From 1877 to 1895 this was the home of famous abolitionist, writer, lecturer, statesman, and Underground Railroad conductor, Frederick Douglass (1817-1895). He was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was given the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. At an early age, he learned to read and write, and escaped to freedom in the North, changing his name to Douglass to avoid recapture. Eventually he settled in Rochester, New York, and was active in the abolitionist cause. He was a leader of Rochester’s Underground Railroad movement and became the editor and publisher of the North Star, an abolitionist newspaper.
After the Civil War, Douglass came to Washington, DC, and served as the marshall of the District of Columbia and was appointed recorder of deeds for the city. In 1889, President Harrison appointed him minister-resident and consul general of the Republic of Haiti and charge d’affaires for the Dominican Republic. During all of this activity, Douglass remained an outspoken advocate for the rights of African Americans.
Douglass moved to Cedar Hill, named after the cedar trees that shaded the house, when he became U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia in 1877. Douglass defied the District’s racist housing laws by purchasing this home in a segregated neighborhood.
It is still furnished much as it was during Douglass’ lifetime. Each room is filled with items from his public life, personal belongings, treasured books. The house also holds many gifts from such well-known figures as antislavery writer Harriet Beecher Stow and President Abraham Lincoln. Paintings of people the family knew and admired are displayed throughout the house. These paintings also depicted places Douglass visited and significant events in African-American history.
At the request of his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, Congress chartered the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, to whom Mrs. Douglass bequeathed the house. Joining with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the association opened the house to visitors in 1916. The property was added to the National Park system on September 5, 1962, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1988.
Frederick Douglass House National Historic Site
1411 W Street, SE, Washington, DC 20020
Phone: (202) 426-5961
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