Eastern Shore Tour: Frederick Douglass’ Birthplace

I posted earlier about the Saturday I spent roaming around the eastern shore of Maryland looking for historical sites. There was one site that I really wanted to find: the birthplace of Frederick Douglass.

As a libertarian living in Maryland, I don’t have too much to be happy or proud about. Maryland wasn’t the first to ratify the Constitution. It was a slave state. It seems to believe more in “democracy” than in “freedom” (yes, those are different things – and “democracy” is a nightmare). And the news keeps getting worse.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

So, I’ve never been able to marshal too much pride for my home state. That all changed when I learned about Frederick Douglass. Here was a man who was born as a slave in Maryland. He was beaten. He was moved from place to place by his master. Through all of that, he taught himself to read, learned a useful trade in the shipbuilding industry, and fell in love. Eventually he became a “thief” as he “stole himself” and escaped to the north and freedom. Here is a man who truly understands liberty, and made himself into one of its most eloquent champions. Here is a man that I can be proud to share a home with!

Naturally, I want to visit as many of the sites that were important to him as I can. It’s a way that I can connect to his life and my history in a very tangible way, and it’s a way that I can honor and pay tribute to his memory. It just feels like something I should do.

It all starts at the beginning doesn’t it? I want to visit the birthplaces of heroes like Douglass. But when your hero was a slave, born in a shack in the woods on his master’s property, you can only get so close to the actual site. This task is made all the more difficult in Douglass’ case because the historical marker commemorating his birth in Talbot county, placed by the State of Maryland, is nowhere near the actual site.

For one thing, it lists “Tuckahoe” as Douglass’ birthplace. But there is no town in Maryland called Tuckahoe – that name refers to the creek along which he was born. This is partly Douglass’ own fault, because he used that name to describe his own birthplace from time to time.

Also, while the marker is along the Tuckahoe Creek, it’s about 7 miles southeast of the actual site of his birth. There is nothing about that marker that would lead you to the actual site, either. You just have to do your own research to figure out where it is. Turns out, it’s here:

Frederick Douglass was born here

Frederick Douglass was born here

When you get there, there is no marker. There isn’t even a place to pull over on the side of the road and get a proper picture, or take a few minutes to contemplate the scene. Luckily, traffic was non-existent, so I managed to get this shot:

Tappers Corner - Douglass was born in these woods.

Tappers Corner – Douglass was born in these woods.

Douglass himself pointed out the site on a visit he made to the area in 1878. When Douglass was born in 1818, this plot of woods was part of his master Aaron Anthony’s “Holme Hill” farm where Douglass’ mother and grandmother lived as slaves. In fact, it was in his grandmother’s cabin – long since gone – that he was born.

It’s a shame that this site is so inconvenient to visit (let alone to even find). Douglass was a great man and should definitely be remembered and memorialized on a grander scale.

But failing that, can’t we at least place a marker at the right spot?

6 comments

  1. John D. says:

    Love this, Pete. Douglass was an amazing man, whose accomplishments go far beyond the scope of slavery.

  2. Dee Taylor says:

    My husband and I had the same experience as you. We were very disappointed that we could find nothing regarding Douglass except a marker at a bridge.

  3. Dave Norman says:

    Thank you for this article. Frederick Douglas was an inspiring man. Yesterday, for some reason, I drove straight to Tuckahoe Creek and Tappers Corner, from Annapolis, just to get out in the country. I had no idea Frederick Douglas was born there until today. I didn’t even know anything about Frederick Douglas until today..what an inspiration he is.

  4. Valerie says:

    Thanks for this. I drove by the marker today. I was confused that I didn’t see anything else as I had just come from the Harriet Tubman birthplace/museum. Fortunately this blog came up when I googled for directions. Hopefully I will get to the actual site on my next visit.

  5. […] We also don’t know for certain what year he was born, but it was probably around 1818. His birth site is pretty clear from his own writings (though the Maryland State Roads Commission […]

  6. Nancy Krantz says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. Otherwise I would be disappointed and frustrated trying to find it on my own.

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