Getting Started

I soon found a book called Fugitives of the Pearl. It was written in 1930 by John H. Paynter. He was a distant relative of the Edmonsons.

Next, I found a book by Daniel Drayton. He was a captain on the Pearl. There was also a book about slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It had a chapter on the Edmonsons and the Pearl. 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I looked at other historical documents, like ship passenger lists, court cases, newspaper articles, and more.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.

From land deeds, I learned that the girls’ father, Paul Edmonson, was a free man. He owned a 40‑acre farm north of Washington, D.C. He was freed when his owner died in 1821.

Recreating the Past

I checked the agricultural census of 1850. It told me about the family farm. They had fruit trees and grew grains. There were horses, cows, and pigs. It sounded like a wonderful place to grow up. But by age 13, the children were working in other people’s homes. The money that they earned went to their owner.

They had to work because they were slaves. They were slaves because their mother was a slave. That was the law in all slave states. Court records showed that Paul’s wife, Amelia, was enslaved. So, her children were, too.

Abolitionist newspapers also helped with my research. An abolitionist was a person who believed that slavery should be ended. I found these historical newspapers at the Library of Congress. At the National Archives, I found records from a ship bound for New Orleans. It was called the Union. The Edmonsons were listed as passengers.