“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Southwest Waterfront in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Escape from Slavery

River Farms to Urban Towers


— Southwest Heritage Trail —

Escape from Slavery Marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, June 27, 2009
1. Escape from Slavery Marker
Inscription.  Before the Civil War, Washington was a slave-holding city. But many of its citizens–especially free blacks and abolitionists–assisted freedom seekers at locations known as stops on the Underground Railroad.

The largest attempted slave escape began the evening of April 15, 1848. In the gathering dark, 77 men and women slipped aboard the Pearl, waiting ½ mile down river from this sign. Captain Daniel Drayton had agreed to sail them down the Potomac and then north to freedom. But bad weather forced the Pearl to anchor just short of the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile someone–many said the jilted suitor of Escapee Emily Edmonston–tipped off the slave owners.

The Pearl was apprehended and brought back here. Its passengers were marched in chains to jail near Judiciary Square as mobs jeered. Drayton later wrote, “it seems as if the time for the lynching had come.” Enraged whites rioted for three days, attacking offices of the National Era , an abolitionist newspaper. Unharmed, the slaves were all sold South. Edmonson’s father raised the money to buy the freedom of Emily
Escape from Slavery Marker - photo on reverse image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, June 27, 2009
2. Escape from Slavery Marker - photo on reverse
The Washington Channel and the working waterfront, 1957, before urban renewal demolished most of the area. This sign would have been at the arrow. (Washingtoniana Division, D.C. Public Library)
and her sister Mary, who went on to work for abolition. Emily eventually returned to the DC area, where her descendants still live.

Also nearby were the home and church of Anthony Bowen, a free black minister and Patent Office clerk. Oral tradition says he met escaping slaves and helped them on their way north. In 1853 Bowen founded the nation’s first YMCA for African Americans in his home on E Street between Ninth and Tenth, as well as St. Paul AME Church in 1856.

[Photo captions:]
Photo, upper left: Emily and Mary Edmonson, wearing plaid shawls, appeared at a New York abolitionist convention with Frederick Douglass in 1850. (Madison County {New York} Historical Society)

Photo, lower left: Until 1850, slaves were openly traded here, and sights like this were common. Washington’s slaves were emancipated in 1862. “A Slave-Coffle passing the Capitol.” (Library of Congress.)

Map and portrait, near center of marker: This map shows how far the Pearl sailed before it was stopped near Point Lookout. Captain Daniel Drayton, top, served four years for slave stealing before receiving a presidential pardon. (Library of Congress [route added].)

Portrait, lower center: Anthony Bowen, AME minister, politician, government clerk, and conductor on the Underground Railroad. (Kautz
View from Escape from Slavery Marker toward Potomac River marina image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, June 27, 2009
3. View from Escape from Slavery Marker toward Potomac River marina
Family Archives, YMCA of the USA.)

Newspaper clipping, center right: A writer for the National Era describes the angry mob that surrounded his office on Seventh Street, NW:
Last Saturday night, we learn, some seventy or eighty slaves escaped from this place, in a sloop or schooner, and proceeded down the river. The fact was not discovered till next day, when a steamboat was dispatched in pursuit . The fugitives, together with three white men, who navigated the craft, were caught, brought back, and imprisoned. A great deal of excitement was the result; and the cry soon arose among the crowd that the National Era was the cause of the mischief. Of course, there is no truth in this–not one particle. But, excited men do not inquire or reason. While we are writing this, at ten o’clock at night, a crowd of men and boys is collected about the office; many stones have been thrown; but the police are striving to do their duty. They may fail; the multitude may over power them; but we hope for the best. We cannot but thing that the sober second thought of the ringleaders in this affair will arouse compunction for this violent assault against the liberty of the press–a liberty in our case which even they dare not say, has been abused.
All we have to say is, we stand by the freedom of the press,
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whatever the result.
Wednesday morning, 8 o’clock. The mob dispersed last night about 12 o’clock–thanks to the efficient conduct of Captain Goddard and the rest of the police. The rumor that the office of the National Era was concerned in the escape of the slaves in the Pearl, is utterly groundless–this its originators know, but they are willing to use it to inflame popular feeling against our Press. Whatever we do, we do openly. We cherish an instinctive abhorrence of any movement which would involve us in the necessity of concealment, strategy, or trickery of any kind.
No! No! We understand this outrage. It is aimed at the Freedom of the Press. We own and edit a paper which is as free as the winds of heaven. It bows neither to slavery nor to the mob. We stand upon our rights as a man, and as an American citizen, and will use these rights, in speaking and writing freely upon any subject we please, despite all threats or violence.

Erected by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 10.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Southwest Heritage Trail marker series.
Location. Marker has been reported missing. It was located near 38° 52.7′ N, 77° 1.399′ W. Marker was in Southwest Waterfront
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, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker was at the intersection of 7th Street Southwest and Maine Avenue Southwest, in the median on 7th Street Southwest. Marker is south of Maine Avenue Southwest, at the west end of the median in the 7th Street Southwest crosswalk. Touch for map. Marker was at or near this postal address: 965 7th Street Southwest, Washington DC 20024, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this location. District Morgue (a few steps from this marker); The Pearl (within shouting distance of this marker); Lewis Jefferson (within shouting distance of this marker); Hogate's Rum Bun (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Historic Water Street (about 300 feet away); Denvel D. Adams (about 300 feet away); Stone from First Baptist Church in America (about 300 feet away); Thurgood Marshall (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Southwest Waterfront.
Categories. Abolition & Underground RRAfrican AmericansNotable EventsWaterways & Vessels

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Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2019. This page originally submitted on June 28, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,715 times since then and 9 times this year. Last updated on January 9, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on June 28, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
Editor’s want-list for this marker. A photo of the marker and the surrounding area together in context. • Can you help?
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