Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 2

Frederick Douglass standing in front of his home at 320 A Street NE, Washington, DC, in 1876. Public domain via NPS

Frederick Douglass standing in front of his home at 320 A Street NE, Washington, DC, in 1876. Public domain via NPS

Thirteenth Day, Friday, April 1st, continued

I leave the approximate site of Helen Pitts-Douglass’ onetime home at 913 E St NE, and head southwest to 316-18 A Street NE.

In 1872, Douglass moved his family here to Washington, DC. Since his beloved farm home on the hill in Rochester had burned to the ground on June 2, 1872, probably by arson, Douglass was bitter and in the mood to shake the dust of that city from his feet. He had already been considering a permanent move to Washington since his work with the New National Era newspaper (more on that to come), his political work, and his efforts to obtain a good government appointment often took him there, sometimes for lengthy stays. In fact, he was in Washington when he received a telegram notifying him of the fire.

Frederick Douglass house at 316-320 A St, Washington DC, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass house at 316-318 A St and the museum dedicated to him next door, in Washington, D.C.

So Douglass brought his family here, and after a stay in rented rooms, the Douglass family moved into this pretty Queen Anne brick house, likely in late 1872. I haven’t yet found a more exact timeline for where the Douglasses lived and when during their first months in Washington: sources vary on this. The plaque I find here at the house, placed in 1966, says that Douglass lived here from 1871 to 1877, though many other sources say 1872 and 1878, respectively. Perhaps Douglass had purchased this already as a second or investment home in 1871. In any case, the Douglass family lived here for about six years until they moved across the Anacostia River to Cedar Hill in 1878, though Douglass retained ownership of this house. I find an entry in John Muller’s Lion of Anacostia blog showing that Douglass applied for a permit to build onto this property in 1879, and his son Charles was living here when he died in 1920.

The restored house and the adjacent building at 320 A St now make up The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame, which is available for tours by appointment.

AME Methodist Church at 1518 M St NW

The Metropolitan A.M.E. Church at 1518 M St NW, Washington D.C.

Then I head northwest across town, a cross-wise route via Massachusetts Ave to the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church at 1518 M St NW. This historic church has many associations with Douglass, but I’ll focus on three main ones. In 1889, the Bethel Literary Society held a surprise 71st birthday celebration for Douglass here. Actually, the party would have been held at the church hall next door, since that’s where the Society met, where the ugly office building now stands to the right of the church. He was called upon to speak, and speak he did, of course, that was his specialty. The speech was written down by hand then typed; it’s at the Library of Congress today.

Douglass delivered another speech here five years later on January 9th, 1894. It was one of his greatest, called ‘The Lessons of the Hour’. In it, he speaks out against the lynching which had become rampant in the South. As you may remember from my New York account, Douglass was inspired by Ida B. Wells’ investigative journalism into the true nature and extent of lynching in the South, and had joined her in campaigning against it in 1892. Douglass blamed the accusations of rape used to excuse the lynchings as a new method of slandering black people and inciting white people to hate and fear them, since they could no longer use the excuse of a fear of slave uprising or black domination of white people through the vote. If it was true that black men were actually suddenly going around raping white women right and left, which mind you, hadn’t happened much in the South historically, why resort to mob violence instead of proving these cases in court? Because, Douglass charged, the lynchers and their apologists knew these accusations were lies. Metropolitan A.M.E. Church sign, Washington D.C. photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Photo of AME Metropolitan Church by Charles Frederick Douglass, 1900, via NPS website

Photo of AME Metropolitan Church by Charles Frederick Douglass, circa 1900, public domain via the National Park Service website.

One year later, Douglass’ funeral service was held here, on Feb 25th 1895, the first of two; the second was held in Rochester, where he was buried. This funeral was attended by huge numbers of mourners and dignitaries, including Susan B. Anthony and Justice John Marshall Harlan, the great Kentucky-born Supreme Court justice who had reversed his views on slavery to become a champion of civil rights. (A factoid of personal interest: Justice Harlan’s family home was in Harrodsburg, a town founded by an ancestor on my mother’s side; she’s a Harrod.) Justice Harlon famously dissented in the Court’s decisions in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896, which set back the cause of black rights for over half a century. Douglass, who believed in the perfectibility of humankind, would have welcomed Harlan’s moral evolution warmly, just as he welcomed Lincoln’s.

Obamas on Inauguration Day 2013 by P. Souza, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

United States President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend a church service at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, Sunday, 20 January 2013, by Peter Souza, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t enter the church because there’s a man standing outside clearly discouraging drop-in guests, as they appear to be setting up for an event; I have the impression it’s a funeral. I curb my curiosity with some effort, out of respect, though I really, really want to see the inside of this great historic place. President Bill Clinton’s inaugural prayer service was also held here, and Barack and Michelle Obama attended a service here on the occasion of Obama’s inauguration in 2013 as well. What excitement for Douglass, if he were there that day! Well, I’ll make it inside next time I’m in D.C., I hope.

US Treasury Annex renamed the Freedmen's Bank Building, 1503 Pennsylvania Ave

US Treasury Annex renamed the Freedmen’s Bank Building, 1503 Pennsylvania Ave

Freedmen's Bank building plaque, on entrance of the building facing onto Madison Pl.

Freedmen’s Bank building plaque, on entrance of the building facing onto Madison Pl.

I find I need to move my car, so I head down the way a bit and find a good parking spot and walk south towards the Mall, to 1503-1505 Pennsylvania Ave NW. My destination is the U.S. Treasury Annex building, a marble edifice with classical columns off the pedestrian-only section of Pennsylvania Ave where it joins the southeast corner of Lafayette Square. It stands across from the north end of the main U.S. Department of the Treasury building to the left (west) of the PNC and Bank of America building.

I’m here because the Annex building stands on the site of the original headquarters of the Freedman’s Bank, and has recently been renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building to commemorate that institution’s 150th anniversary. Though the bank was headquartered here in 1867, the first branch had opened over a year earlier in Baltimore, Maryland, the site of which, as you may remember, I sought in Baltimore on my way back from the East Shore of Maryland. The 1874 newspaper article I referenced lists the Baltimore location as a branch office of the main one in Washington, though it still likely predates the main office.

Freedman's Savings Bank Building, Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Freedman’s Savings Bank Building in 1890 not long before it was razed, at about 1503 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. In his Life and Times, Douglass wrote of this handsome, exquisitely appointed building devoted to the well-being of his people, ‘The whole thing was beautiful’.

In March 1874, Douglass was named President of the Freedman’s Bank. It was a private bank chartered by the U.S. government with Lincoln’s support, with Congressional oversight. It was supposed to help freed slaves and their families gain economic independence as well. The Bank opened to widespread popular support and for many years did just what it set out to do, and Douglass was a passionate fan of the project, depositing $12,000 of his own money. However, over time, poor management and corruption left it heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse. Douglass was asked to take over the Bank in hopes that his reputation would buttress the Bank’s own. But Douglass found he just couldn’t save it. Not only did he lack expertise as a banker, he learned only after he accepted how deeply the Bank was in trouble. Even a personal loan of $10,000 could do little to contribute to the Bank’s solvency. From this experience, as Douglass told it, he learned a great deal about how corrupt the political system had become as well as the unfortunate selfishness and greed of too many people.

Douglass also learned that he was not particularly adept as a businessman in many ways. He well understood the importance of economic independence for achieving full political and social equality, and succeeded financially due to his hard work, his prudent investments in safer ventures such as real estate, and his prodigious array of skills in other areas. As he admitted, however, he lost a lot of money when he helped found the New National Era paper and could not save the Freedmen’s Bank because, in both ventures, he failed to look into and secure their financial underpinnings himself before putting his own money in. In both cases, he simply took other people’s word for it, for how the venture was doing or likely to do, and his advisors were not disinterested parties. So the New National Era and the Bank failed as his North Star had nearly done before Julia Griffith’s tenure there, through poor financial handling. In business matters at least, Douglass’ idealism tended to win out over his more pragmatic approach in other areas.

The White House, Washington D.C.

The White House, Washington D.C., looking across the South Lawn and President’s Park fountain

Next, I head south on 15th St, and turn right on the pedestrian walkway that E St becomes as it passes between President’s Park and the South Lawn of the White House, and the Ellipse.

Late in July of 1863, Douglass visited the White House for the first time when he requested, and was granted, an audience to address President Abraham Lincoln directly. His mission was to obtain better treatment of black soldiers. When they were first admitted to the Union Army, black soldiers received less pay and less and poorer quality equipment than their white compatriots. This, though they faced greater danger at the hands of hostile Southerners, especially if they were captured.

Lincoln told Douglass, regretfully, that he could not yet guarantee equal treatment of black soldiers given the strength of Northern opposition to enlisting black soldiers at all. He agreed, however, that Douglass’ demands were just and he would do as much as he could as the opportunities presented themselves, including signing off on Secretary of War’s commissions for black soldiers. Though he had often considered Lincoln a ‘vascillator’, not a consistent or even principled champion of black rights, Douglass left this audience with an impression of Lincoln as ‘an honest man’ and, personally, ‘entire[ly] free… from prejudice against colored people’. On the basis of this meeting, Douglass decided to resume recruitment of black soldiers into the Union Army, which he had stopped for awhile in protest over their treatment. However, over time, he still found himself often frustrated at the slow pace of reform in the President’s administration, and his old doubts about Lincoln stayed with him, enough for him to join in an effort of Radical Republicans to replace Lincoln in the next election. Douglass met Lincoln a second time about August 25, 1864; Lincoln had asked to meet Douglass again since he heard Douglass was unhappy with his policies. As I described in my Chambersburg account, Lincoln and Douglass concocted a plan for the latter to lead efforts to help slaves flee north behind Union lines, a plan very like John Brown’s original one before Harper’s Ferry. Douglass agreed to this plan but it never materialized.

Douglass returned again to the White House many times. On March 4th, 1865, he attended the reception held here following Lincoln’s second inauguration. When Douglass tried to enter, he was stopped by two policemen who tried to trick him into leaving. He stood his ground and got word in to Lincoln, who ordered that Douglass be allowed in. When Douglass entered, Lincoln strode across the room, shook his hand, and loudly greeted him as ‘my friend Douglass’.

Andrew Johnson in 1860. Yes, I agree, he looked a lot like Tommy Lee Jones

Andrew Johnson in 1860. Yes, I agree, he looked a lot like Tommy Lee Jones

On February 7th, 1866, Douglass arrived here again with a delegation, which included his son Lewis, to meet President Andrew Johnson. They discussed and debated Johnson’s Reconstruction policies. Johnson protested that his South-friendly, anti-black-suffrage policies were designed to prevent race wars, while Douglass argued that since his policies perpetuated the same old hatreds and bigotries, they would result merely in prolonging the conflicts. The year before, on the Capitol steps just before he delivered his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln pointed Douglass out in the crowd to then Vice President Johnson. Douglass noticed that Johnson looked at him with ‘bitter contempt and aversion’ when he didn’t know Douglass was looking. But when Douglass caught Johnson’s eye, his faced smoothed into a friendlier expression. Douglass would go on to write that he knew then that Johnson was not a sincere friend of the cause for black rights.

Douglass returned to the White House more than once in the mid-to-late 1880’s at the invitation of Grover Cleveland. But likely not to dinner, as some had said, despite what alcoholic-turned-prohibitionist preacher Sam Small wrote. Small was also quite the racist, and used the rumor to try and discredit Cleveland, writing ‘[he] invited that leader of niggerdom, Fred Douglass, to his dinner table. I might excuse him…, but when he invited the low wife to go there, it is more than I can stand’. (What a creep!) Douglass himself wrote in his Life and Times that he and Helen were invited to many receptions by the Clevelands but didn’t mention a dinner with them. Douglass expressed approval of Cleveland as a person, though they were divided over politics, because Cleveland treated the Douglasses with courtesy and respect despite Douglass’ efforts against him in the presidential race. Perhaps Douglass was more disposed to friendliness because of his disillusionment with the Republicans and their abandonment of the black rights cause at this time, and as always, he was very proud that he was now a man that presidents rub shoulders with. But I don’t find evidence that Cleveland did much of anything to show he cared about black rights either. In later years, he even took to protesting to the House of Representatives that he had never done such a thing as invite a black person to dinner at the White House. Douglass’ flattering picture of Cleveland, sadly, appears to show a weakness. Always a proud man, Douglass let his personal pride overcome his convictions somewhat in this instance.

J. Edgar Hoover Building at 925 Pennsyvania NW, Washington DC

J. Edgar Hoover Building at 925 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC

Metzerott Hall, 1873, 925 Pennsylvania Ave, public domain via LOC, and the Hoover Bldg today

Metzerott Hall in 1873 at 925 Pennsylvania Ave, public domain via Library of Congress (above), and the Hoover Building today (below)

I head southwest along Pennsylvania Ave to 925 NW, the former site of Metzerott Hall now occupied by the humongous and hideous J. Edgar Hoover Building. Once called Iron Hall, its facade collapsed in 1894, presumably due to the massive weight of its iron portions.

On February 20th, 1895, Douglass addressed a meeting of the National Council of Women here. This address was his last act of public service: at about 7 that evening at home, as he described the events of this meeting to Helen, he fell to his knees and died suddenly of heart failure. Douglass’ friend Mark Twain also spoke here, and as we can see from the postcard at the left, the Equal Rights Association met here too. As you may remember, Douglass was a member. On May 15th, 1871, Douglass was appointed to the brand new Legislative Council of the Territorial Government of the District of Columbia by Ulysses S. Grant, who both Twain and Douglass admired. However, Douglass only kept the post for a little over a month. He resigned on June 20th, citing pressing engagements elsewhere, but I suspect Douglass might have suspected this legislature was flawed. Exactly 3 years after his resignation, the Territorial Government was abruptly disbanded for financial irresponsibility. As you may remember, while Grant was personally honest as far as historians can tell, his administration was infamous for its corruption and waste.

The Capitol Building with its dome under reconstruction

The Capitol Building with its dome under reconstruction

Inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, March 4, 1861, photographer unknown, public domain via LOC

First inauguration of President Lincoln, March 4, 1861, photographer unknown

I continue east on Pennsylvania Ave to the Capitol Building, and go around to its east facade off East Capitol St NE and First St SE.

On March 4th, 1861, Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address on the steps of the not-quite-finished Capitol Building. Douglass did not attend but he read the Address and critiqued it sharply in Douglass’ Monthly, the successor to the North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He described the address as ‘double-tongued’ and ‘…but little better than our worst fears, and vastly below what we had fondly hoped it would be’. Douglass viewed Lincoln’s refusal to take a strong stance against slavery as a betrayal of principle. He accused Lincoln of being as cowed by the slaveowners as previous administrations had been, as Lincoln stated his intention not to interfere with slavery where it already existed and promised to uphold fugitive slave laws in the North. Over time, Douglass realized that Lincoln personally hated slavery and that this conciliatory stance was a pragmatic way of attaining the presidency so he could save the Union and reform it gradually. But Lincoln’s caution and reticence went too far even for the pragmatic Douglass, who had lost his faith that slavery could be ended without force.

Abraham Lincoln delivering 2nd inaugural address as President of the U.S., Washington, D.C., photo Public Domain via LOC

Abraham Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address on the steps of the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.. This photo was made especially famous when historian Ronald C. White identified John Wilkes Booth among those standing on the platform above and to the right of Lincoln, to the right of the statue and just to the left of the tall man with the bowler hat

As we have already seen, however, Douglass did attend Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, held here on the steps of the then-finished Capitol Building on March 4, 1865. Douglass was far, far, better pleased with this one, to say the least. Lincoln, at last, had taken a firm stance against slavery, and the line ‘every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’ surely resonated with Douglass’s sense of justice. He was ambivalent about violence throughout his life, but had come to believe it was sometimes both justified and necessary. Later that day at the White House reception, Lincoln asked Douglass what he thought of this Address, presumably because he knew Douglass had so thoroughly and publicly excoriated Lincoln’s first.

Douglass was here at the Capitol Building one last time on the morning of his death. According to his obituary in the New York Times, he was dropped off at the Congressional Library (Library of Congress) which was located in this building until it was moved across the street to the beautiful new Jefferson Building two years later, in 1897. More on that in tomorrow’s account.

The Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin among the cherry blossoms

The Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin among the cherry blossoms

It’s a beautiful early evening when I end my Douglass explorations for the day here at the Capitol Building. I make my way to the Jefferson Memorial to watch the sun set over the Tidal Basin through the cherry blossoms now in full bloom. Tomorrow will be my last day in D.C., and my last day following Douglass on this tour. To be continued….

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Sources and Inspiration:

Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia: Volume 2, Plate 21. By Baist, George William, William Edward, and Harry Valentine Baist, 1909. Via Library of Congress website

Blight, David W. ‘Lincoln, Douglass and the ‘Double-Tongued Document’’. New York Times Opinionator blog, May 6, 2011.

Blight, David W. ‘“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln‘. In The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Death Of Fred Douglass: Obituary‘, February 21, 1895, The New York Times from On This Day,

Douglass, Frederick. Address … January 9th, 1894, on the Lessons of the Hour. Press of Thomas and Evans, Baltimore, Maryland. From the Library of Congress website.

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, Frederick. ‘Speech at a Surprise Party on Douglass’ 71st Birthday. 1889‘. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress website

Douglass, Helen, 1838-1903, ed. In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass. Philadelphia: J.C. Yorston & Co, 1897

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

Gayle, Margot and Carol Gayle. Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus. WW Norton & Co: New York, 1998.

Harris, Gardiner. ‘The Underside of the Welcome Mat‘, The New York Times, N0v. 8, 2008

Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress‘, Library of Congress website

King, Gilbert. ‘The Great Dissenter and his Half-Brother‘. Dec 20, 2011,

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

Muller, John. ‘Francis Grimke tells story of “The Second Marriage of Frederick Douglass” [The Journal of Negro History, 1934]’ In Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Muller, John. ‘Frederick Douglass’ “Application for Permit to Build” for 316 & 318 A Street NE’. In Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Muller, John. Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia. Charleston: The History Press, 2012.

Quarles, Benjamin. Frederick Douglass. Washington D.C.: The Associated Publishers, 1948.

Roberts, Kim. ‘The Bethel Literary and Historical Society‘. Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Literary Organizations Issue.

Roe, Garrett W. Frederick Douglass’ ‘Homecoming’: Funeral and Burial, visual presentation, May 23rd 2014

Stiller, Jesse. ‘The Freedman’s Savings Bank: Good Intentions Were Not Enough; A Noble Experiment Goes Awry‘. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, U.S. Treasury Department website

Treasury to Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Freedman’s Bank,’ 12/29/2015 press release of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Press Center

Veroske, Ariel. ‘The Feather Duster Affair of 1874‘, June 20th, 2013, from

The Washington Times. (Washington, D.C.), 18 Feb. 1895. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.

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!

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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,

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),

Easton, MD Walking Tour‘. From

Eyeballing the Rumsfeld Maryland Residence‘ (photos) From

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

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

Wye House‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wye House owner, philanthropist and local historian dies at her home’. Jul 27, 2012, The Star Democrat