Frederick Douglass tends to be one of those figures that most Americans recognize but about whom no one can elaborate, except maybe to say he wrote a thing or two. Just outside of Washington DC, you can visit Cedar Hill, Douglass’ home from 1877 to 1895, and learn just why he is such an important figure in American history.
Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and went on to have one of the most fascinating and tumultuous lives of anyone who immersed himself in the violent, political, and sociological dramas of the 19th century. Not only did he stand up and fight one of his owners and eventually escape from slavery, he also wrote several autobiographies so others could see the struggles of slaves and join the abolitionist movement. He supported the idea of women voting; he was a man for equality, regardless of race, gender, or immigration status. He gained massive popularity through his fiery speeches, and was so supported in Ireland and Britain that colleagues there raised money to purchase his freedom legally. Two of his sons fought in one of the most famous battles of the Civil War (as portrayed in the film Glory), and after his first wife of 44 years died, he married a white feminist, despite opposition from both their families.
Cedar Hill was made into the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in 1988. From it you’ll see a stellar view of the Capitol and city skyline. Visitors will also notice that almost all the artifacts in the house are original, including a picture of Abraham Lincoln (with whom Douglass was friends). Make sure and check out the “Growlery” reconstruction!
Reservations are strongly encouraged, as there are a limited number of tickets on each of the ranger-led tours, which last about half an hour. The site itself is easy to get to, but keep in mind that anyone that comes along will have to climb seven dozen stairs to get up to the porch!
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