Mid-Shore History: Frederick Douglass and Wye House with Richard Tilghman


It is impossible to go through the bicentennial year of Frederick Douglass and not talk about Wye House. And that is particularly the case with those who live on the Mid-Shore where one of America’s greatest heroes was born and raised.

While Douglass is only on record of having lived at Wye from approximately age six to nine, it is remarkable how much recollection he had of the place when he began writing his memories some decades later in 1845.

In fact, his memory of Wye was so indelibly fixed that he could recall in precise detail the physical location of almost every part of the estate including its smokehouse, kitchens, stables and slave quarters that archaeologists were returning to Wye more than hundred years later they were shocked to discover how accurate Douglass had been.

Wye is also the place that Douglass returned to at the very end of his life to reconcile those memories and formally forgive the the man who had beaten him while being a slave, the notorious slave driver Edward Covey in St. Michaels in 1891.  On that trip, he also decided to return to Wye House to meet with the descendant of Edward Lloyd, the original owner of the Wye plantation.

The Spy travelled to Wye House a few months ago to talk with the current owner, Richard Tilghman, who is also a direct descendant of the Lloyd family, to talk about the remarkable relationship of his family’s property with Douglass.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial on the Mid-Shore please go here

About Dave Wheelan

Letters to Editor

  1. Thank you for sharing this great interview with Richard Tilghman. Kent School 5th and 6th Graders visited Wye House in the spring and Richard gave us a wonderful history lesson. The plantation is beautiful and our students were so engaged.
    Nancy Mugele
    Head of Kent School

  2. I second Nancy’s comments. Richard and Beverly Tilghman are dedicated and generous stewards of Wye House and grounds. The structures they maintain and the rich stories they collect and share with students, including those from Wye River Upper School are lessons more valuable than any we could teach in a classroom. To Richard’s point, Wye House and the diversity of communities and families that have lived and worked there is a key to understanding the Mid-Shore of the 21st C. Thank you to the Tilghman’s and to the Chestertown Spy.

  3. My name is John Muller, author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia.” (The History Press, 2012. Charleston, SC.)

    On February 1, 2018, my LTE, “Douglass’ college ties extended far and wide,” was published in The Star Democrat.

    I work with members of the Bailey-Douglass family, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., Howard University, Library of Congress, indigenous Douglassonians in Old Anacostia and a number of organizations and individuals on matters related to the uplifting of the scholarship of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass.

    Thank you for publishing this interview and video. I have one point of scholarly clarification re: the second paragraph of this story states:

    “While Douglass is only on record of having lived at Wye from approximately age six to nine, it is remarkable how much recollection he had of the place when he began writing his memories some forty years later in 1845.”

    Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February 1818, according to records maintained by the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Maryland. Thusly 2018 is the year of the Bicentennial Celebration of the documented birth year of Dr. (Bailey) Douglass.

    Published in the spring of 1845 by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, the book — Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave — caused a national and local stir. Its publication came less than a full seven years henceforth from Frederick Bailey’s September 3, 1838 flight from enslavement in Fell’s Point in Baltimore, Maryland. At the time of the book’s publication in 1845 Dr. (Bailey) Douglass was just 27 years old.

    Thusly, Dr. (Bailey) Douglass’ first book was not published “some forty years later,” as your story advances. Instead, it would be accurate to advance Dr. (Bailey) Douglass wrote his first autobiography less than two decades since he was last known to have been at the Wye House.

    In the 1970s Douglassonian biographer and local Talbot County journalist-historian Dickson Preston encountered doubt on the Shore as to the accuracy of Douglass’ account of the Shore as told in his 1845 and subsequent biographical writings. Through a series of groundbreaking discoveries and investigatory efforts made into local repositories and archives Mr. Preston was able to confirm nearly every detail Douglass wrote about. It is within historical possibility that Dr. (Bailey) Douglass’ was aided in life with a photographic memory.

    While it may be a minor point of contention and error with established and historic fact, the accurate and truthful telling of Dr. (Bailey) Douglass on the Shore is of utmost importance. If the history is not properly told it is not properly honored. The facts are critical to both the families of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass and Edward Lloyd IV.

    I would hope you will reach out to me to discuss Dr. (Bailey) Douglass in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Rochester, the Shore, Europe, Egypt and/or the details of his life not often known and discussed by speculative historians.

    Very respectfully,

    John Muller
    Capital Community News l Greater Greater Washington l Washington Syndicate

    Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C: The Lion of Anacostia [The History Press, 2012] Winner of 2013 DC READS
    Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent [The History Press, 2013]

    • Thank you Mr. Muller for the correction. We’ve amended the article and grateful for your note.

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