American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide

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Douglass's Maryland

"Our house stood within a few rods of the Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. . . . I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer's Sabbath, stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noble bay, and traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. . . . [T]here, with no audience but the Almighty, I would pour our my soul's complaint. . . . 'Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north, and I am free! . . . This very bay shall bear me into freedom.'"
           ~
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,
                        Written by Himself


Frederick Douglass was born in 1817 or 1818 and spent his entire adult life crusading for the equal rights of all human beings. Like many abolitionists, he framed his ideas within the philosophy of Transcendentalism. Join us as we retrace the formative steps as he moved along the pathway from slavery to freedom. If this amazing historical figure is unknown to you, have a look at a short biography. From there, you can get a quick overview of Douglass's life with this timeline of key events. You can then explore this multimedia presentation on American Visionaries: Frederick Douglass. Take a look at the many portraits of this extremely handsome and charismatic man. To get a quick overview of Frederick Douglass's background, check out his family tree.

Right: Portrait of Frederick Douglass (Courtesy National Park Service, Museum Management Program and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Frederick Douglass, Carte-de-Visite, FRDO 3937, photo by B.E. Hawkins, http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/douglass/3937.htm).


Talbot County, Maryland


Douglass wrote three autobiographies, all of which give us insight into his years as a slave in Maryland. The most famous of these accounts is his first book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, which was published as part of the abolitionist movement in 1845. Throughout his years as a slave, Douglass lived and worked close to the Chesapeake Bay.

Left: Map of the Chesapeake Bay (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, g3790 cw0013400).



Historians have found it difficult to determine the exact location of Douglass's birth.  The general area in Talbot County, Maryland, is known, but the exact location is unknown. Take a look at the "clues" a father/daughter historian team discovered as they tried to reconstruct Douglass's early life. The "annotated photograph maps" of the area created by this team are especially helpful—take the time to make this virtual tour of the area.

To get another excellent look at the area, watch a two-minute clip of C-SPAN's American Writers feature on Frederick Douglass. (After clicking on this link, click on "Watch 2 hrs. 33 mins.," then go to 53:53 and watch the video until 56:08.)

Top Left: Douglass was born along Tuckahoe Creek in Talbot County, Maryland (photo by Lizzie Lowe). Bottom Left: Though the exact location of his birth is unknown, it is thought that it was within a few hundred yards of this field (photo by Lizzie Lowe).

 



When Douglass was about six years old, his grandmother walked with him the twelve miles from his childhood cabin to the Wye House plantation where he would begin work as a slave.

"Public opinion is, indeed, an unfailing restraint upon the cruelty and barbarity of masters, overseers, and slave-drivers, whenever and wherever it can reach them; but there are certain secluded and out-of-the-way places, even in the state of Maryland, seldom visited by a single ray of healthy public sentiment—where slavery, wrapt in its own congenial, midnight darkness, can, and does, develop all its malign and shocking characteristics; where it can be indecent without shame, cruel without shuddering, and murderous without apprehension or fear of exposure. Just such a secluded, dark, and out-of-the-way place, is the "home plantation" of Col. Edward Lloyd, on the Eastern Shore, Maryland. It is far away from all the great thoroughfares, and is proximate to no town or village."

      ~Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom

Top Left: Aerial view of Wye House Plantation (Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, mhsdalad 060060). Bottom Left: Drive leading up to the present-day estate (photos by Lizzie Lowe).


Douglass was later a slave in St. Michael's, Maryland, a small shipping town in Talbot County. Visitors can take this walking tour of the quaint town. The home where Douglass was a slave to the Auld family is now Justine's Ice Cream Parlor. St. Michael's is one of only two locations in Talbot County where any official

mention is made of Frederick Douglass. 

 


Left:
Justine's Ice Cream Parlor (photo by Lizzie Lowe). Near Right: Historical marker, near Tuckahoe River, Talbot County (photo by Lizzie Lowe). Bottom Far Right: Historical marker, St. Michael's Maryland (photo by Lizzie Lowe).


Easton, where Douglass was jailed after leading an unsuccessful attempt to escape, has several historical places to visit as well as an interesting history.

Right: Talbot County Jail, Easton, Maryland (photo by Lizzie Lowe).


Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland


"I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery. Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity."
         ~
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by
                                  Himself

For a good introduction to Douglass's years as a slave in Baltimore, read Tom Chalkley's article, "Native Son: On the Trail of Frederick Douglass in Baltimore." Explore the history of the Fells Point Neighborhood in Baltimore. Watch this 11-minute video tour of Douglass's Fells Point Neighborhood (from C-SPAN's AmericanWriters project). To learn more about the condition of slaves in Baltimore, explore Ruth Turner's web project, "The Presence of Absence: A Conceptual Tour of African-American History in Baltimore." Read about the current controversy about the new Douglass monument in Baltimore.

To take your journey further and explore Douglass's years as a free man and political leader, visit the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center in Rochester, New York, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.

Top Left: Marker indicating the Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland (photo by Lizzie Lowe). Bottom Left: Cedar Hill, Douglass's home in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy National Park Service, Museum Management Program and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Cedar Hill, photo by Carol Highsmith, 1998, http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/douglass/house.htm).


This page was created by Lizzie Lowe, an RBA student at Shepherd College.
"American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide" was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." © 2003 Linda Tate.