THE TUCKAHOE is a quiet creek. Frederick Douglass, when he was a child, lived on its low banks. When he was a man, he walked boldly and talked clearly in a world noisy with hatred, but the country he first knew was tranquil. The Eastern Shore, the long peninsula that puts its back to the Atlantic and faces the great, broad Chesapeake Bay, is gentle. Wrested ruthlessly from the Indians in the seventeenth century, it had long been cleared and farmed when Frederick was born in February 1818. Streams, shaded with trees, divided the fields and flowed to join slow, meandering rivers that, in turn, met tidal waters reaching deep into easy terrain. Frederick's first home was a solitary cabin in the woods bordering a brook that separated the farther fields of two farms owned by the man who owned him. But the boy knew nothing of being owned as he sunk his toes in the clay bottoms of the shallow pools over which skater bugs glided.
Rabbits and deer invaded the fields from the woods, and turtles sunned on logs in the Tuckahoe, into which the brook fed. The birds, in rich confusion, made the sounds of morning; one of the great sights came at migrating time, when ducks in flocks settled on the marsh-bounded water below the mill dam. This was Frederick's outdoors home; when he went indoors, his shelter was a cabin built with timbers cut from the woods, sheathed with the slabs of bark left when they were squared, and caulked and floored with clay from the brook. There was no being alone here; a rough-runged ladder led to a rail-bottomed loft that provided added sleeping quarters for his family of cousins and an infant uncle in this house of his grandparents, Betsy and Isaac Bailey.