It’s so ironic that Maryland now proudly claims Frederick Douglass. It wasn’t always that way. For 47 years of his life, to be in Maryland meant that someone else would try to claim him as their property and enslave him.
Born into the unjust system of slavery in Talbot County MD in 1818, Frederick Douglass became the nation’s leading abolitionist and orator. He espoused women’s rights and served as an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln. He was a pretty cool dude. (Read about Frederick Douglass’ home in Washington DC, Cedar Hill.)
Talbot County is where Douglass was born and where he spent most of the first 20 years of his life, enslaved by various members of the Auld family. He was born near the shores of the Tuckahoe Creek, probably in his grandmother’s cabin, just east of Tapper’s Corner.
There are several Frederick Douglass driving tours. I picked two, taking about an hour each, created by Talbot County. There were four to choose from:
- Childhood in Tuckahoe
- Boyhood: Miles River Neck Plantation Life
- Struggle & Determination: Bay Hundred
- Douglass Returns: St. Michaels & Easton
As with Harriet Tubman, who was born just a county away, the places of Douglass’ boyhood have long since disappeared. Log cabins and houses have rotted away. But seeing the landscape that surrounded him as a young boy and the farmland he worked and walked as a youth help us start to understand this amazing American hero!
In between the two tours, I stopped at Easton to grab a bite to eat and to visit the new Rosado mural, Frederick Douglass North Star.
Frederick Douglass and the Tuckahoe Creek
Start the tour at the Talbot County Courthouse, where Frederick Douglass had once been jailed for daring to seek his own freedom. Frederick spoke at this courthouse in 1878. Local enslavers once bought and sold men, women and children on the front steps of this building. Now Douglass’ statue stands in front of this courthouse.
Each tour stop describes the significance of the site to Douglass’ life. In addition, there are often informational signs. The tour also directs you where to look, and offers quotes from Douglass’ writings.
After the courthouse, the driving tour then sends you 12 miles east to the shores of the Tuckahoe, more a river than a creek, to a place called Covey’s Landing. At Covey’s Landing, take in the expanse of the Tuckahoe. The waterway was his “classroom,” and from here he often roamed over to the towns of Queen Anne and Hillsboro.
A few miles away, the next stop is Tapper’s Corner. This is where Aaron Anthony, who owned the farm at the time, enslaved his grandmother, Betsy, as well as his mother and virtually all of Betsy’s children and grandchildren. It is probable that Anthony also was Douglass’ father.
Douglass, as a small child, played and fished on the banks of this pretty creek, near his grandmother’s cabin where he was born. It’s also worth noting: his mother died, when he was seven, in his grandmother’s cabin. I wonder if she died in childbirth.
The next stop is Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe, located on a ridge high above the flowing river below. The park preserves the natural landscape the Douglass would have been familiar with as a boy. The park offers interpretive signs.
The next and final stop is Main Street of Hillsboro, a town Douglass would have roamed as a small boy.
Frederick Douglass and Miles River Neck
This tour brings you through the land owned by Edward Lloyd, who during his life was the wealthiest man in Maryland. A former governor of Maryland, he built his land holdings into 20 different farms, each with an overseer, and, of course, the 577 men, women and children he enslaved to work the land and earn him profit.
The fields and woods are mostly the same as they were in 1824, when Douglass lived and worked on the farms when he was still a little boy, just 6 years old. The man who enslaved Douglass, Aaron Anthony, was Lloyd’s farm superintendent, who oversaw all those overseers. In addition to those Anthony enslaved, more than 100 people Lloyd enslaved lived near Anthony’s house. Douglass was in the cold heart of plantation slavery.
This tour also provides links to online exhibits detailing the finds from 9 years of archeological investigations at Wye House. The archeology provides insight into the industries of those enslaved on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, slave quarters on Lloyd’s farms, the food the enslaved individuals ate and how the enslaved individuals created a culture and community independent of those enslaving them. Noteworthy: the online link provides the names of the enslaved families: DeShields, Copper, Bailey and others.
This tour brings you to the small towns of Copperville and Unionville, small but historically significant African-American villages established after the Civil War. Of course, I had to explore the two cemeteries. At Unionville, of course, I gave silent thanks to the Union Civil War veterans, members of the U.S. Colored Troops. The town itself is named in honor of them.
Many descendants of Frederick Douglass’ family live in Copperville and Unionville.
Know Before You Go
It’s only in the last generation or two that Maryland has embraced American heroes such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. There isn’t a lot of “there” left. Many of the buildings associated with Douglass are no longer standing; no one knows their exact locations. The driving tour guide brings you to the approximate location.
In addition, many of the sites are on private property — so you’re looking from afar, from alongside the road. Please respect property owners. Do not trespass.
The Maryland Tourism Board also offers Frederick Douglass driving tours and itineraries.
Getting there: the sites are provided through the driving tours, at the website below or the links earlier in this article.
Website: Frederick Douglass Birthplace Driving Tours
Read about Harriet Tubman in these articles: