Recently Trump commented, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more”. His comment seems to indicate a lack of knowledge about Douglass and I thought I would begin my Baltimore journey tracing Douglass' “amazing job” through sites in Baltimore. He lived in many places, including Canada and England, but Baltimore had a special significance for him. www.visitbaltimore.com
Douglass was born a slave on the Eastern Shore in 1818 and is believed to have been fathered by his mother’s owner. His mother died and his grandmother cared for him until the age of 7 when he was sent to Fell’s Point, Baltimore to serve as the body servant to shipbuilder Hugh Auld’s son. He disembarked in the Inner Harbor on the wharf at Gay and Pratt Streets and it is in the house on the corner of Aliceanna and Durham Streets that his life changed. Mrs. Auld began teaching him to read but was forced to stop when caught by her husband. He managed to continue learning with the help of playmates and at 28 Thames Street he bought his first book.
Douglass began training as a ship’s caulker in a shipyard on Lancaster Street and quickly became expert. In 1828 he was returned to the plantation as one of the inherited items in a will. Once the will was probated he was returned to Fell’s Point where he continued his craft. Black workers were valuable to shipbuilders because they were skilled and received considerably lower wages fueling white workers’ resentment. On Bond and Shakespeare Streets Douglass was badly beaten by four coworkers and because no black man could testify against a white man no one was charged.
Freedom was always on Douglass’ mind and when he was allowed to retain some of his wages because he was such a good worker he began saving money to finance his escape. Anna Murray, a free black seamstress, purchased a ticket for him to escape aboard a northbound train dressed as a sailor in 1838. She later joined him in the North where they wed. It is from Baltimore that his desire for freedom was forged and from there his legend was launched.
Fell’s Point was established in 1726 and was always important as a deep-water port and maritime center. Black workers, free and enslaved, were always part of the skilled workforce. Walking tours that focus on the African American experience in Fell’s Point are offered and information is available at the Visitor Center. http://www.explorebaltimore.org
Tours of additional Frederick Douglass sites outside of this area are regularly scheduled. Visitors can take a guided tour or visit on their own. The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum in Fell’s Point interprets the African American maritime experience from 1800-1900. It relates the story of Isaac Myers who, along with 14 others, founded the 1860s Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company. Douglass life as a slave is also recounted here. An interactive exhibit gives visitors the chance to try their hand at Douglass’ skilled trade of caulking. Both Douglass and Myers were caulkers, no easy task. A larger than life bust of Douglass is located on the exterior and makes a great photo op.. http://www.douglassmyers.org
The Baltimore Civil War Museum at
President Street Station was the home of the Philadelphia,
Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad and the station from which
Douglass left. He had a ticket but many freedom seekers traveling
aboard the UGRR passed through here, most notably Henry “Box” Brown,
who was mailed to Philadelphia in a box, at some points upside down.
The first engagement of the Civil War took place at the station and
Abraham Lincoln passed through here, disguised, on his way to his
first inauguration. It is the oldest city train station in the
nation. The site is now a museum and is on the National Underground
Railroad Network to Freedom.
Douglass Place, the 500 block of Dallas St, is a block of brick row houses, five of which Douglass built as rental properties. In 1892 he purchased the land for $1800 and erected the 2-story homes as affordable housing for African Americans. At the time he lived in Washington, DC. A historic plaque is located on one of the homes. In 1906 the family sold the properties and in 1983 they were listed on the National Register.
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture is the perfect place to gain a better understanding of Maryland’s 350-years of African American participation and influence. Galleries are thematic and the stories are presented through films, interactive stations, dioramas and artifacts. Highlights include a special exhibit, “Witness,” about lynching in America, Dominique Dawes leotard, information on the correspondence between Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass’ visiting cards. http://www.rflewismuseum.org
In keeping with Douglass legacy visitors
must also explore Baltimore by water. A fun way to arrive at the
wharf in Fell’s Point is by water taxi. You will land at
approximately the same place Douglass did when he arrived from the
Wye Plantation as a child. There are several routes and ticket
options and stops are designed to provide access to all the major
The Spirit of Baltimore offers Inner Harbor tours that feature unparalleled panoramic views. Cruises include dining and dancing and are often thematic, including a Black History Month Cruise.
The Land of Kush is a superior Vegetarian
and Vegan-Soul Food restaurant that has been rated one of the best
eateries in Baltimore. Owners, Naijha Wright-Brown and Gregory Brown
have created an incredible menu with a nod to cultural influences.
Guests can eat in or take out their signature specialties, crab
cakes, smoothies, drummies and Kush BBQ Ribs. Definitely make this a
stop on your tour.
Hyatt Place Baltimore Inner Harbor places you in the center of all of the activities Baltimore has to offer. The recently renovated hotel has beautiful, welcoming public spaces and tastefully appointed, deluxe, private ones. The menu of amenities includes complimentary WIFI, designer bath products and linens and exceptional personal service. The on-site Bistro 360 has a menu comprised of fresh, locally sourced foods in wonderful combinations. Favorites here are the crab cakes and the she-crab soup. https://baltimore.regency.hyatt.com
Thanks to Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau for some of the above photos.