The Washington Syndicate

DC History Focus_Cedar Hill and the Anacostia Sage

Posted in Uncategorized by jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on February 26, 2010

The Frederick Douglass house looms large over W Street SE and Anacostia on a recent morning while elementary students enjoy a field trip. Courtesy Washington Syndicate


The Syndicate found this from an April 1997 National Park System Advertising Special in Newsweek and thinks it would be negligent not to share. 

Cedar Hill and the Anacostia Sage  

The unpretentious yet dominating home, on the heights above the Anacostia River, provided its owner with a commanding view of the U.S. Capitol and the city of Washington. Its owner was a remarkable self-taught man who became a commanding figure in American history. 

Slave, abolitionist, human rights activist, linguist, diplomat, author, editor, orator–Frederick Douglass was all these things, a role model for all people, for all times.  

“To those who have suffered in slavery, I can say, I, too, have suffered…to those who have battled for liberty, brotherhood and citizenship, I can say, I, too, have battled.” 

From a 1990 Post article, “Cedar Hill was the last home of Douglass, the orator, abolitionist and journalist who became known as the “Sage of Anacostia” after he settled there in 1877. Douglass, who was born in 1817, died in 1895 and his home has since been declared a national shrine. 

According to Wikipedia, “The site of the Frederick Douglass home was originally purchased by John Van Hook circa 1855. Van Hook built the main portion of the present house soon after taking possession of the property. For a portion of 1877 the house was owned by the Freedom Savings and Trust Company. Later that year Douglass purchased it and eventually expanded its 14 rooms to 21, including two-story library and kitchen wings. The house has an “L” shape and its plan is reminiscent of the design of Andrew Jackson Downing.” 

The Park Service’s minimal website contains, 

 “In 1872, Douglass moved to Washington, DC where he initially served as publisher of the New National Era, which was intended to carry forward the work of elevating the position of African Americans in the post-Emancipation period. This enterprise was discontinued when the promised financial backing failed to materialize. In this period Douglass also served briefly as President of the Freedmen’s National Bank, and subsequently in various national service positions, including US Marshal for the District of Columbia, and diplomatic positions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.” 

This Chapter 12 excerpt of Narrative, always struck me as testament to the drive Douglass had his entire life, 

“The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. 

When I was sent of errands, I always took my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. 

I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;–not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country.” 

Some great photos and content about Cedar Hill from D.C. Confidential here.

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One Response

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  1. Darrin Davis said, on February 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for the great of the article! As a resident and a Realtor in Anacostia, I love the fact that Frederick Douglass made his home here. It’s definitely one of the selling points I use when showing homes in Anacostia.

    Darrin Davis, Broker/Owner
    Anacostia River Realty

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