The Bicentennial Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace

We updated our map app that shows clues in the Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace.  See the full-size app here.

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Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Park and Birthplace

An open letter to the Editor, Times-Record

Mr. Polk,

​I  would like to point out a couple of inaccurate ideas about Frederick Douglass’s birthplace which are presented in your article, Douglass Park opens on bicentennial, in the Times-Record, February 21.

You misquoted Douglass as having been born “in the town of ‘Tuckahoe’, which was located on the shore of Tuckahoe River but no longer exists.”  In fact, there never was a town by that name.  Tuckahoe was a rural place, the entire west bank of the Tuckahoe south of Queen Anne.  Douglass stated simply, “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough”.

Your article also suggests that the location of Douglass’s birthplace is not precisely known.  In fact, you can stand within 30 yards of the exact site of the cabin where Douglass was born  and raised by his grandmother, Betsy Bailey.​

Drive east on MD 303 from Cordova to the stop sign on Lewistown Rd. – a junction known as Tapper’s Corner.  Look toward the woods across the farm field.   The closest trees mark the head of a gully that was called “Kentucky Ravine” in Douglass’s day.  The cabin where he was born stood at the edge of the woods near the head of the gully.  Kentucky Ravine may have eroded several dozen yards deeper  into the farm field (toward Tapper’s Corner) in the past 200 years.  But its head is still very close to the birth site.

The site of Douglass’s birth was researched from Talbot County land records, Douglass’s autobiographies, and Lloyd family historical sources by Dickson J. Preston and published in his book, Young Frederick Douglass – The Maryland Years, in 1985.

Preston’s book was not widely known until my daughter, Amanda Barker Doran, and I first published his findings online with photos and maps  in 1996.  I have updated The Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace website since then.  The web site has attracted hundreds of visitors and email notes from historians, students of African-American history, and tourists since we first published it.

Your readers can learn more about Frederick Douglass’s connections to Caroline and Talbot County at ChoptankRiverHeritage.org.  Search on “Douglass”.

Don Barker
Ridgely, MD


PS:

Looks like Tuckahoe Park (since 2006) was simply renamed Frederick Douglass Park, and they made a new sign.  “X” shows the birthplace location.   – DB

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How Old Black Churches Die

I was scanning aerial photography of Caroline County and saw this striking image in the landscape – above-ground crypts in a church graveyard:

The 1897 map shows this was the site of St Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church:

 

I finally visited the site a few weeks ago.  The scene was incredible.  Pulpit, piano, pews, and stained glass were still in place.  I found hand-hewn sill timbers – evidence that the building was indeed built in the early 1800s, as noted by one source.

The roof is caving in.  One of the newer headstones in the graveyard was deliberately toppled off its pediment.   Within a generation, this old church building will die and disappear into the landscape like many others.  The gravestones will remain hidden under tangled vines for a thousand years. Then they will disappear, too.  The viewing is here:

Stand in the Place.

Soon St. Paul AME church will be gone.  The obituary might read like this –  adapted from the non-profit St. Paul Church Historical Revitalization and Maintenance Inc.:

“St. Paul Church Historical Revitalization and Maintenance Inc. was formed in December 2000 to preserve church and maintain the grounds.  The church building is over 150 years old …

“St. Paul United Methodist Church represents a  disappearing part of Afro-Americans  history – religious freedom”  …   This church supplied need for local Afro -American to have their own place of worship.  Small churches like St. Paul are slowly disappearing.  We feel the strong need to save this one….
“The charter of the organization was simply to preserve St. Paul United Methodist Church and its burial grounds.   They were originally deeded to its AME founders on November 17, 1883, after the church building was purchased from the white  United Methodist Church located in nearby Concord, MD.  It’s believed the building was constructed in the early 1800’s.
 “St. Paul United Methodist Church was a vibrant place of worship for local community through the 1960s. Memberships started to dwindle as family members passed on or moved from the area. Membership declined, the church was closed in the early 1980s, and the grounds were about to be abandoned.
 “This led to the formation of St. Paul Church Historical Revitalization & Maintenance Inc.  The formation meeting was held at the home of  Melvin and Barbara Cook on December 16, 2000.  Attending the meeting were threse founding members:
Rev. William and Audrey Briggs
Barbara Cook – First President
Maurice Stanford
William H. Briggs – First Treasurer
Sadie Johnson
Virgie Johnson
Odette Hawkins – First Secretary
Crawford Johnson”
I am in touch with members of St. Paul Church HRM, Inc.  Let me know if you want more info, have new info, or want to help:
info@choptankriverheritage.org
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Historic Boon Farmstead – Vanished from the face of the Earth

A century before Ridgely, there was Boonsboro.

During 1800-1850, Boonsboro was a thriving crossroads village with a church, school, wheelwright shop, and homes.  Its leading citizens were the descendants of John Boon, who acquired large landholdings nearby in the late 1700s.

 

Boonsboro disappeared before 1900. The historic Boon farmhouse vanished suddenly before 2016.  Only the family burial plot remains.

Maps, aerial photos, and a CRH site visit in 2009 tell the story.

April 2009 – CRH overflight and site visit:

2014 – Satellite imagery with cemetery plot marked:

2016 – Maryland state aerial imagery with cemetery plot marked:

Why?

Apparently to make way for center-pivot irrigation:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For map geeks only: Choptank watershed 1898-1944 from KML

I created a map app where you can compare  hi-res USGS topo maps of the Choptank River watershed for different time frames, 1898-1944.

I did it by downloading KMZ files using the USGS TopoView app and publishing them on my own web server.  Then adding the URLs to my map app.  So easy, you can do it yourself.  Heh.  I’m sure you’ll want to read details here about the map scales, dates, and metadata.

To see all the layers for all the years, you have to view the larger map app.  No time?  Just zoom in with this map that shows only 1904-1918.  You’ll get the idea.  (Yeh, that a KMZ service can be slow.)

View larger map

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The black blacksmith with a bellowy laugh

In West Denton … there were two blacksmith Shops serving the farmers and residents of the area. One was operated by a Negro named Walter Moore …  I doubt if any kingdom ever fell because Walter’s nails came loose.

Continue reading The black blacksmith with a bellowy laugh

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The true reason why Frederick Douglass gave his heart to Anna Murray

Rosetta Douglass Sprague wrote in the memoir about her mother, Anna Murray Douglass, that young Frederick Bailey “gave his heart” to Anna Murray, and she “sympathized with him and she devoted all her energies to assist him” to escape slavery in Baltimore.

Why Anna Murray?

Because she was the girl from down home in Tuckahoe Neck.

Continue reading The true reason why Frederick Douglass gave his heart to Anna Murray

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First woman President of NAACP got her start in Denton

The first woman president of the NAACP, Dr. Enolia P. McMillan, started her professional career as a teacher in Caroline County in 1927, when she taught at the Denton segregated black high school.  Continue reading First woman President of NAACP got her start in Denton

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Helicopter Flyover: Historic sites of segregated black schools, 1875-1900

Almost all of the old buildings are gone.  But we can lay old maps over aerial and satellite imagery of Caroline County to find the places where they once stood.

Do the “helicopter tour” of the school sites as they look today.  We fly north to south –  1000 feet above each of 14 sites.  Click any site name to explore the site in an interactive map.

The helicopter route map below shows all 14 sites.

Continue reading Helicopter Flyover: Historic sites of segregated black schools, 1875-1900

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News went back to Caroline that I was shot and killed

“You know the feelings of the white people here in Delaware.
Are you ready to die?”

I said, None of these things move me.
I never was so inspired to speak since the day I was born.

And news went back to Caroline,
that I was shot and killed.

Continue reading News went back to Caroline that I was shot and killed

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On Maryland's Eastern Shore