Frederick Douglass in Talbot County
The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass has inspired a desire in Talbot County, Maryland, for deeper understanding of his formative years and the mark he left on this place. In his book My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass remarks on how important it is to understand where a man is born and raised.
“It is always a fact of some importance to know where a man is born, if, indeed, it be important to know anything about him.”
The “fact of some importance” about Frederick Douglass is his 1818 birth on Tuckahoe Creek in Talbot County (pronounced TALL-but). Born to an enslaved mother who named him Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he was part of the sixth generation of Baileys in Talbot County – a lineage that continues today. Of his father, he knew nothing, though he heard rumors that his father was a white man and probably his master.
In Talbot County, young Frederick Bailey endured the slave system’s many cruelties in breaking families and crushing the spirit. Still, he had deep roots here with lifelong family and friendship ties. He escaped from Maryland and claimed his new name in 1838 at age 20. His lifework involved retelling his story; central to his tale are the Talbot County years (1818-1826 and 1833-1836).
Talbot County’s formative influence on Douglass lasted throughout his 77 years. His searing impact on the county began when he told of his bondage, self-emancipation, and transformation from slave to abolitionist orator in his 1845 autobiography, an immediate international bestseller. Using actual names and deeds of Talbot Countians — a first for the slave narrative genre — he made shocking examples of Talbot County citizens, which focused the world’s attention on the American chattel slavery system’s inhumanity, immorality, and unconstitutionality.
Douglass’s effect on Talbot County has been lasting. From slave to fugitive to agitator to local hero, Talbot County formed Douglass and Douglass’s resistance and ideals changed Talbot County. His words continue to inspire his many local descendants and their fellow citizens.
February 14, 1818
September 3, 1838
December 12, 1846
February 20, 1895