I soon found a book called Fugitives of the Pearl. It was written in 1930 by John H. Paynter. He was the grandnephew of the Edmonsons.
Next, I found a book that had been written by Daniel Drayton. He was a captain on the Pearl. And a book about slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe had a chapter on the Edmonsons and the Pearl escape. A few years later, Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an anti‑slavery novel.
Many of these important works have been preserved for us to read. Each of these sources gave me an account of what happened. But, I wanted to find out more details.
I looked at census records that track population changes. I looked at other historical documents, like ship passenger lists, court cases, newspaper articles, and more. These materials are called primary sources.
The girls and their brothers were taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, to be sold. Ship records had their heights and ages.
From land deeds, I learned that Mary and Emily’s father, Paul Edmonson, was a free man. He owned a 40-acre farm north of Washington, D.C. Paul Edmonson was freed when his owner died in 1821.
Recreating the Past
The agricultural census of 1850 revealed a lot about the family farm. They had fruit trees and grew a variety of grains. There were three horses, three cows, and five pigs.
It sounded like a wonderful place to grow up. But by age 13, the siblings were working in other people’s homes. The money that they earned went to their owner, not to them.
They had to work because they were slaves. They were slaves because their mother was a slave. The law in all slave states said that, if the mother was enslaved, so were her children. Court records showed that Paul’s wife was enslaved. She belonged to a woman who lived near the Edmonson farm.
My research relied on newspapers, too, especially abolitionist ones. An abolitionist was a person who believed that slavery was wrong. They thought it should be abolished. I found most of these historical newspapers at the Library of Congress.
I also searched the National Archives in Washington, D.C. That’s where important American papers are kept. Records of a ship bound for New Orleans, the Union, listed details of its passengers. Mary and Emily’s brothers—Samuel, Ephraim, Richard, and John— were listed. Their ages ranged from 21 to 30 years old.