The Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace
Markers in the Landcape
“[My life] began in the family of my grandmother and grandfather, Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided. They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood… The dwelling of my grandmother and grandfather had few pretensions. It was a log hut, or cabin, built of clay, wood, and straw. … My grandmother–whether because too old for field service, or because she had so faithfully discharged the duties of her station in early life, I know not–enjoyed the high privilege of living in a cabin, separate from the quarter…” (My Bondage and My Freedom, ch.1)
“The old cabin, with its ail floor and rail bedsteads upstairs, and its clay floor downstairs, and its dirt chimney, and windowless sides, and that most curious piece of workmanship dug in front of the fireplace, beneath which grandmammy placed the sweet potatoes to keep them from the frost, was MY HOME–the only home I ever had; and I loved it, and all connected with it. The old fences around it, and the stumps in the edge of the woods near it, and the squirrels that ran, skipped, and played upon them, were objects of interest and affection. There, too, right at the side of the hut, stood the old well.” (My Bondage and My Freedom, ch. 2)
Markers in the Landscape
“Frederick [Douglass] and Louis Freeman, who had been a slave on this farm when it was owned by Aaron’s grandson, John P. Anthony, studied the lay of the land. Where a deep, curving gully ran up toward the road from Tuckahoe Creek, Freeman pointed out the spot known in his time as “Aunt Bettie’s lot.” It looked right, and Frederick, searching in his memory, recalled a big cedar tree that should be a little deeper in the woods, near the edge of the ravine. He plunged into the underbrush for a look.
|Aunt Bettie’s Lot near the woods across the farm field,
seen from Tapper’s Corner where Louis Freeman
pointed it out to Douglass in 1878.
See more photos of Aunt Bettie’s Lot.
“The tree was there, and Frederick solemnly declared that he had found the exact spot where he was born. The site Douglass pointed out is at the edge of a wooded ravine a few hundred yards east of the Kingston Landing Road [Lewistown Road], 2.2 miles south of Queen Anne, and just south of the junction called Tappers Corner, where Md. Route 303 turns west. No marker commemorates it. Nearly 7 miles away, at a location on Md. Route 328 that has no known connection with Douglass, is a roadside marker summarizing his career that has been erected by the Maryland Historical Society. No structure dating from Douglass’s time remains on the old Anthony farm, nor are the locations of the white and black graveyards known. (Young Frederick Douglass, p. 219, footnote 6)”
[ See other Douglass Birthplace – Markers in the Landscape. ]