The "Freedmen's Bureau" acquired 375 acres of land that was originally a tobacco plantation from the Barry Family in the late 1800's. In 1867, the land was named Hillsdale by African Americans who came to Washington in great numbers before and during the Civil War. From there, a thriving community of formerly enslaved and free persons was established. The acreage was subdivided and sold, and the proceeds went to fund the start of Howard, Lincoln and Wilberforce Universities.
Frederick Douglass, an internationally known abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman, was very active and engaged in the affairs of this community. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement. In the 1870s, he broke the restrictive all-white land covenant that prohibited the sale of land and homes in Anacostia to African Americans by purchasing his prestigious home on Cedar Hill.