The Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace

Markers in the Landcape

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Frederick Douglass, Ebony magazine urged its readers to plan family vacations so that the kids could see monuments to black history. They recommended you visit the birthplace of Frederick Douglass.

 

Why not?

Because you can’t get to Douglass’ birthplace by following the tourist guidebooks and roadside history markers.  They point you to the bridge that carries MD Route 328 across Tuckahoe River.  The bridge was rebuilt in 2013 and named in honor of Douglass.  A historic marker at the end of the bridge commemorates Douglass and his birthplace.  But the historic marker is 6 miles off.

How did that happen?

There have been many changes in the landscape over time.

Douglass wrote, “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland.”  Douglass biographers ever since have named “Tuckahoe” as the Douglass birthplace. But there is no longer a place called Tuckahoe, Maryland.

A local historian, Dickson J. Preston, matched this and other places in Douglass’s autobiographies with places in local land records, newspapers, and other sources.  He published his conclusion about the birthplace in Young Frederick Douglass – The Maryland Years in 1985.  Still, the true birthplace was not widely known until Preston’s clues in the landscape were published online in 1996 by a Web-pioneering middle school student.

Here are the clues which Preston found in the Douglass autobiographies to help us close in on this historic site:

  1. Easton, Hillsboro, and “Tuckahoe” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore
  2. Lloyd’s Long Woods
  3. Wye House
  4. Holme Hill Farm
  5. Levi Lee’s Mill
  6. Kentucky Ravine and Muddy Shore
  7. Aunt Bettie’s Lot and Cabin
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