Commemorating the Pearl

In 1848, 77 Enslaved People Attempted Escape at Southwest Waterfront

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Mary and Emily Edmonson, two sisters who attempted escape upon the Pearl in 1848, later became abolitionists and teachers. Emily Edmonson later moved to Anacostia. Public Domain

On April 14, 1848, 77 enslaved people together climbed aboard the Pearl, a schooner docked in Southwest DC, hoping to sail to freedom.

Theirs was the largest nonviolent escape attempt by people in slavery in United States history on record. Although all 77 were recaptured, the incident and its aftermath contributed to the abolition of slavery in Washington DC.

On Thursday, April 15th, at 7:00 p.m., The Pearl Group will present “Remember the Pearl,” an online event that will be broadcast from Westminster Presbyterian Church.  A commemoration program will follow at 8:00 p.m., at the Southwest Duck Pond, located at Sixth and I Streets SW.

The online event will feature DC historian C.R. Gibbs and Dawne Young, descendant of an enslaved passenger on the Pearl.  The program at the Southwest Duck Pond will begin with a processional led by a soloist and two period re-enactors.   There will be a reading of the names of the Pearl passengers, lighting of memorial luminarias, the presentation of flowers, and comments by Dr. Sheila S. Walker, cultural anthropologist, among others.  The public will be encouraged to visit the temporary memorial at the Southwest Duck Pond between Friday, April 15th (DC Emancipation Day) and Sunday, April 18th.

Reverend Ruth Hamilton, who together with Southwest resident Vyllorya Evans convened the The Pearl Group said, “So few people know about this important part of DC’s history.  Members of The Pearl Group hope this commemoration will renew interest in the story of the Pearl and that it will be the first of yearly remembrances.”

The event honors the long-standing work of The Pearl Coalition founded by the late Lloyd D. Smith and carried on by his grandson, David Smith.

For more information on the Pearl and the commemoration event, please visit https://westminsterdc.org/remember-the-pearl. Join the zoom event by clicking here.