Douglass Returns


Approximate tour time is one hour.

Begin at Easton Point. Once at the Courthouse, walking is the best way to tour.

After leaving Talbot County in 1836, Frederick Douglass returned only four times. His son Lewis was in Talbot County at Bellevue and St. Michaels at the close of the Civil War. Douglass kept in touch with the area though friends, relatives, and letters. He debated Talbot Countians with whom he disagreed through the press and letters. His influence on Talbot County was profoundly felt despite his absence of more than four decades.

This tour concentrates on two return trips: November 1878 and March 1893. Both times he arrived in Easton. His 1877 return to St. Michaels can be explored through the St. Mary’s Square Museum walking tour. His 1881 return to both Lloyd’s Great House Farm and St. Michaels is detailed in his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

PLEASE NOTE: These tours will take you on busy roads, as well as many rural back roads. Use caution when pulling off to view a site or read from the guide. Many of the buildings associated with Frederick Douglass in Talbot County are no longer standing, and their exact locations are unknown; this guide directs you to the approximate vicinity of each site. In addition, many of the sites included are private property. Please respect property owners and do not trespass or use private lanes and driveways. In Talbot County, road names with green signs are public. Roads name with blue signs are strictly private.

Self-Guided Driving Tour #4

Site #1 — Landing at Easton Point — November, 1878 Return to Easton

United States Marshal of the District of Columbia Frederick Douglass arrived at Easton Point from Baltimore on the steamer Highland Light, commanded by Captain E.T. Leonard on Saturday morning, Nov. 23, 1878. Easton Point was then a small village with a church, oyster “saloons,” commodity docks, boatyards, and a cannery. The arrival of the steamboat would have been greeted by workers and residents of all ages. The first of two remaining older houses (just past the marina) was built by Captain Leonard, who grew up at Easton Point and used the house when in port. Douglass had enjoyed an overnight stateroom; he then stayed in the town’s best hotel, just north of the courthouse. In both cases, Marshal Douglass broke the color line for local public accommodations.

This is the same port from which notorious Baltimore slave trader Austin Woolfolk sold Eastern Shore slaves south between 1819 and 1847. Woolfolk and his brother conducted their vile business from the tavern room of the same hotel where Douglass would be the celebrity guest for the weekend. Union vessels later transported enslaved and free volunteers from this port to serve in the United Stated Colored Troops — service Douglass had convinced Lincoln was essential to preservation of the Union. Douglass strongly believed military service would lead to full citizenship for African Americans.

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.
— Frederick Douglass, 1863

Site #2 — Former Moton School

106 Port Street

Now apartments, this building is the former Moton High School. It is a rare example of a five-teacher school design built according to an early 20th-century Rosenwald Tuskegee school plan for rural African-American students with a separate teachers’ house and shop. Very few Rosenwald schools were built with two stories and all three buildings. According to Fisk University records, the local African-American community raised $1,000 for the campus, the public provided $6,000, and Rosenwald provided $500.

An earlier school on this site was known as Easton Colored School, which dated to 1870. Frederick Douglass visited the school in March 1893. He told the assembled schoolchildren a story of a boy who lost his parents, was once a slave forced to sleep on a cold floor, but who taught himself to read and grew to speak, hold high public offices, and accumulate some wealth. He concluded, “That boy was Frederick Douglass. What was possible for me is possible for you.” Douglass’s remarks to the Easton schoolchildren were included in his New York Times obituary two years later.

Douglass had also been near this site in 1878 at the conclusion of his November stay. He was hosted by Head Teacher James E.G. Webb for a gala reception with music by the local African-American band.

Driving note: Turn left on West Street and proceed two blocks. Park near The Talbot County Free Library. Douglass enthusiasts will find many local history resources in the library’s Maryland Room. A Frederick Douglass Meeting room with a bust of Douglass is available for small gatherings.

Sites #3-5 — Talbot County Courthouse, Jail, and Brick Hotel

Courthouse Square between Washington, West and Federal Streets

The granite “old jail” at the corner of Federal and West streets is the site of an earlier white wood-framed jail where Frederick Douglass was held for a week, following his attempt to seek freedom by taking a log canoe to the head of the Bay. The escape attempt was intercepted by his master’s father-in-law, who owned the getaway boat (Tour 3). From the jail cell, Douglass could see friends who worked at the Brick Hotel, which still stands at 9 Federal Street. He called across the street to find out if there was any news of whether he would be sold south. Slave trader Austin Woolfolk had been in the jail cell, looking over Douglass and his accomplices.

The idea of being sold south by Woolfolk was terrifying. Eventually Thomas Auld released Douglass from the jail and sent him back to Fells Point, in Baltimore. Within two years, disguised as a sailor, Douglass finally succeeded in claiming his freedom. Once safely north, Douglass began his life as an abolitionist orator, newspaper publisher and women’s rights advocate. Douglass did not set foot in Easton again until his 1878 visit. This time he was an internationally acclaimed human rights activist and had been invited by the congregations of both African-American churches.

The visit was made interesting to me, by the fact that forty-five years before I had, in company with Henry and John Harris, been dragged behind horses to Easton, with my hands tied, put in jail and offered for sale, for the offense of intending to run away from slavery.
Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Moving to the front of the Courthouse, visit the Frederick Douglass sculpture unveiled in 2011. Imagine Douglass’s thoughts in November 1878 as he received visitors at his Brick Hotel rooms, where slave dealer Austin Woolfolk once operated. . Douglass knew well that, on the courthouse steps before you, so many enslaved men, women, and children been auctioned off. Generations of enslaved persons had been seized by court officers as valuable property and sold to settle their owner’s debts when a crop failed or a judgment was declared.

Imagine Douglass’s 1878 address in this very building. He spoke to a mixed but segregated audience. Old-timers, including the sheriff from 1836, remembered him as Frederick Bailey. Douglass’s 1845 autobiography had sent shockwaves through the Talbot County planter classes because his book named names. He itemized crimes, including brutal, unprosecuted murders of enslaved people. The 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass had been an immediate international bestseller. Its impact on the slaveholders of Talbot County cannot be underestimated.

By 1878, Douglass was 60. His talk was sponsored by the county’s Republican Party leaders who hoped to recruit more male voters from its African-American citizens. Douglass delivered one of his mildest standard speeches, “Self-Made Men.” The crowd was spellbound. News accounts afterwards followed partisan lines.

Douglass had other pressing business beyond his courthouse speech on his 1878 visit. The next stops will take you to important African-American sites in Easton. Tour #1 takes you to his birthplace, where he returned to gather soil from the site of his grandmother’s cabin.

Site #6 — Home of John Leeds Kerr

24 North Aurora Street

Now known as Foxley Hall, this house, and then-undeveloped farmland to the east, belonged to John Leeds Kerr (1770-1844; pronounced CAR). Kerr, an Easton lawyer, had been a United States Senator from 1841-1843. He died suddenly in 1844; he had insufficient income for his current wife. His children were forced to raise funds from his estate to hold their land. Ruth Cox (1818-1900) was a slave who belonged to Kerr. She could read and write and would have seen the estate sale advertisements in the Easton papers throughout the spring and summer of 1844. Like many freedom seekers facing potential sale to southern states, she chose this crisis point to head north to West Chester, Pa., where she stayed among Quakers and attended an antislavery meeting there. The speaker was Frederick Douglass.

Douglass felt an immediate kinship tie to Ruth Cox. He invited her to come live with his family in Lynn, Mass., farther from danger of recapture. He advised her to change her name. She assumed the name of Harriet Bailey, the name of Douglass’s mother and youngest sister. Frederick and his wife Anna both called her “sister;” the children called her Aunt Harriet. Cox lived with the Douglass family from late 1844, when he was finishing his first book, until 1847, when she married Perry Adams. She would have been invaluable as a copy editor and fact checker for certain Talbot County details in the autobiography. In 1845, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published and Douglass departed for a book tour in Ireland and England. Because his book was factual, and he was still a slave in 1845, the book put Douglass in peril of being located and reclaimed by the Auld family.

During his two years abroad, Cox was Anna Murray Douglass’s close friend and household helpmate. Anna could not read and write, so Ruth was Frederick Douglass’s correspondent and go-between for his letters to and from Anna. He wrote, “Your devotion to my little boys, your attention to Dear Anna, has made you doubly Dear to me. I will not forget you.”

Ruth Cox and Anna Murray Douglass served together in the Lynn Ladies Abolitionist Society. After she married, Ruth Cox Adams and her husband remained active abolitionists. When the Civil War began, they removed to Haiti for safety. After emancipation, they settled in Nebraska. Ruth Cox Adams was in touch with the Douglass family sporadically through the rest of their lives. To protect her, Douglass never wrote about her in his autobiographies. Until recently, she was a Talbot County abolitionist lost to history.  Learn more about Ruth Cox Adams here.

Site #7 — Asbury United Methodist Church

18 S. Higgins Street

Frederick Douglass dedicated this new brick Methodist Episcopal church building on his 1878 tour. The congregation had been active since 1836 (if not earlier as house or class meetings). Francis Asbury, regarded as the father of American Methodism, traveled in Talbot County as early as the 1780s. Methodism was rooted here early, with a strong anti-slavery testimony.

Despite Douglass’s early experience of Talbot County, Easton had a large free black population. Between the first U.S. census in 1790 and 1820, when Douglass was two-years-old and living in Tuckahoe, the thriving free black Hill neighborhood gave birth to two strong African-American churches. By the time of Douglass’s visit, both churches were thriving and had expanded with handsome new brick structures. In the 20th century, Asbury joined the United Methodist Conference.

See the interpretive sign by the church to learn more about Asbury Church. The sign is part of the Archaeology on The Hill walking tour available at the Talbot County Visitors Center.

Proceed west on South Lane to Hanson Street. Notice how the Asbury bell tower, centered on the lane, is visible throughout Easton. The welcoming pineapple symbol on the steeple is a neighborhood icon.

Site # 8 — Birth of Local African Methodist Episcopal Church

Corner of South Lane & Hanson Streets

This is the site of the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on the Eastern Shore. In 1818, the year of Frederick Douglass’s birth, Rev. Shadrack Bassett preached from an oxcart at this intersection. Bassett had been sent by the African Methodist Episcopal Church conference in Baltimore to plant religious roots on the Eastern Shore. The Bethel Society formed shortly thereafter, meeting in a blacksmith shop on Hanson Street.

Bassett had been hosted by the Wayman family of Tuckahoe Neck, prominent free African Americans who provided their oxcart for the occasion. The Waymans’ son, Alexander Walker Wayman (1821-1895) became the 7th bishop of the A.M.E. church in 1864. Bishop Wayman was a friend of both Frederick Douglass and his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass, who cared for the Wayman children as a young girl. Bishop Wayman delivered one of the eulogies at Douglass’s funeral.

Site # 9 — Bethel A.M.E. Church — established 1818

110 S. Hanson Street

The oldest A.M.E. congregation on the Eastern Shore, Bethel celebrates 200 years in Easton in 2018. . In 1878, both the Bethel A.M.E. Church and Douglass himself were celebrating 60 years. Douglass had come far, as had the church on Hanson Street, which grew from an oxcart sermon to hosting two annual A.M.E. Conferences under local son Bishop Wayman. In 1878, the 140-year-old brick structure you see today was brand new — the pride of a growing and active church community. Bethel still uses the original rostrum from which Douglass addressed the congregants to dedicate their new brick church.

See the interpretive sign by the building to learn more about Bethel Church. The sign is part of the Archaeology on The Hill walking tour available at the Talbot County Visitors Center.

Site # 10 —Tidewater Inn — Site of the Hotel Avon

101 East Dover Street

In the spring of 1893, Douglass made his last trip to Talbot County. He arrived by train from Cape Charles. He had been on business in the Norfolk area and was preparing to attend the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago on behalf of the Haitian government’s pavilion. Douglass settled into Easton’s newest and finest accommodations, the Hotel Avon, the site now occupied by the Tidewater Inn. He could not have known that the house next door was the former home of James Parrott, Clerk of the Court, who had signed Douglass’s freedom paper in 1847. Douglass received visitors in the posh new hotel dining room and his moves about town later in the day were closely followed by Easton newspapermen. Leaving the hotel, he visited the schoolchildren on Port Street (Site #2) and then took the train to St. Michaels.

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