front of the courthouse at Federal and West Streets. There’s a very handsome statue of him there.
Unfortunately… I forget to visit the front of the courthouse and photograph it! Throughout this trip, I discover, or remember, that from time to time I miss something, and like today, something important or exciting. This especially happens when I’m distracted with the effort of finding obscure sites, like Douglass’s birthplace this morning. I wish I had more than two weeks for this tour so I don’t find myself so often in a rush! But I shake off my disappointment: I’m seeing so many wonderful things, and learning so much on this trip. And fortunately, there are so many others out there who share my admiration for Douglass, who follow and share his history too. I’m in their debt, and couldn’t do this trip without them. And after all, I was at the courthouse, just off to the side and around the back.
Here’s another great photo by one such person for you to check out, and a little more about the speech Douglass gave here on November 25th.
After Bethel A.M.E., I head to a building that stands right behind the very courthouse I forget to photograph. In 1836, Douglass planned an escape with his friends while he was working at William Freeland’s farm. Their plans were discovered, likely reported by one of the early participants who let his fear overcome him. They were thrown in the Easton jail at this site, which he described as more roomy and comfortable than he expected a jail to be, but with heavy iron latticework covering the windows. He also described the ugly feeling of being inspected by slave traders, who would opportunistically arrive when slaves were imprisoned there in hopes of picking up new ‘wares’ that masters had found too troublesome. Those slave traders were looked down upon, even despised, though this was a slave society. It’s one of the more unfortunate foibles of human nature that people will despise those who do the very work they benefit from and even require, when they don’t want to dirty their own hands with it. But back to the Easton jail… the building which stands here today is the 1881 granite jail and Sheriff’s house that replaced the original, which had been built in 1710.
I leave Easton and head for St. Michaels.
On the way there, I first see a sign dedicating Highway 33 to Douglass. In 1877, 1878, and 1892, Douglass returned to the Easton and St. Michaels area. This is the main highway between them now; did he take this very road, I wonder? A little further down the road, St Michaels welcome sign includes the motto ‘The Town That Fooled the British’. I wonder what that refers to and I look it up. Here’s the story. It’s a good one.
I park at the municipal parking lot at the west end of town and find myself right by this sign. Perfect!
I stop in at the 1812 Bar and Grill right there at Talbot and Mill, have a chat with the nice lady who lets me to leave my phone with her to charge while I go on my tour. I’ll be back for an afternoon ale.
I start with a long red brick house on Cherry Street now called Dodson House and now a bed and breakfast, originally built in 1799 and expanded in 1872. The house’s given address is 200 Cherry St, though its long front faces onto Locust St.
You can see where the house was nearly doubled in size: the seam is clearly visible, with the dates of construction now helpfully marked on the front of the house. Douglass lived here when he was brought back from Baltimore at age 15. Thomas Auld, who owned Douglass (always feels creepy to refer to someone owning someone else), had a falling out with his brother Hugh for a time, and as punishment, took Douglass away from their service and back to the East Shore in 1833, for three years until they made up again. Douglass had become accustomed to a certain amount of personal freedom and plentiful food, both of which he was regularly deprived of back over here on the Eastern Shore, and Douglass did not keep his feelings of displeasure entirely secret. Over time, Auld became so upset at Douglass’ insubordination and evident lack of respect that he eventually sent him away for a year to suffer worse conditions, more on this shortly.
Douglass also returned to this house for a visit many years later in 1877 to make peace with Thomas Auld, who was in failing health by the time. Auld had objected to Douglass’ characterization of him in his Narrative as a cruel and heartless man. Douglass originally thought his grandmother belonged to Auld after Colonel Lloyd’s death, and when she was abandoned to fend for herself in a shabby cabin when too old to work, he thought this indicative of bad character on Auld’s part. However, as Douglass acknowledged in this interview, in a public letter in 1849, and many times afterwards, he was mistaken: his grandmother was actually willed to another Anthony relative.
But, as Douglass pointed out, Auld only took her in to care for her after Douglass’ story subjected Auld to widespread criticism. This didn’t change the fact that slaves were routinely treated badly under the same system of slavery Auld took part in, especially given that many didn’t know or care to find out how their overseers or relatives treated them as long as the work got done and the money came in. But still, Douglass acknowledged that Auld wasn’t directly responsible in this case, that Auld and his family had treated their slaves much better in later years, and that it was the system itself that was ultimately responsible for his grandmother’s plight. The two men shook hands and reconciled, and Auld died soon after.
Then I head east to the big St Luke’s United Methodist church on Talbot St. St Michaels’ walking tour map, published by St Michaels Museum, says the Auld family is buried here. I see a lot of the same names on gravestones in this cemetery, some of which appear also in the big Christ Church burial ground across the street: Caulks, Harrisons, Jeffersons, Dodsons, Jones’, and so forth. Search as I might, I can’t find any Auld grave markers. The doors of the church rectory are unlocked but there are no staff inside to answer my inquiries, and the electrician working there doesn’t think there’s a grave map available; he mentions he has a couple of friends buried there. I do find Bruffs, who were related to the Aulds; around here, you’ll see that name pop up a lot, including once again in this account.
Then I head across the street and back around the next short block to St. Mary’s Square. I find Granite Lodge, a brick building which replaces an earlier structure that served as the first Methodist church in St Michaels. Douglass likely attended church here at least sometimes with the Auld family.
By the way, Easton and St Michaels are both adorable towns. I love that East Coast look, so different from my native California.
Then to Mount Pleasant Road via Railroad, southwest of St Michaels. I pass Mt Misery Rd, and take photos of some of the land around here which at one time was owned by William Freeland.
Douglass came here in January of 1834 to work for Freeland before he was sent back to Baltimore in late 1836. While Douglass thought Freeland by far the fairest and most lenient slaveowner he had ever known, the experience of even a modicum of decency in life actually made him more determined to be free, making him feel more keenly what he was missing. He made his first attempt to escape to the north in his second year there, which got him thrown into Easton jail in 1836 as discussed above. The escape attempt, at least in part, convinced Auld that Douglass would be better off in Baltimore after all, and more likely to stay put because he had been happier there. Besides, in the meantime, he had made up with his brother Hugh.
An old advertisement for the sale of Freeland’s land describes it as part farmland, part woods, as it is here today, and the description of the location and its proximity to these roads indicate it was right around here.
Then back to Mt Misery Rd and turning west, I take it to where it bends sharply to the left, then pull over and park. Straight ahead of me is the drive to Mt. Misery, onetime slavebreaker Edward Covey’s farm. Unfortunately, it’s now private property; for many years, it was a bed and breakfast open to the public. Donald Rumsfeld bought this property for a vacation home in 2006, which was rather controversial. I’m not going to speculate on his motivations, since I have no way of knowing what he was thinking. I do hope that he decides, in a noble gesture and to improve or enhance his legacy, to donate it to the state, the National Park Service, or some other organization so that it can be open to the public once again. After all, it’s a historical site of great emotional significance to many.
So especially being that it belongs to a wealthy and powerful political figure, I’m going to heed the ‘private drive’ sign and not go up to the house. I wouldn’t go up anyway, I do believe people have a right to privacy in their own home. Besides, getting arrested would get in the way of my trip, though I’m sure that’s unlikely, I still wouldn’t recommend taking the risk. There are many photos of the house online, and besides, my video camera has good zoom and takes photos, so at least we can get a peek.
As I mentioned earlier, Douglass’ attitude of evident displeasure and disrespect on his condition of life here on the East Shore, as compared to his relatively happy life in Baltimore, grated on Auld. In Baltimore he was well fed and clothed, he could improve his reading and writing skills (though on the sly), edify his piety (he had a religious awakening in his mid teens), and spend time with the neighborhood boys when his work was done. None of this was true for him back in St Michaels. Douglass was unhappy, and really let it show.
So, Auld sent Douglass away at the age of 16 to work at Covey’s for a year, to learn his lesson, so to speak. The work was hard, the conditions awful, and Douglass did begin to feel that his spirit was beginning to break. But, it never really did. One day, Douglass decided he could take no more, and refused to submit to another flogging. When Covey tried to physically subdue him, Douglass stood his ground. Though he was only about 16, Covey could not overcome Douglass’ wiry strength, made more so by the heavy manual labor he had been doing since leaving Baltimore. This was when, Douglass wrote, he became a man.
On Highway 370 heading north to my next destination, my attention is caught by the historical marker sign for the small town of Unionville that I pass through. Douglass was very much involved with Abraham Lincoln’s decision to finally allow the Union Army to enlist black soldiers, more on this in upcoming accounts. Some of these veterans settled here; I hope they found good rest and a happy life in this pretty and peaceful place.
I arrive at the driveway to Wye Farm and then, just past it, the gates to Wye House of the erstwhile Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. Again, the drive is marked ‘private’, and I respect it. In my research, I’ve seen many articles that talk about educational tours of this house for school groups, scholars, and so on, but I’m not here long enough to make arrangements for this. Until just a few years ago, Wye House was owned by a philanthropist, historian and member of the Lloyd family who died in 2012. How this affects the ease of arranging a tour today I’m not sure. You see the house much more clearly here than you can in the zoom photo I take today.
Aaron Anthony, Douglass’ owner and possible father, it was rumored, was an overseer for Lloyd, who owned vast tracts of land and was very wealthy. Anthony’s own slaves often worked for Lloyd as well. Douglass was employed only very lightly here at the ‘Big House’, since he was sent to Baltimore when only about seven or eight. Child slaves were not sent out to do hard work until their bodies were considered mature enough to handle it, which I’m sure was a much younger age than we’d consider acceptable today.
I head my way back to Baltimore from the East Shore, I swing by the area where the Baltimore Branch of the Freedmen’s Savings Bank used to be on 7th St. The wonderfully helpful Toni from the Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau website found an old ad for the bank in response to my request for its location.
I find more than one 7th St in Baltimore, but neither seems to be in the right area since they would have been too far from 1870’s commercial areas. I do find another 7th street in an early map of Baltimore which no longer exists; it was off and to the north of Fort Ave, east of Covington. These are the two main streets that have remained where they are with the same names as they had in Douglass’ time. The closest street to the original, which appears to no longer be there since there are only two streets here where there used to be three differently placed ones, is narrow Belt St., just above Hyson and below E. Clement.
In March 1874, Douglass was named President of the Freedman’s Bank, headquartered on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC since 1867. The first branch opened here. It was a private bank chartered by the US government and supported by Lincoln, and it was supposed to help freed slaves and their families gain economic independence. For a while at least, it accomplished its mission very well. However, poor management and political and corporate corruption left it heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse. Despite his best efforts, Douglass could not save the bank, and from this experience, and learned just how corrupt the political and financial system of the United States had really become.
So ends my tour of the East Shore and last Baltimore site, an eventful, exciting, and long day of exploration. Stay tuned for my next adventure!
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Sources and Inspiration:
‘The American Farmer, Vol. IV‘. Agricultural journal published 1848 by Samuel Sands, Baltimore, MD.
‘Away From Home: Frederick Douglass Statue‘. Dec 20, 2014, InForum.com
Burgoyne, Mindie. ‘A Bike Ride to Mount Misery – Hello, Rummy!’ Travel Hag blogAway From Home: Frederick Douglass statue
‘Capt. Aaron Anthony (b. circa 1766 – d. 1826): Property Owner, Talbot County, Maryland‘. From Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series), msa.Maryland.gov
‘Easton, MD Walking Tour‘. From EastonMD.org
‘Eyeballing the Rumsfeld Maryland Residence‘ (photos) From Cryptome.org
Finseth, Ian. ‘Douglass and the Legacy of Mount Misery‘ Baltimore Sun, Aug 20, 2006
Fought, Leigh. ‘Obituary for Thomas Auld in the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 12, 1880‘. Douglass’ Women: In Progress blog
Oliver, Elizabeth. ‘Misery, Thy Name is Rumsfeld’s Vacation Home: Race, power, and history come to a head at Rumsfeld’s historic vacation home’. Oct 26th, 2006 for Utne.com
VanGorder, Megan. ‘Frederick Douglass Narrative Tour‘ for Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Online Course – Amazing Grace: How Writers Helped End Slavery.
‘A Walking Tour of Historic St Michaels‘. From StMichaelsMuseum.org
‘Wye House‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
‘Wye House owner, philanthropist and local historian dies at her home’. Jul 27, 2012, The Star Democrat