Posts Tagged Old Anacostia

Walking Tour of Frederick Douglass’s Anacostia June 8 & June 22, 11am – 12:30pm

Photo by DaJonna Richardson.

Photo by DaJonna Richardson.

As the weather in Washington warms join local historian and author John Muller for a walking tour of Old Anacostia to explore the history of the city’s first suburb and the late 19th century stomping grounds of Frederick Douglass.

We will meet at the visitor’s center of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (1411 W Street SE) and then ascend to the summit of Cedar Hill, the estate where Douglass spent the last 18 years of his life, and take in panoramic views of the capital city skyline. You will learn stories of Douglass’s professional and personal undertakings there, including his controversial second marriage, his service as United States Marshal, and his mentorship of a younger generation of activists. We will then descend into Historic Anacostia and explore the history, the homes, churches and sights that still remain, bringing forgotten historical characters to life such as Lingarn B. Anderson who followed up on reports of John Wilkes Booth’s presence in Uniontown, Henry A. Griswold who with a group of investors that included Douglass brought the streetcar to Anacostia, and other prominent men and women of 19th century Uniontown.

Everyone will be provided a copy of an 1887 map of the neighborhood and I will share historic photos to provide perspective and a frame of reference.

Tours are $25. Dates are June 8th 11am – 12:30pm & June 22nd 11am – 12:30pm. To reserve a place visit SideTour at

Look forward to seeing you soon!

Here’s what others are saying…

“John Muller served as an excellent and knowledgeable guide for our inquisitive group. Muller gave us a very thoroughly research approach to our tour with 19th century and early 20th century photographs depicting Anacostia or “Uniontown”, as it once was called.”  – Nancy Olds, photographer & journalist at the Civil War News

“John is an incredibly knowledgeable leader, just bursting with fabulous information. He guided the tour well and made sure everyone was able to hear.” – Dr. Jack Lowe

“But he’s also clearly an expert on Anacostia, as well; as a reporter with years of experience covering the area, he knows Anacostia inside and out. As he walked us through the area, he was greeted by name by a dozen residents, who obviously knew and liked him. That kind of familiarity with the neighborhood cannot be overvalued, and it made the tour a fascinating mix of Anacostia’s past and its present. I couldn’t recommend his tour more highly!” – Kenlyn McGrew

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Why is Frederick Douglass “The Lion of Anacostia”?

FD Front page of Harper's 1883Throughout his life Frederick Douglass carried many titles such as Honorable Frederick Douglass and Frederick Douglass, Esquire. At a young age he became a licensed local preacher and throughout his life many men felt compelled to address him as Reverend Douglass. He was all of these distinctions in official Washington but in his neighborhood, the city’s first sub-division, Douglass was known as “Old Man Eloquent,” “The Sage of Anacostia,” “The Sage of Cedar Hill” and “The Lion of Anacostia.”

His leonine head of hair appeared in every image and print that ever captured Frederick Douglass, the most photographed man of the 19th century. Over the years his hair and beard turned snowy white. As United States Marshal of the country’s capital city he walked the neighborhood streets from his Victorian mansion at Cedar Hill across the Navy Yard bridge over the Anacostia River and then down Pennsylvania Avenue to his office at City Hall. He continued this practice for many years. “Frederick Douglass, in spite of his age, walks about Washington as briskly as a boy,” observed the New York Tribune in early 1884.

A half-century before, Douglass was a young lion, an adolescent slave roaming the streets of Baltimore, Maryland hunting for scattered newspapers, torn Bible pages, scanning broadsides, and generally searching for anything with reading matter. As a young lion and fugitive slave Douglass rose to become a self-elevated king of antebellum America’s anti-slavery jungle.

Two men tender introductions to Frederick Douglass’s 1845 autobiography. Journalist William Lloyd Garrison leads with a Preface and abolitionist Wendell Phillips follows with a letter.

From Boston in April 1845, Phillips begins, “You remember the old fable of “The Man and the Lion,” where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented “when the lions wrote history.”

I am glad the time has come when the “lions write history.”

Douglass was the king of his household, his neighborhood, and the city in which he died on February 20, 1895. He was and remains “The Lion of Anacostia.”

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SideTour of old Anacostia as seen and known by Frederick Douglass; January 19, 2013 & February 2, 2013

14th & W Street - 1930s _ FDNHSThis Saturday, January 19, 2013, I will be conducting my first SideTour of old Anacostia as seen and known by Frederick Douglass. There are only four spots left! The next tour will be Saturday, February 2, 2013.

We will meet at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (1411 W Street SE) and then ascend to the summit of Cedar Hill, the estate where Douglass spent the last 18 years of his life, and take in its majestic views of the capital. I will share stories of Douglass’s professional and personal undertakings there, including his controversial second marriage, his service as United States Marshal, and his mentorship of a younger generation of activists. We will then descend into Anacostia and explore the history of the homes and sights that still remain, bringing forgotten historical characters to life such as Lingarn B. Anderson and Henry A. Griswold.

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Helen Pitts Douglass was no simpleton; she could handle a lunatic who knocked on her door with ease [Wash Post, Jan. 27, 1889]

Historic memory has been rather unfair to the wives of Frederick Douglass. Simply told, Douglass’ first wife couldn’t read and his second wife was “second-rate.” These attitudes still exist to this day, just ask the Park Rangers at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (FDNHS) who field questions from the general public seven days a week. The forthcoming work of Dr. Leigh Fought should help to eviscerate these fallacies which have held the minds of both the general public and insular academics for decades.

One of the more interesting items I discovered going through thousands of newspaper stories was this one from January 1889 which ran in the Washington Post. The text speaks for itself and I have been told by staff at the FDNHS that this story has helped calm the nerves of some visitors who rush to uninformed judgments about Douglass’ second wife, Helen Pitts.

“At 9 o’clock yesterday morning John Anderson, a colored man living on the Flats in Hillsdale, and who has been acting in a peculiar manner for several days, became violently insane and rushing from his house ran down Nichols avenue, yelling, gesticulating and scattering pedestrians right and left. Turning up Jefferson street, he ran to the house of Fred Douglas and rang the bell. Pushing his way past the frightened servant girl, he confronted Mrs. Douglass and at once proposed to offer prayer. Mrs. Douglass, who was alone, took in the situation, and tried to quiet John, but suddenly he rushed into the dining-room and entered a closet. Mrs. Douglass quickly shut the door and locked it keeping the lunatic a prisoner until Officer W. T. Anderson came and took him in custody. John is a carpenter by trade, and has been subject to temporary attacks of insanity for some time, but was always considered harmless. He was sent to the police surgeon’s for examination and will probably be committed to the asylum.”

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Evening Star calls Frederick Douglass Anacostia’s “one historic character among her citizens” [December 5, 1891]

“Anacostia can at least boast of one historic character among her citizens – a man whose name and fame are probably world-wide. Frederick Douglass, the foremost man of his race in the country, lives in the old Van Hook house, built by one of the founders of the town, on Cedar Heights, between Pierce and Jefferson streets. The house, which is quite attractive, stands on a beautiful knoll, from which one of the finest views of the city of Washington found within the District is presented.”

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Frederick Douglass, J. Sella Martin, John Mercer Langston attend parade in Baltimore celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment [The New Era, May 26, 1870]

Library of Congress

“Not less than ten thousand colored people were in the march, and ten thousand more lined the sidewalks” at the scene of a grand parade in Baltimore on May 19, 1870 celebrating the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave male citizens the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It had been ratified and enacted that spring. Included in the cavalcade was Anacostia Club No. 1, an advance guard of eight men with muskets leading fifty men clad in Indian costume in front of a wagon of twenty women “dressed in the costume of Indian squaws, and several of them carried in their arms infants.” The organization carried a banner proclaiming “We are the True Supporters of the Republican Party. Anacostia Club organized March 26, 1870.”

At the front of the procession were the carriages of Frederick Douglass, John Sella Martin, and John M. Langston, of Howard University, “Every class and condition was represented – old men worn out by the toll of many years of servitude; young men whose early manhood was saved from degradation by the effects of Freedom; and a great army of boys and girls, in whose lives the auction-block will not be a hideous reminiscence,” wrote The New Era.

The band played its last introductory note, the master of ceremonies spoke quickly, and Frederick Douglass was before a crowd of Baltimoreans that knew Douglass as a son of Maryland. “During the last thirty years I have often appeared before the people as a slave, sometimes as a fugitive slave, but always in behalf of the slave. But today I am permitted to appear before you as an American citizen.”  Douglass took his audience back for a moment, “When toiling on the plantation we slaves desired to talk of emancipation, but there stood the overseer, and a word could ensure a flogging.” Recalling a dexterity now known as code-switching, Douglass further told his attentive listeners, “To talk about emancipation without being discovered we invented a vocabulary, and when the overseer thought we were talking of the most simple thing we were really speaking of emancipation, but in a way that was Greek to them.” Applause and laughter broke out. “The negro has now got the three belongings of American freedom. First, the cartridge box, for when he got the eagle on his button and the musket on his shoulder he was free. Next came the ballot box; some of its most earnest advocates now hardly saw it three years ago, but we’ll forgive them now. Next we want the jury-box,” demanded Douglass.

Speaking before a large crowd of his compatriots Douglass preached, “Educate your sons and daughters, send them to school and show that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box and jury box you have also the knowledge box.” Wishful and encouraging, he said, “Build on for those who come after you. I am no orator. The orators who are to come up in hereafter the colored race will throw me and Langston far into the back ground.” Telling the crowd to “get education and get money” at all costs in order to be independent, Douglass told them, “I found that God never began to hear my prayers for liberty until I began to run. Then you ought to have seen the dust rise behind me in answer to prayer.”

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Last original member of MPD remembers hunting for John Wilkes Booth in Anacostia

Lingarn B. Anderson, of Anacostia, 95 years old, oldest member of Metropolitan Police, full-length, standing on porch. Courtesy LOC. []


With the formation of the Metropolitan Police Department in 1861, there was an immediate tension between the flood of military recruits in the city and the newly constituted municipal force. Lingarn B. Anderson, an Anacostia native, was one of the first policemen, attached to the Anacostia precinct his whole career.  (According to City Directories, Anderson, of the 300 block of Jefferson Street, was a neighbor to Frederick Douglass in old Anacostia.)

The old Anacostia substation, originally the first precinct, “was a converted coal office with a part of the room roped off, and we had to keep guard there all the time or prisoners would step over the rope and walk out of the front door.”

Anderson reminisced a half-century later to a newspaperman and the chief of police about the “devilment” that crawled in the city during the war. “Then there were Southern sympathizers,” he remembered. “They’d get busy in barrooms with a gang of abolitionists, and the first thing you knew there would be artillery play, and some of those boys could shoot.” He had a bullet wound in his left thigh to prove it.

“I hunted for him,” Anderson said, his memory shifting to John Wilkes Booth’s escape on horseback from Washington which took Booth over the Navy Yard bridge and into Uniontown where he waited for Davy Herold before galloping towards Southern Maryland. “We heard for a while that he was around Anacostia.”

Suspicions that John Wilkes Booth might be hiding out in Uniontown were not unfounded as testimony of the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial revealed. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Mary Surratt, and others associated with Booth were seen around the area in the immediate weeks and months leading to President Lincoln’s assassination.

Robert F. Martin’s Farmers and Drovers Hotel, at the junction of Monroe and Harrison Streets in Uniontown about a hundred yards from the Navy Yard bridge, was a frequent point of rest for Marylanders from Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Bryantown in Charles County, and Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County bringing their products to the markets of Washington. In March of 1865 Martin was appointed postmaster for Uniontown, in Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Sun commented that the “post office there will be of great advantage to the large number of mechanics and other workmen, soldiers.”

During the trial Martin testified he had seen Dr. Mudd in the market on Christmas Eve 1864 and that in March and April of 1865 he had stayed at his hotel. Martin could not verify if Mudd was or was not up from his Southern Maryland farm for the purpose of meeting Booth in Washington.

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Farmers’ & Drovers’ Hotel, Harrison Street, Anacostia & Robert F. Martin [1877 Boyd’s City Directory, Washington, DC]

Before the Civil War a Farmers & Drovers Hotel was off Maryland Avenue. Later the Farmers & Drovers Hotel in Anacostia would come to be more widely known. For some years it was run by Robert F. Martin, who was appointed Postmaster in 1865 and served until 1881 when Henry A. Griswold, a banker, real estate investor, and eventual President of the Anacostia Street Railway company.   Among Uniontown’s prominent citizens at the time was their new neighbor Marshal Frederick Douglass who lived a couple blocks off Harrison Street.

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Frederick Douglass monthly statement from Robert F. Martin, dealer in groceries, provisions, feed, & C. at Cor. of Monroe & Harrison Streets, Uniontown, DC [Nov. 6, 1881]

Library of Congress, FDP

During his quarter century of living, working, and paying taxes to the District of Columbia Frederick Douglass was not an abstract, impersonal, aloof resident. He walked the streets, he attended meetings organized to advocate for District suffrage, he mentored students at Howard University, he went to church, and he went to the store.

Viewing the personal receipts available on the Library of Congress’ Frederick Douglass Papers collection you can see Douglass had a collection of favorite tailors, a favorite fine tea shop, a favorite house painter, and a handful of favorite grocers. Throughout his years in DC, even if these merchants would change locations Douglass’ business would follow their move.

Historians have analyzed Douglass’ relationships with President Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Delany, Ottilie Assing, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and other notable men and women of his era, but his interactions and relationships with the “little guy” have evaded investigation.

One of the men in Uniontown Douglass knew and was friendly with was Robert F. Martin, a man of many hats and influence in old Uniontown. Martin was at one time or another the Postmaster for Anacostia (Uniontown), the proprietor of the infamous Farmers and Drovers Hotel, and a dealer in groceries, provisions and feed at the prime time corner of Monroe & Harrison Street, today the corner of Good Hope Road & Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.

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Lost in 19th century Anacostia, “The President’s [Cleveland] Visit to Mr. Fred Douglass” [Washington Post, Aug. 13, 1886]

Col. Daniel S. Lamont, got lost in 19th century Anacostia.

While trying to confirm President Hayes visited Douglass at Cedar Hill, I came across this news item telling of President Grover Cleveland (the 22nd and, later, the 24th President) and his trusted friend Daniel S. Lamont getting, what appears to be, lost in 19th century Anacostia, lost on the Southside.

In Life and Times Douglass lauds Cleveland, a Democrat and former NY Governor. Cleveland, first elected in 1884 after defeating former Speaker of the House James Blaine, kept Douglass in his position as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia for a year into his administration. Elected on a reformist platform with the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act still in implementation, upon taking office Cleveland announced that no political appointee would lose their job solely on political reasons, competency was the criteria. With that Douglass was apparently qualified to serve, albeit on a low level, in his Democratic administration.


The President’s Visit to Mr. Fred Douglass.

The President once visited the home of Fred Douglass in a very informal and unexpected way. He was out driving one afternoon with Col. Lamont and instead of going in a northwest direction drover over the Eastern Branch into the little village of Anacostia. After making a few circuits of the roads, Albert, who was on the box, turned into a side road for the purpose of making a short cut. Presently he pulled up before a modest country house, where the road ended. He had lost his way.

“Who lives here?” said Col, Lamont, as he leaned over the side of the carriage and addressed a little boy who was gazing in wonder at the handsome equipage which had so suddenly appeared.

“Mr. Fred Douglass,” was the reply.

The President looked around him and smiled. “Drive on,” he said to the coachman, and a moment later the carriage was rumbling down the hill.

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