Horn icon. This link bypasses navigation taking you directly to the contents of this page.

Inquiry Question

Historical Context





Table of

About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration files for Wye House, Nathan and Polly Johnson House (and photographs), and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (and photographs), as well as other source materials on the life of Frederick Douglass. It was written by Jenny Masur, National Park Service, and edited by the Teaching with Historic Places staff. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum
Topics: This lesson could be used in units on the antebellum South, the institution of slavery, and the Underground Railroad.
Time period:1817-1895

Relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12
Relevant Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Find your state's social studies and history standards for grades Pre-K-12

Objectives for students

1) To locate Douglass's successive homes and describe his life at each.
2) Using Frederick Douglass's life and homes for reference, to compare and contrast the status of an enslaved person, a prosperous free man, and an American statesman in antebellum America.
3) To explain what the Underground Railroad was and describe some of the risks and obstacles to a successful escape from slavery and adjustments to a new life of freedom.
4) To seek out examples of injustice in their community and to provide possible solutions.
5) To write a short autobiography.

Materials for students
The materials listed below can either be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger, high-resolution version.
1) Two maps maps of Douglass's homes and the United States in 1860;
2) Four readings to understand Douglass's experiences at each of his homes and how they influenced who he became;
3) Three images of Douglass's homes;
4) One illustration of Frederick Douglassís escape.

Visiting the site
Wye House is located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It is privately owned and not open to the public. The main house, its outbuildings, and surrounding acreage compose a plantation originally established in the 17th century.

The Nathan and Polly Johnson House, owned by a local historical society, is located at 21 Seventh Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts. To get to the house from I-195, take exit 15 to merge onto MA-18 S toward Downtown/New Bedford; continue onto JFK Memorial Highway; turn right onto Union St; and then turn left onto 7th Street, the house will be on the left. The Johnson House is in a section of New Bedford suitable for walking. The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, a National Park Service site, has a downloadable walking tour brochure, "The Underground Railroad: New Bedford," which includes the Johnson House. For more information about visiting the house, contact the New Bedford Historical Society at (508) 979-8828 or society@nbhistory.comcastbiz.net. Address written material to: Nathan and Polly Johnson House, P.O. Box 40084, New Bedford, MA 02744.

Cedar Hill is located at 1411 W St. SE, Washington, DC, at the corner of 15th and W Streets. The site is accessible both by public transportation and driving. For more information about access via public transportation, please see the Cedar Hill website. Guests can only tour the site led by a ranger. Reservations are not necessary but all guests must pick up a ticket to join a reserved tour time. Tour times vary but there are usually five tours per day and they last approximately 30 minutes. The house is open every day except for Thanksgiving, December 25th, and January 1st. The park is open approximately from 9a-4:30pm (April-October it is open until 5pm). For more information, call the site at (202) 426-5961 or use the email link on the website. Address written material to: Site Manager; FRDO, 1411 W St. SE, Washington, DC 20020. Any additional information can be found on the park's Web pages.


Comments or Questions

National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.