It was a chilly April night in 1848. Seventy‑seven enslaved people quietly slipped away from home. They set out in small groups toward a sailboat. It was anchored in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The ship was called the Pearl.

These heroic people were leaving the only world they knew. They were leaving in search of freedom.

It was a grand plan. Sail south on the Potomac in Washington, D.C. Then sail north to New Jersey. The journey was about 360 kilometers (225 miles).

The Pearl had not sailed far before the wind died down. The sails went flat. The ship dropped anchor, so the tide would not push it back.

Meanwhile, the slave owners saw that their “property” was gone. They began to search. They boarded a fast‑moving steamboat. It soon found the Pearl.

The slaves were captured. They were taken to a jail in Washington, D.C. An angry mob protested the escape. Loud voices in the U.S. Congress joined in. But, other congressmen called for the end of slavery in the nation’s capital.

At the jail, slave traders purchased the escaped slaves from their owners. The traders took them south. They wanted to sell them for a high profit.

The Pearl escape made people think about the evils of slavery. Then the story disappeared. I wanted to find it.

Washington,   D.C.



Pearl Captured here


St. Mary’s County

Potomac River

Asking Questions

I learned that there were two teenage sisters on board the Pearl, Mary and Emily Edmonson. Four of their brothers— Samuel, Ephraim, Richard, and John—were also there. I wanted to learn more. I started my hunt for information at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.