Originally located on Lee Street in St. Michaels, the Mitchell House was brought to the Museum several years back before undergoing restoration as a public exhibit. The left half of the house is original, with the right half a reconstruction to resemble its former state.
During the years that this house was located on Lee Street, St. Michaels was a center for oystering — with oyster houses and canneries, and growing employment for black waterman and their families. Thousands of African Americans made up one-third of the watermen by the late 1880s.
The house was once the home of Eliza Bailey Mitchell, who was abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ closest sibling. Two years older than young Fred, Eliza became his friend, playmate, teacher, and co-conspirator in the kitchen and grounds of their masters’ plantations. It was Eliza who taught Douglass the slave’s ploy of pretending ignorance or forgetfulness in order to thwart a master.
Frederick Douglass, who was born Frederick Bailey, changed his name to avoid capture when he escaped from slavery. Born at Tapper’s Corner, near the Tuckahoe River and raised by his grandmother Betsey, Douglass lived in St. Michaels between 1833 and 1836 as a slave of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Auld, the family who also owned his sister.
Eliza Bailey married Peter Mitchell in St. Michaels. Peter was born as a slave to the Hambleton family that owned Perry Cabin. Local Quakers, who advocated the abolition of slavery, convinced the Hambletons to free their slaves. Peter continued to work for the Hambletons after he was freed and, after he purchased Eliza’s freedom in 1836, she worked as a farm laborer there, too. They were living in the house by 1871, and possibly as early as the 1830s.
In 1972, James E. Thomas – the great-grandson of Peter and Eliza Mitchell, became the first African-American Commissioner of the Town of St. Michaels and, a few years later, its first elected president. He was instrumental in saving the Mitchell house from demolition in 1981.
Donations to the Annual Fund generously support the maintenance of Mitchell House, as well as our other exhibition, restoration, and education programs.
See more photos of Mitchell House in this Flickr album: