New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Baltimore Sites

About a year ago…

Ordinary Philosophy

Listen to this podcast episode hereDouglass Place with engraved marker, Fell's Point Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools or subscribe on iTunes

First day, Sunday March 20th

So here I am on the East Coast, commencing my Frederick Douglass history of ideas travel adventure in earnest! I’m thrilled, and know I’ll learn and see a lot, since I have so many sites I plan to visit already and know I’ll discover more as I go along.

…In a very important way, it’s fitting to begin with Douglass’s life here in Baltimore, centered in the waterfront district of Fell’s Point, since this is where Frederick Douglass had one of the most formative experiences of his life.

… Read the original travel account here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

View original post

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Baltimore Sites

Listen to this podcast episode hereDouglass Place with engraved marker, Fell's Point Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools or subscribe on iTunes

First day, Sunday March 20th

So here I am on the East Coast, commencing my Frederick Douglass history of ideas travel adventure in earnest! I’m thrilled, and know I’ll learn and see a lot, since I have so many sites I plan to visit already and know I’ll discover more as I go along.

…In a very important way, it’s fitting to begin with Douglass’s life here in Baltimore, centered in the waterfront district of Fell’s Point, since this is where Frederick Douglass had one of the most formative experiences of his life.

… Read the original travel account here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Frederick Douglass, Easton and St. Michaels, Maryland’s Eastern Shore Sites Part 2

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Easton, MD at South & Hanson Sts

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Easton, MD at South & Hanson Sts

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!

Archaeology at Bethel A.M.E. sign, Easton, MA

Archaeology at Bethel A.M.E. Church sign, Easton, MA

A statue of Frederick Douglass outside of the Talbot County Courthouse in Easton, courtesy Preservation Maryland, Creative Commons

A statue of Frederick Douglass outside of the Talbot County Courthouse in Easton, courtesy Preservation Maryland, Creative Commons

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.

Sheriff's House and Jail in Easton, MD, c. 1881

Sheriff’s House and Jail in Easton, MD, c. 1881

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.

Frederick Douglass dedication sign on Highway 33 between Easton & St Michael's

Frederick Douglass dedication sign on Highway 33 between Easton & St Michaels

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.

Frederick Douglass sign, St. Michaels, MD

Frederick Douglass sign, St. Michaels, MD

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.

Dodson House, two views, site of 1877 Auld and Douglass reconciliation

Dodson House, two views, site of 1877 Auld and Douglass reconciliation

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.

Dodson House, formerly the Auld House on Cherry St, Easton, MD

Dodson House, formerly the Auld House, on Cherry St, Easton, MD

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.

Old St Luke's Methodist Church in St Michael's, MD

Old St Luke’s Methodist Church in St Michaels, MD

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.

Granite Lodge in St. Mary's Square, St Michaels, MD

Granite Lodge in St. Mary’s Square, St Michaels, MD

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.

Mt Misery Rd sign and possible William Freeland's farm site, St Michaels MD

Mt Misery Rd sign and possible William Freeland’s farm site, St Michaels MD

A farm near what was formerly William Freeland's, St Michaels, MD

A farm near what was formerly William Freeland’s, St Michaels, MD

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.

Entrance to Mt. Misery, formerly Edward Covey's farm, St Michaels MD

Entrance to Mt. Misery, formerly Edward Covey’s farm, St Michaels MD

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.

Mt Misery Farmhouse from the driveway entrance

Mt Misery farmhouse from the driveway entrance

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.

Another view of Mt Misery farmhouse from the driveway entrance

Another view of Mt Misery farmhouse from the driveway entrance

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.

Unionville on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a settlement of black Union army veterans and freed black people

Unionville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a settlement of black Union army veterans and freed black people

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.

Gateway to Wye House of the former plantation of Colonel Lloyd, Easton MD

Gateway to Wye House of the former plantation of Colonel Lloyd at about 25780 Bruffs Island Rd, Easton MD

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.

Near the former site of the Baltimore Branch of the Freedman's Bank

Near the former site of the Baltimore Branch of the Freedman’s Bank

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.

Cross streets near Baltimore's Freedman's Bank site

Cross streets near Baltimore’s Freedman’s Bank site

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!

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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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 MiseryBaltimore Sun, Aug 20, 2006

Fought, Leigh. ‘Obituary for Thomas Auld in the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 12, 1880‘. Douglass’ Women: In Progress blog

New National Era. (Washington, D.C.), Sept 28 1871. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

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

Frederick Douglass Baltimore Sites

Home where Amy 's host family lives in Garrison, MD, in a post-Civil War freedman's settlement, photo March 2016 by Amy Cools

Home where my host family lives in Garrison, MD, in a post-Civil War freedman’s settlement

First day, Sunday, March 20th

So here I am on the East Coast, commencing my Frederick Douglass history of ideas travel adventure in earnest! I’m thrilled and know I’ll learn and see a lot since I have so many sites I plan to visit already and know I’ll discover more as I go along.

I wake up still undecided whether to begin my Douglass explorations on the East Shore of Maryland or in Baltimore proper. I was leaning toward the Shore to keep my account more chronologically aligned with Douglass’s life, but inclement weather, the Maryland Historical Society’s open hours, a lost document, and a bit of oversleeping decided for me: a delayed start made it best to keep today’s journeys closer to home away from home. So, Baltimore it is!

Fell's Point, Baltimore MD, photo March 2016 by Amy Cools

Fell’s Point, Baltimore, Maryland

Aliceanna and Durham Streets, Baltimore, Maryland March 2016, photo by Amy Cools

Aliceanna and Durham Streets, Baltimore, Maryland

In a very important way, it’s actually fitting to begin with Douglass’ life here in Baltimore, centered in the waterfront district of Fell’s Point, since this is where Frederick Douglass had one of the most formative experiences of his life.

It happened in a ‘spare, narrow house at the corner of an alley’, Happy Alley, off Alliceanna Street at S. Durham. This was Douglass’s first home with the Hugh Auld family, composed of shipbuilder Hugh, his wife Sophia, and their little son Tommy. Douglass, a child of just seven or eight himself, was imported from the plantation to be Tommy’s companion and body servant.

There used to be a sign marking this street corner as a Douglass historical site, but it’s disappeared (you can see the two silvery clamps still strapped under the street name signs). Perhaps people in the neighborhood were tired of being bothered by tourists asking where the exact house is. I have no shame, so I bother a young man with my inquiries. He doesn’t happen to know about that historical tidbit but is interested to hear the story; he happens to pass me by again a little while later, pulls over, and asks for the website so he can check in later and see what I find out, so I know he isn’t just being polite; he certainly is very kind.

Site of Frederick Douglass' home with the Aulds at Aliceanna and S. Durham, Fell's Point, Baltimore, MD, photo March 2016 by Amy Cools

Site of Frederick Douglass’ home with the Aulds at Aliceanna and S. Durham, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, MD

And another nice person, a woman entering her home in the very new-looking building on the southeast corner of Alliceanna and S. Durham does know, however, and confirms that building below, as far as she knows, stands on the very site of the old Auld house. She, for one, hopes the sign will go back up.

So back to that formative experience: Sophia Auld thought it would be a good idea to teach Douglass how to read since he was companion and body servant to the young son of the household and could thus aid in his education. But when Hugh came into the room and saw her teaching Douglass his letters, he stopped her, telling her in his hearing that ‘[he] should know nothing but how to obey his master …if you teach [him] how to read, there will be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave…’ As Douglass told it later, this is the moment he realized the full inhumanity of the slave system, and knew exactly what he needed to do. No enforced ignorance for Douglass!

Lancaster St, end where Gardiner's and Meacham's shipyards used to be, Fell's Point, Baltimore MD, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Lancaster St, end where Gardiner’s and Beacham’s shipyards used to be, Fell’s Point, Baltimore MD

Then I head down to the end of Lancaster St, about where Douglass worked at James Beacham’s shipyard in 1826, close to William Gardiner’s shipyard where he received more advanced training, upon returning to Baltimore in 1836 after three years back on the East Shore. He had another formative experience at Gardiner’s which I’ll tell you about shortly. Douglass worked on many shipyards and became a skilled caulker over time, earning him enough wages that Hugh was willing to let him keep some, unaware Douglass was saving up to start a new life as a free man one day.

Boats docked at end of Lancaster and Thames Streets, Fell's Point, Photo 2016 Amy Cools

Boats docked at end of Lancaster and Thames Streets, Fell’s Point

I head west on Thames St. At number 12 or 13, Douglass purchased the first book he ever owned at Nathaniel Knight’s shop at 28 Thames St, The Columbian Orator. The buildings are numbered very differently now, and at the time I write this post, I’ve yet to find an early atlas with street addresses. Fell’s Point is clearly a moneyed area, and large sections of Thames St has been built over with luxury condos, especially on the waterfront side. The other side of the street retains more of its older buildings, and all is very well kept and very charming.

A view of Thames St, Fell's Point, Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools

A view of Thames St, Fell’s Point, Baltimore MD

I continue on to the very end of Thames St, heading west to the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum Fell's Pt, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum, Fell’s Point

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum Sign, Fell's Pt, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum Sign, Fell’s Point

The sculpture I find here of his head, though striking, looks a little odd just sitting on the ground as it is; I find myself instinctively looking around for the body it fell off of. Perhaps they’ll give it a new setting at some point.

Frederick Douglass sculpture at Maritime Park Fell's Pt, photo 1, 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass sculpture at Maritime Park Fell’s Point

Frederick Douglass sculpture at Maritime Park Fell's Pt, photo 2, 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass sculpture at Maritime Park, with sign

Then I head right, around to Philpot St, where Douglass also lived with the Auld family (they moved around the Fell’s Point neighborhood a few times). The Maritime Park Museum actually faces onto it at least as much as it does onto Thames. Here, little Douglass obtained the help of his playmates to build on the fragmentary education he had received from Sophia and really learn to read. Some neighborhood boys helped him out, and though he never named them in his narrative for fear they’ll be criticized for this, he thanked them anonymously.

S Caroline and Block St corner by Philpot St, Fell's Point, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Corner of S. Caroline and Block St by Philpot St, Fell’s Point

The little loop of a street which remains that’s still called Philpot St on Google Maps, though there are no identifying street signs, is at the west end of Thames behind Block and S. Caroline. It curves around to where the Maritime Museum and Park overlook the harbor, and you can see Domino Sugars factory in the background across the water. The area where the Auld house was, and perhaps where Douglass played and read with his friends at Durgin and Bailey’s shipyard, is now flattened, with all signs that there ever was a street here, let alone a neighborhood, obliterated and under new construction.

Then I backtrack a little on Thames towards Bond St. If you look closely, you can see this view of Bond St is at Shakespeare St; Douglass grew to love William Shakespeare.

Bond St at Shakespeare, Fell's Point, Baltimore MD, photo 20156 by Amy Cools

Bond St at Shakespeare St, Fell’s Point

The occasion which took Douglass to Bond St, and which takes me here next too, was a sad one. Since he had become a skilled caulker at Gardiner’s shipyard, his work was very much in demand, especially as an enslaved black man who commanded lower wages than skilled white workers. Baltimore’s shipyards employed many skilled black workers on its busy waterfront, paying them all lower wages, and the white workers felt deeply resentful at this threat to their livelihood. So one day, when Douglass was perhaps sixteen, he was severely beaten by four of his coworkers. Auld was very angry, both because, as Douglass believed, he was genuinely concerned about his well-being and considered what they had done cruel and unjust, and, of course, he did not want his prized source of income to lose his ability to work. So he accompanied Douglass to magistrate William Watson’s office on Bond St. Again, as of this date, I can find no specific street address; when and if I do, I’ll let you know.

But to Auld’s chagrin, Watson refused to arrest the men or do anything about the crime at all: although the evidence a crime had been committed was presented in Douglass’s own battered face, only a white man’s testimony was legally admissible. The indignity and injustice of this were yet more striking evidence for Douglass that slavery was a great evil, strengthening his conviction that he must find a way to gain his freedom.

Then back up Bond to Aliceanna again, to grab a snack and better wifi connectivity at Cafe Latte’da, a punk rock-y comfy little hole in the wall coffee shop. It’s right around the corner from Jimmy’s Restaurant and Fountain Service on S. Broadway, where I had begun with a delicious breakfast of tater tots topped with pulled pork and cole slaw. If you’re like me and love comfy, well-established eateries with down to earth food and atmosphere, I recommend these two.

Fell St at Thames and Ann, Fell's Point, Baltimore Md, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Fell St at Thames and Ann, Fell’s Point, Baltimore Md

Then back to Fell St at Thames and Ann, which I had overlooked on my first go-round, but it’s no problem since the waterfront part of Fell’s Point is pretty small and very walkable. Douglass lived on Fell’s St with Hugh Auld when he returned to his service in Baltimore in late 1836. Again, Douglass gave no address. Hugh thought he’d be less likely to try to escape if he had more interesting employment in an environment which better suited him, enjoying more independence through retaining part of his wages and eventually, living in a place of his own. At this point, Douglass had become an expert caulker and could command much better wages despite his race and status as a slave. When Douglass did live on his own for awhile, there was an episode where Douglass didn’t return from a weekend outing to the Fell St house in time, and Auld was enraged. He threatened to take away the independence he had granted Douglass up to this point and to make him move back home.

Thames St Park bordered also by Lancaster and Wolfe, Fell's Pt, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Thames St Park bordered also by Lancaster and Wolfe, Fell’s Point

Since I’m back near the east end of Thames, I go back towards the end of Wolfe Street since I had found another secondary resource, a Baltimore Sun article, on my coffee break. I’m looking again for the site of Gardiner’s shipyard where he was beaten by his co-workers.  According to the article, ‘William and George Gardiner’s shipyard [was] on the north-east corner of Lancaster and Wolfe Streets’. It’s not at the water’s edge now; the waterline at Fell’s Point has been changed quite a bit in many places over the years as it’s been filled in and built over. Beacham’s, as I described earlier, would have been nearby, around the corner to the north. There’s this little park called Thames St Park, bordered also by Wolfe and Lancaster; perhaps this is the site of one or part of both of those shipyards.

Douglass Place, 500 block of Dallas St, Fell's Point Baltimore MD, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Douglass Place, 500 block of Dallas St, Fell’s Point Baltimore MD

Douglass Place with engraved marker, Fell's Point Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Douglass Place with engraved marker, Fell’s Point

Next, I head for a site associated with Douglass many years later in his life. I walk north on S. Durham St, passing Douglass’ first home site with the Aulds again, then left (west) on Aliceanna towards S. Dallas St. I find that the stretch of Dallas between me and the 500 block of Dallas near Fleet St where I’m headed is built over, so I go back up Bond to go around. I find what I’m looking for: a little row of brick houses, where an engraved cream stone in the larger of the red brick buildings confirms this is indeed ‘Douglass Place’. Douglass built these in the early 1890’s as quality, affordable rental housing for black residents.

Historical Plaque at Douglass Place, Fell's Pt Baltimore, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Historical Plaque at Douglass Place, Fell’s Pt

Billie Holliday house at 219 Durham St, Fell's Point, Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Billie Holliday house at 219 Durham St, Fell’s Point

On my way out from Fell’s Point proper, I decide to swing by a site only very tangentially linked to Douglass. The lady who confirmed the location of the Aliceanna St house directed me to a home where Billie Holiday grew up at 219 Durham St. I love Billie Holiday, as I’m sure you do too, so I’m thrilled to make this discovery. Holiday, as you remember, sang ‘Strange Fruit’, a stark and haunting song about lynching that was very controversial when she recorded it in the late 1930’s but well loved, and her performance of this song is among the very best. Douglass became an activist in his later years against lynching…. more on that in a future post.

The Wharf formerly known as Smith's, Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD, 2016 by Amy Cools

The Wharf, formerly known as Smith’s Wharf, at the end of Gay St, Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD

Then I head towards the Inner Harbor, west towards downtown, to the wharf which used to be called Smith’s Wharf. It’s described in an old document as located at the south end of Gay St. ‘run[ning] north and south, from the east side of Gay St dock…’, now at Pratt, assuming that where the water meets the shore has not changed dramatically, though it’s not really a safe assumption. It’s just that I mostly have the current shoreline to follow, with atlases from young Douglass’ time so scarce.

Wharf at Gay and Pratt, formerly Smith's, Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Wharf at Gay and Pratt, formerly Smith’s, Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD

This is where Douglass first arrived in Baltimore, diverted from his likely destiny as a plantation slave to a better one working in the city, though this was no guarantee of better treatment. Though city slaves often enjoyed a better standard of living in the city, Douglass tells of slaves in neighboring homes in Fell’s Point who were treated very cruelly. But on that day in the mid-1820’s, as Douglass watched the city shore draw near, he was thrilled at the prospect of a new and easier life than that of his deprived, if somewhat carefree, childhood as a plantation orphan.

Maryland Historical Society, Celebrating the 15th Amendment, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Maryland Historical Society Museum, Celebrating the 15th Amendment Plaque in the Civil War Exhibit

Then to my last stop, the Maryland Historical Society downtown, to see what they have on Douglass. I don’t find much, as the library is closed, though the museum is open. I am excited, however, to find a plaque with a photo of an event I want to discover a location for but haven’t yet. In 1870, Douglass gave a speech before a crowd of about 10,000 people in Baltimore in celebration of the passage of the 15th Amendment, and as it turns out, the celebratory parade ends at, and the celebrations culminate, at the War of 1812 memorial tower called the Battle Monument at E. Fayette and N. Calvert; you can see its column to the right. As luck would have it, an unsuccessful search for another site (I’ll tell you about it in the next post) happens to take me to thus very same place; when going through and studying my photos afterward, I’m excited to make this discovery! Here’s the site today; as you can see, it looks very different, except for the Monument itself.

Battle Monument at E. Fayette and N. Calvert, Baltimore MD, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Battle Monument at E. Fayette and N. Calvert, Baltimore MD

So ends my first day of following the life of Frederick Douglass on the East Coast, and it’s been a thrilling one. Coming up next: a day on the East Shore of Maryland, his birthplace and towns where he spent much of his early life. Stay tuned!

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Sources and Inspiration:

Battle Monument‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Enclyclopedia. Encyclopedia.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Re-published 1993, Avenal, New York: Gramercy Books, Library of Freedom series.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: 1855 Edition with a new introduction. Re-published 1969, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Douglass Terrace – Dallas Street North of Fleet Street’. BaltimoreMD. com

Eastern District‘. Baltimore City Police History.com

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Historical Sign Marking Where Frederick Douglass Lived as a Slave in Fells Point at Durham & Aliceanna‘. (photo) What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today blog

Kelly, Jacques. ‘2 Neighborhoods Show City’s Gems of Black History‘. Feb 19, 1993, The Baltimore Sun website

Lakin, James. The Baltimore Directory and Register, for 1814-15. Baltimore: J.C. O’Reilly.

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Papenfuse, Edward. ‘Recreating Lost Neighborhoods: The House on Ann Street, Fells Point, Baltimore City, Maryland‘. Reflections by a Maryland Archivist blog

Separate is Not Equal: Brown vs. Board of Education‘. The National Museum of American History website, by the Smithsonian

Shopes, Linda. ‘Fells Point: A Close-up Look At Baltimore’s Oldest Working-class Community’. Nov 24, 1991. The Baltimore Sun website

Troy, Davis. ‘The Story of the 15th Amendment in Maryland‘. Maryland.gov