Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Long Weekend, a Great Man: A driving tour takes you through the life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass statue at the Talbot County Courthouse.

For a short month, February seems awfully long.

With the holidays behind us, it may seem like there’s little to look forward to, that is, unless you’re up for a change of scenery. If so, you may want to consider taking a road trip to Maryland to learn more about Frederick Douglass. The Frederick Douglass Driving Tour is not only educational, but also timely, given that it’s Black History Month.

Frederick Douglass, born in 1817, was known as an American social reformer, author, orator and prominent abolitionist. In 1877, he proclaimed, “I’m an Eastern Shoreman, with all that name implies.” So, it stands to reason that the driving tour would start on the eastern shore of Maryland in Queen Anne. The Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe is where Douglass spent his formative years, which prepared him to fight for civil rights as he matured into adulthood.

About 12 miles away, in the town of Easton, is the Frederick Douglass Statue at the Talbot County Courthouse, where Douglass gave his famous “Self-Made Men” speech to a segregated audience. In the speech, Douglass said, “My theory of self-made men is, then, simply this; they are men of work. Whether or not such men have acquired material, moral or intellectual excellence, honest labor faithfully, steadily and persistently pursued is the best, if not the only explanation, of their success.”

Not far from Easton is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. The Maritime Museum is comprised of 12 buildings tracing the geological, social and economic history of the Chesapeake Bay. Here, visitors can view the home of Douglass’s sister, Eliza Bailey Mitchell, who lived there with her free husband Peter and their two children. Eliza was one of the only siblings with whom Douglass maintained a relationship throughout the years.

According to Peter Lesher, chief curator at the museum, Peter was enslaved by the Hambletons, who owned what is now Perry Cabin, which is also on the tour and located just west of St. Michaels.

“The Hambletons were persuaded to free their slaves, and Peter was able to work on the land as a wage earner,” Lesher said. “He subsequently purchased Eliza’s freedom.”

Next, head to Annapolis where Douglass delivered several notable speeches at the Maryland State House. In 1874, he spoke in the Senate chamber, a decade after Maryland’s constitution emancipated its slave population. A newspaper account described him walking in front of the painting, “Washington Resigning His Commission,” by Edwin White and reciting from memory George Washington’s resignation speech of Dec. 23, 1783.

Next on the tour is the Banneker-Douglass Museum, also in Annapolis. Housed within the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, the museum is a collection of African-American artifacts representing history and culture.

Wax & Works

If time permits, consider continuing on to Baltimore to learn about Douglass’s life there, starting at the Fells Point National Historic District. It was here that Douglass was sent by boat from St. Michaels at the age of 8 to live and work as a slave for Hugh Auld. Today, the area is known for its restaurants, pubs and boutiques. It is also home to the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park, which offers details on Douglass’s life as an enslaved child.

Not far away from the Fells Point area is the President Street Station on President Street in Baltimore. The former train station now houses the Baltimore Civil War Museum. This was a particularly important place for Douglass, for it was here that he escaped slavery in 1838 by disguising himself and boarding a train heading to Philadelphia.

Head north on President Street, and you’ll find the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture. The museum celebrates more than 350 years of Maryland African-American history and culture, including the story of Frederick Douglass.

A few miles north of Fells Point is the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, founded by Dr. Joanne Martin and her late husband Elmer. Dr. Martin explained that the museum, which now houses about 150 wax figures, began modestly in an effort to educate the public.

“We started as a traveling exhibit in 1980, purchasing four wax figures and driving them to schools, churches and malls,” she said.

Martin chuckled as she reflected on the early days, saying that it wasn’t unusual to visit her apartment and see part of Harriett Tubman on a dresser or Douglass’s torso in a corner. The exhibit was so well received that it grew and was moved to a storefront in downtown Baltimore in 1983, before ending up in a firehouse on North Avenue in 1988.

The Maryland tour ends with a visit to the University of Maryland College Park, which features a statue of Douglass in front of the Hornbake Library at Frederick Douglass Square. Visitors can venture inside to view an exhibition titled, “Frederick Douglass: Scholarship and Legacy,” which features his works and images.

If you have a long weekend ahead, you can complete the first half of the tour in one day and continue onto Douglass’s time in Baltimore on day two.

These are just the highlights of a tour that celebrates the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass. Hopefully, this will pique your curiosity to learn even more about this man who changed America.

To learn more, visit, where you’ll find a link for the Frederick Douglass Driving Tour.


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