Exploring Cedar Hill: Frederick Douglass’ DC Home

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Erica Jones
Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1818. He escaped at age 20, and became a prominent abolitionist, orator and author.
In 1877, Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Anna Douglass. The couple called the Anacostia property Cedar Hill. The large two-story home sits on top of a 50-foot hill and is just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol. "In a way, this was the best of both worlds. You could walk a mile and a half and be in D.C. or be here and have the benefits of the country," said Vince Vaise, the chief of visitor services for the National Park Service,.
This room was used to entertain guests. It features pictures and busts of figures Douglass admired. Vaise says the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site has more Douglass artifacts than anywhere else in the world.
Douglass wrote the third volume of his autobiography in this office. Vaise says a pen on the desk even has Douglass' teeth marks in it.
In the dining room, visitors see what a meal was like in the Douglass household. A display on one side of the room features china that belonged to the family.
One of Douglass' favorite dishes was Maryland Broken Biscuits. Vaise says the biscuits took some time to prepare and were crispy in texture.
This was the bedroom of Douglass' first wife, Anna. During that time, it was common for spouses to have separate bedrooms. Frederick Douglass and Anna Douglass were married for 44 years. She died from a stroke in 1882.
Two years after Anna Douglass' death, Frederick Douglass married Helen Pitts Douglass. Douglass' marriage to Helen Pitts Douglass created a stir within the family because of her race and age. After his death, Helen Pitts Douglass was a pivotal force in preserving Cedar Hill.
All throughout Cedar Hill, you'll see artifacts that help you learn more about Douglass as a person. In his bedroom, you'll find dumbells and downstairs there is a violin. "Here's a guy who not only secured his own freedom, but he also found the time to teach himself the violin," Vaise said.
"His life was to destroy negative stereotypes of African Americans," Vaise said. "When you say Douglass, you're really looking at a renaissance man."
Douglass used these trunks when he traveled. Before one trip to the south, a newspaper published that he would be lynched if he came. Douglass clipped the article and carried it with him on the trip.
This cottage was built for the caretaker of the home in the years after Douglass' death.
The growlery was Douglass retreat. He often used as a space to write. The small room only contains a desk, chair and fireplace.
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