Frederick Douglass spent his early years in a home broken beyond most people's comprehension. His mother, a slave, was forced to leave him as an infant. He never knew the identity of his father. He lived in poverty, crowded into two rooms with grandparents and cousins. Beyond that, Frederick was a slavelisted on an inventory along with mules and bushels of wheat. His owner could sell him on a whim because, then in America, slavery was legal. But all this adversity did not break the spirit of young Frederick, for he possessed an intellectual curiosity undeterred by his circumstances. At age eight he was sent to Baltimore as a house servant. He became fascinated by the "mystery of reading" and decided that education was "the pathway from slavery to freedom." Because it was illegal to educate slaves, Frederick learned how to read and write by trading bread for reading lessons and tracing over words in discarded spelling books until his handwriting was smooth and graceful. By age 13 he was reading articles about the abolition of slavery to other slaves. When he escaped to freedom at age 20, Douglass eagerly used his hard-earned wisdom to lecture against slavery and to fight for the emancipation of blacks, women, and oppressed people.
His lifetime triumphs were many: abolitionist, women's rights activist, author, owner-editor of antislavery newspapers, fluent speaker of many languages, Minister to Haiti, and most respected African American orator of the 1800s. In his closing years at Cedar Hill he was deemed the "sage of Anacostia," an accolade that celebrated the intellectual spirit within him that never grew old.
A Douglass Chronology
1818 Born in Talbot County, Md., exact date unknown; his mother is enslaved, his father is white, perhaps her owner; christened Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.
1826 Sent to Baltimore as a house servant; his owner's wife begins teaching him to read but stops when warned that education means "there will be no keeping him." Convinced that "knowledge is freedom," Frederick teaches himself to read and write in secret.
1833-34 Is moved to a nearby plantation; deemed unmanageable, is hired out to a slave-breaker who starves and whips himwhich fuels his dreams of freedom.
1836 Attempted escape fails; is returned to Baltimore; learns trade as ship caulker; meets free African Americans, including Anna Murray.
1838 Boards train in sailor disguise; escapes to freedom in New York City; Anna Murray joins him; they marry and move to New Bedford, Mass.; adopts Douglass surname from Sir Walter Scott's poem, Lady of the Lake.
1841-47 Becomes active in abolition movement; hired by Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, lectures in New England; 1845 publishes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; leaves for Europe to escape slave hunters now alerted to his identity; speaks out for world peace, Irish home rule, and "the cause of the poor, no matter whether black or white." English friends buy his freedom; returns to U.S. in 1847.
1847-59 Launches newspaper The North Star, later renamed Frederick Douglass' Paper, Rochester N.Y.; outspoken defender of women's rights and political action as means to abolish slavery; in 1855 publishes My Bondage and My Freedom; opposes John Brown's raid in 1859, but his alliance with Brown compels brief asylum in Canada and England.
1863 In wake of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass issues "Men of Color, to Arms!" urging free blacks to join the U.S. Army; meets with President Lincoln on treatment of soldiers; serves as Lincoln's adviser.
1872-81 Frederick and Anna move to Washington, D.C.; buy a house at 316 A Street NE; in 1877 they break "whites only" covenant by purchasing Cedar Hill; serves as U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia from 1877 until 1881.
1881-84 Publishes third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass; Anna Murray Douglass, mother of their five children, dies in 1882; in 1884 he marries Helen Pitts; they travel to Europe and Africa.
1889 On 26th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation he denounces the government for abandoning African Americans; President Harrison appoints him Minister to Haiti; resigns post in 1891; continues to address human rights issues.
1894 Delivers speech, "The Lesson of the Hour," an attack against lynching; censures politicians and citizens alike for empowering segregation and rejects "the idea that one class must rule over another."
1895 Dies at Cedar Hill on February 20, shortly after attending a women's rights rally; nationally mourned and acclaimed as gifted orator and champion of the oppressed.
Douglass was nearly 60 years old on September 1, 1877, when he moved with his wife Anna Murray to this 1850s brick house that he named Cedar Hill. For 40 years he had battled for human rights, and Cedar Hill provided a welcome respite. There was time to exercise or to linger at the dining table for lively discussions about politics. Here he displayed belongings that measured his success: Abraham Lincoln's cane given by Mrs. Lincoln after the assassination; a leather rocking chair from the people of Haiti; a handcarved German clock, gift of admirer Ottilia Assing. His books were his most beloved treasure, and Douglass spent much of his time in the library or in the outdoor "Growlery" reading about politics, philosophy, and law. Anna died in 1882, and 18 months later he married Helen Pitts, friend and co-worker. After Douglass died in 1895, Helen vigorously preserved Cedar Hill as his memorial. She organized the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in 1900. In 1916 it joined with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. In 1962 the care of Cedar Hill was entrusted to the National Park Service.
Planning Your Visit
Visitor Center All activities, including tours of Cedar Hill, the grounds, and the Growlery begin at the visitor center. Here you will find exhibits and a film that tell you about Douglass, plus publications and items pertaining to Douglass and African American culture. The visitor center, restrooms, and the first floor of Cedar Hill are wheelchair-accessible. All group tours must be arranged in advance; contact the park for information or visit www.nps.gov/frdo.
Cedar Hill is open daily except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Seasonal hours: spring-summer 9 am to 5 pm; fall-winter 9 am to 4 pm.
Getting Here From the National Mall, go south on 9th St. to I-395 north, exit onto I-295 south across bridge, exit onto Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., turn left on W St. SE, go three blocks to parking lot. From I-495/95, take exit 3 north onto Indian Head Hwy (Md 210), which becomes South Capitol St., bear right on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., turn right on W St. to parking lot. From the Anacostia Metro Station on the Green Line, take the B-2 bus to the park.
Source: NPS Brochure (2011)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
Address by Hon. Frederick Douglass, delivered in the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, January 9th, 1894, on the lessons of the hour : in which he discusses the various aspects of the so-called, but mis-called, Negro problem (Frederick Douglass, 1894)
Cultural Landscape Report/Historic Structure Report: Frederick Douglass NHS (Cedar Hill) Volume I, Part I (Alpha Corporation, Quinn Evans, Summer Consultants, Arc Environmental and EverGreene Architectural Arts, September 2020)
Cultural Landscape Report/Historic Structure Report: Frederick Douglass NHS (Cedar Hill) Volume II, Part II (Alpha Corporation, Quinn Evans, Summer Consultants, Arc Environmental and EverGreene Architectural Arts, September 2020)
Frederick Douglass (Charles Waddell Chestnutt, 1899)
Frederick Douglass: The Clarion Voice (John W. Blassingame, 1976)
Historic Structures Report, Architectural Data: Frederick Douglass Home, Cedar Hill (Russell Jones and Harry Martin, June 1970)
Historic Structures Report, Part II (Historical Data): Frederick Douglass Home, Cedar Hill (James R. Hinds, January 11, 1968)
Historical Data Section - Historic Grounds Report: Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Anna Coxe Toogood, May 1968)
Junior Ranger Activity Book, Frederick Douglass (Date Unknown)
Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American slave (Frederick Douglass, 1846)
The life and times of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass, 1881)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Cedar Hill: Then and Now (National Park Service: Padraic Benson, 8/16/2011, Duration: 4:14)
Close Encounters: John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Slave's Poet" (National Park Service: Padraic Benson and Eli Alford, 11/20/2011, Duration: 2:06)
Close Encounters: The Educated Bears (National Park Service: Padraic Benson, 10/13/2011, Duration: 1:53)
Last Updated: 06-Apr-2022