The Pearl Incident

Category: Labor Struggles/History

Used in the following map:

DC Labor Map

The Pearl Incident in 1848 was the largest recorded nonviolent escape at-tempt by slaves in United States history. On the evening of April 15, 1848, in the gathering dark, 77 men and women slipped aboard the schooner Pearl, waiting near the current wharves up the Washington Channel. Captain Daniel Dray-ton had agreed to sail them south on the Potomac and then north to freedom via the Chesapeake Bay. But the bad weather forced the Pearl to anchor just short of the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, someone—many later said a jilted suitor of escapee Emily Edmonson—tipped of the slave owners.
The Pearl was apprehended and its passengers and crew were brought back to the Seventh St. Wharf. They were marched in chains to jail near Judiciary Square as mobs jeered. Drayton later wrote, “it seemed as if the time for the lynching had come.” Enraged whites rioted for three days, attacking offices of the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper they associated with the escape attempt. Unharmed, the enslaved were all sold South. Edmonson’s father raised the money to buy the freedom of Emily and her sister Mary, and the sis-ters went on to campaign for abolition. Emily eventually returned to the DC area, where her descendants still live.
- Fhar Miess