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Frederick Douglass, ca. 1866

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Talbot County on Maryland’s eastern shore in February 1818.

He was the country's first civil rights leader, social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, best-selling author, businessman, and statesman.

After several unsuccessful attempts, on September 3, 1838, at the age of 20, Douglass successfully escaped slavery. Once in New York, he sent for the woman he had fallen in love with, the woman who aided his escape, Anna Murray, a free Black woman from Baltimore.

He changed his last name to protect himself and married in Anna Murray in 1838. Together they had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood.

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Anna Murray Douglass

It was Charles Douglass, the youngest son of Frederick and Anna Douglass, who found Highland Beach.

His children became an integral part of the community. We will focus on this aspect of the family and their importance to the town of Highland Beach.

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Charles R. Douglass

Charles Remond Douglass was the first African-American to enlist in military service during the Civil War, volunteering for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. He rose to the rank of Major. 

 

When the family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1867, he worked as a clerk in the Freedmen's Bureau, the Treasury Department, and numerous other federal agencies. 

 

He was appointed a trustee for the District of Columbia schools in 1872. He worked to employ the first African-American teachers in the district's schools and assured they received equal pay.

Charles had six children with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth, but only one child, Joseph Henry, lived to adulthood. After his first wife passed away, Charles married Laura and they had one son, Haley George.

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Charles R. Douglass

In 1892, Charles and Laura visited a resort along the Chesapeake Bay. They were denied service because of their race.

They walked along the beach and crossed the small stream of Black Walnut Creek. They had found their dream. It was farmland owned by a free Black farmer, Daniel Brashears.  

The next year, with the help of his father, Charles bought 26 and 2/3 acres and founded Highland Beach.

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Haley George Douglass was just eleven years old when his father and mother established Highland Beach.

The following year, 1893, he wrote his grandfather a letter, which read in part:

"I am down on the Bay spending the summer.  I go out fishing and crabbing almost every day.  I have learned to swim real well and I can swim over a hundred yards without stopping to rest."

Haley George Douglass
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Mr. Douglass at Dunbar High School
Photo Courtesy: Dunbar Alumni Federation

Haley Douglass would go on to attend Howard University and Harvard University.

 

He taught science and history at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. for 46 years. 

 

He built the house at 3206 Wyman Avenue in Highland Beach. He continued to spend his summers at "The Beach" until his death in 1954.

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Haley G. Douglass on the Bay
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In 1921, Haley Douglass served on the committee that successfully petitioned to incorporate the Town of Highland Beach.

In July of 1923, Haley Douglass was elected the first mayor of Highland Beach.  He served for two years and served again from 1928 until 1953.

Haley Douglass was survived by two children, a daughter Jean M. Douglass and a son, Joseph A. Douglass.  Both children spent their summers in Highland Beach.

Mayor Haley Douglass on the town pier with Norma Murray Jorgensen and residents and guests, ca. 1940s.
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Joseph Douglass with his grandfather, Frederick Douglass 

The eldest son of Charles Douglass, Joseph Henry Douglass, was also integral to the Highland Beach community.  In fact, Twin Oaks, the house built for Frederick Douglass, was bequeathed to him.

Frederick Douglass died just months before his summer house was completed. And, while he left it to his favorite grandson, Joseph, it was actually Frederick Douglass' oldest son, Lewis, and his wife Amelia who enjoy the home for the first few years.

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Lewis Douglass and wife, Amelia

Joseph Douglass, by all accounts, was the world's first famous, professional African-American violinist. He received classical training at New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory.

Joseph Douglass made regular appearances at the White House during the administrations of Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft.  He was the first African-American violinist to tour in the United States.

 

Joseph Douglass also served as music director at Howard University.

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Beginning in the 1920s, Joseph Douglass, wife Fannie, and children Blanche and Frederick III began to summer in Highland Beach.

They were a musical couple. Fannie played piano and was a music teacher.  During the summers in Highland Beach impromptu concerts lured residents to the porch at Twin Oaks.

Blanche died after a brief illness during a summer visit. She was about eleven years old at the time.

Frederick III and the family continued to spend summers at this thriving community along the Chesapeake Bay.  

Joseph and Fannie Douglass with their children, Blanche and Frederick III

For the Douglass family, summers in Highland Beach included service to their community. 

 

Fannie Douglass was no exception. She served as postmaster for the community from 1923 until 1953.

 

The distribution of the mail took place from Twin Oaks. Children from the neighborhood would line up on the porch to receive their mail.  

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Fannie Douglass stands on the back steps of Twin Oaks at the entrance to the post office pick-up window.
The museum proudly displays Fannie Douglass' desk and post office mail sorting station.
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Fannie Douglas receives a community service award from her friend and neighbor, Mary Church Terrell (far left). 
Photo Courtesy: Paul Foster Collection
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Dr. Frederick Douglass III and Nettie Hancock Washington Douglass
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Nettie Douglass (left) and Kellene Underdown on the Highland Beach fishing pier. 
Photo Courtesy: Underdown Bruce family

Frederick III was the great-grandson of Frederick Douglass. He married the granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, Nettie Hancock Washington.

 

They met on the campus of Tuskegee University.  They married three months later in 1941.

 

Frederick Douglass III was a physician.  Nettie was a school teacher. They had one child.

Their daughter Nettie Washington Douglass (Nettie II) spent her summers in Highland Beach, staying with her grandmother Fannie.

Eventually, Nettie Douglass' children, the great-great-great-grandchildren of Frederick Douglass, would also spend time in Highland Beach, again, staying at Twin Oaks with their great-grandmother, Fannie Douglass.

Fannie passed away in 1985 at the age of 101. She left Twin Oaks to her granddaughter, Nettie II. After Nettie and her family moved to California, the house was vacant. Eventually, the family decided it was best to sell the historic property. In 1986, it was sold to historic architect, Charles Bohl and his wife, Barbara. They then began a meticulous renovation.