On a hill overlooking the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., sits Cedar Hill, the last home of orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In 1877, the year he took up residence there, he was appointed United States Marshal for the nation’s capital, the first African American to hold the post. The elegant house is located less than a hundred miles from where he was born into slavery on a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
I visited Cedar Hill—now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site—on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., and it was in the top three highlights of my visit, along with the National Gallery of Art and seeing President Obama’s motorcade. Surprisingly, of the thirteen people on our tour of the house, seven of them were kids of varying ages—and they appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Our guide shared the story of Douglass’ remarkable life and his journey from slavery to being an advisor to numerous presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, and an active proponent for the abolitionist movement and also for women’s suffrage. Some 2,000 books lined the walls of his library (at right), where he penned his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. The Victorian Renaissance carved oak armchair was originally made for the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the parlor, resting on top of a piano, is a violin (at left) Douglass brought back from Scotland, and he often played the instrument to entertain guests and his family. His grandson, whom he taught to play, was one of the first classical African American violinists.
Cedar Hill’s vantage point offers a gorgeous view of the city, and although much has changed since Douglass’ day, one landmark would have been familiar to him—the dome of the U.S. Capitol, which was completed while he lived in the house. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt