TwHP Lessons

"Journey from Slavery to Statesman": The Homes of Frederick Douglass

Young Frederick Douglass, NPS image
(Top-left image courtesy of the Library of Congress and top-right image courtesy of Janet Blyberg. Other images courtesy of the National Park Service.)


obbing, the small boy watched his grandmother walk away. Under orders, she had just brought the enslaved child to their master's house at Wye Plantation and left him there. Born ca. 1818 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass never knew who his father was and only saw his mother a few times in his life. Brought up by his grandmother in a small cabin, he gradually realized his enslaved condition; but, he did not live it until his grandmother brought him to the home of his master that day.

Like others, Frederick Douglass yearned for freedom. As a teenager, he made his first escape by canoe, but was caught and returned. He finally escaped in 1838, dressed in a sailor's clothes and using the pass of a free black man. He adopted a new name, married his sweetheart, and began a new life in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Over time, Douglass developed impressive speaking skills, giving stirring and fiery speeches. He became a traveling lecturer both in the U.S. and abroad. Douglass also became a journalist, founding a newspaper, The North Star. Remembering his own flight from slavery, he aided other freedom seekers. He became a leader who advised Abraham Lincoln. Douglass was appointed a United States marshal in 1877 and soon afterward purchased the Cedar Hill estate in Washington, DC. In 1881, he served as the recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia in 1881. He also served as the U.S. minister to Haiti under President Harrison. Douglass remained an advocate of social justice throughout his life, and died a respected statesman at Cedar Hill in 1895. He was the author of many speeches, articles, and three autobiographies.

By examining Douglass's life and three of his homes, students will discover how Douglass grew from an enslaved youth to an empowered and empowering statesman.



About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
  1. Map 1: Slavery in 1860
  2. Map 2: The Homes of Frederick Douglass

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Reading 1: Who is Frederick Douglass?
  2. Reading 2: Life at Wye Plantation
  3. Reading 3: New Life in New Bedford
  4. Reading 4: The End of a Journey

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. Frederick Douglass Running Away
  2. The Houses of Frederick Douglass

Putting It All Together: Activities
  1. The Life and Times of Me
  2. The Great Orator
  3. Traveling the Underground Railroad
  4. Slavery All Over
  5. Modern Injustice

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Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

This lesson is based on three historic places related to the life of Frederick Douglass: the Wye House on Maryland's Eastern Shore; the Nathan and Polly Johnson House in New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Cedar Hill in Washington, DC. These buildings are among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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