On the Road

I went to Louisiana to try to trace the sisters’ journey. They were turned over to a man named Wilson. The city directory listed a slave trader named Jonathan Wilson.

In New Orleans, however, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in 1848. Mary and Emily were valuable “property.” Slave traders didn’t want them to get sick. So, they sent the girls back to jail in Washington, D.C.

Abolitionists held a party in New York City to raise funds for the sisters. Supporters gathered enough money to purchase the girls’ freedom. With great joy, Mary and Emily stepped out of the slave jail. They were free!

Discovering Their Path

Now free, the girls’ education came first. Harriet Beecher Stowe helped to finance their studies. They attended a school in New York. They learned to read and write.

I traveled there to read the school records. Sadly, Mary died of tuberculosis years later in college.

Following Their Journey

Emily returned to Washington, D.C., to be with her family. She taught at a school for young black women.

Three of the Edmonson brothers ended up free. A wealthy man from New York donated $900 for Richard’s freedom. Emily raised money to free her brother Ephraim.

Samuel escaped on a ship leaving New Orleans. Paynter said that he traveled to Australia and England. Samuel returned to Washington, D.C., after the Civil War. He brought his wife and children with him.

John Edmonson was the only brother who never made it home. A census in 1870 showed a John Edmonson in Louisiana. His name then disappeared.

Telling Their Story

Eventually, I had enough information to write a book. You can read it. It’s called Escape on the Pearl. The Pearl escape changed American history. Two years later, slave trading was outlawed in the nation’s capital. It took a Civil War, however, to abolish slavery throughout the United States.

What became of the people on the Pearl? I found the descendants of the Edmonson family and many of the other passengers. They were teachers, doctors, and so many other things.

There are more American stories waiting to be discovered. Who knows what story we will discover next?

author Mary Kay Ricks

Escape on the Pearl The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad Mary Kay Ricks