Abstract

This essay explores the overlooked significance of Cedar Hill, the landscape estate Frederick Douglass bought in 1877 near Washington, DC, both as a literary landscape and as a form of participation in the nineteenth-century elite culture of nature. Literary landscapes, associated with specific authors and their genius, emerged during the nineteenth century as important sites of memory and focal points for new practices of literary interpretation, tourism, and pilgrimage. The essay demonstrates Douglass’s self-conscious cultivation of Cedar Hill as a literary landscape that supported his claims for elite cultural status and full democratic citizenship. Cedar Hill allowed Douglass to claim both legal and symbolic possession over the landscape, establishing his connection with nature in ways that rivalled southern agrarian plantations and responded to his and other African Americans’ dispossession from the land through slavery. Cedar Hill was memorialized after Douglass’s death as a powerful site of African American identity, but its racial associations disqualified it as nature in the dominant white cultural imagination. Exploring Cedar Hill’s lost legacy as a literary landscape sheds new light both on Douglass’s identity and on the wider intersection of race, landscape, and nature in nineteenth-century and contemporary America.

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