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The Schooner ‘Pearl’ Incident, 1848

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The Schooner ‘Pearl’ Incident, 1848
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Daniel Drayton, Harriet Beecher Stowe & John H. Paynter
Date Published: 2013/07
Page Count: 140
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-135-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-134-2

Personal Memoir of Daniel Drayton
by Daniel Drayton

Extract from) The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Fugitives of the Pearl
by John H. Paynter

The Greatest Escape of African slaves in American history

This unique book from Leonaur collects three pieces concerning the so called ‘Schooner Pearl Incident’ of 1848. This bid for freedom by seventy-seven slaves from Washington DC, a decade or so before the outbreak of the American Civil War, was the largest ever attempt to escape by slaves in American history and one of the most significant episodes in the struggle by African slaves to gain freedom in the U. S. A. The escape was organised by both white and free black radicals and the plan included a 225 mile sail by the ‘Pearl’ carrying the slaves to the ‘free state’ of New Jersey. Ill fortune and bad weather delayed the escapees and they were quickly captured by an armed posse travelling on a steamboat. The re-captured slaves were punished by being sold into the southern states and the incident promoted pro-slavery riots in Washington. These events proved tragic for most of those who participated in the escape and included imprisonment for some of the instigators. ‘The Schooner Pearl Incident’ nevertheless promoted vigorous political debate about slavery and contributed to the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The Edmondson sisters, two of the recaptured slaves, achieved fame when their freedom was purchased by the congregation of a Brooklyn, New York, church. The escape also provided the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s enduringly famous novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Saturday evening, at supper, I let English a little into the secret of what I intended. I told him that the sort of ship-timber we were going to take would prove very easy to load and unload; that a number of coloured people wished to take passage with us down the bay, and that, as Sayres and myself would be away the greater part of the evening, all he had to do was, as fast as they came on board, to lift up the hatch and let them pass into the hold, shutting the hatch down upon them. The vessel, which we had moved down the river since unloading the wood, lay at a rather lonely place, called White-house Wharf, from a whitish-coloured building which stood upon it. The high bank of the river, under which a road passed, afforded a cover to the wharf, and there were only a few scattered buildings in the vicinity. Towards the town there stretched a wide extent of open fields.<br>
Anxious, as might naturally be expected, as to the result, I kept in the vicinity to watch the progress of events. There was another small vessel that lay across the head of the same wharf, but her crew were all black; and, going on board her just at dusk, I informed the skipper of my business, intimating to him, at the same time, that it would be a dangerous thing for him to betray me. He assured me that I need have no fears of him—that the other men would soon leave the vessel, not to return again till Monday, and that, for himself, he should go below and to sleep, so as neither to hear nor to see anything.<br>
Shortly after dark the expected passengers began to arrive, coming stealthily across the fields, and gliding silently on board the vessel. I observed a man near a neighbouring brick-kiln, who seemed to be watching them. I went towards him, and found him to be black. He told me that he understood what was going on, but that I need have no apprehension of him. Two white men, who walked along the road past the vessel, and who presently returned back the same way, occasioned me some alarm; but they seemed to have no suspicions of what was on foot, as I saw no more of them. I went on board the vessel several times in the course of the evening, and learned from English that the hold was fast filling up. I had promised him, in consideration of the unusual nature of the business we were engaged in, ten dollars as a gratuity, in addition to his wages.<br>
Something past ten o’clock, I went on board, and directed English to cast off the fastenings and to get ready to make sail. Pretty soon Sayres came on board. It was a dead calm, and we were obliged to get the boat out to get the vessel’s head round. After dropping down a half a mile or so, we encountered the tide making up the river; and, as there was still no wind, we were obliged to anchor. Here we lay in a dead calm till about daylight. The wind then began to breeze up lightly from the north ward, when we got up the anchor and made sail.<br>
As the sun rose, we passed Alexandria. I then went into the hold for the first time, and there found my passengers pretty thickly stowed. I distributed bread among them, and knocked down the bulkhead between the hold and the cabin, in order that they might get into the cabin to cook. They consisted of men and women, in pretty equal proportions, with a number of boys and girls, and two small children. The wind kept increasing and hauling to the west ward. Off Fort Washington we had to make two stretches, but the rest of the way we run before the wind.<br>
Shortly after dinner, we passed the steamer from Baltimore for Washington, bound up. I thought the passengers on board took particular notice of us; but the number of vessels met with in a passage up the Potomac at that season is so few, as to make one, at least for the idle passengers of a steamboat, an object of some curiosity. Just before sunset, we passed a schooner loaded with plaster, bound up. As we approached the mouth of the Potomac, the wind hauled to the north, and blew with such stiffness as would make it impossible for us to go up the bay, according to our original plan.<br>
Under these circumstances, apprehending a pursuit from Washington, I urged Sayres to go to sea, with the intention of reaching the Delaware by the outside passage. But he objected that the vessel was not fit to go outside (which was true enough), and that the bargain was to go to Frenchtown. Having reached Point Lookout, at the mouth of the river, and not being able to persuade Sayres to go to sea, and the wind being dead in our teeth, and too strong to allow any attempt to ascend the bay, we came to anchor in Cornfield harbour, just under Point Lookout, a shelter usually sought by bay-craft encountering contrary winds when in that neighbourhood.<br>
We were all sleepy with being up all the night before, and, soon after dropping anchor, we all turned in. I knew nothing more till, waking suddenly, I heard the noise of a steamer blowing off steam along side of us. I knew at once that we were taken. The black men came to the cabin, and asked if they should fight. I told them no; we had no arms, nor was there the least possibility of a successful resistance. The loud shouts and trampling of many feet overhead proved that our assailants were numerous. One of them lifted the hatch a little, and cried out, “Niggers, by G—d!” an exclamation to which the others responded with three cheers, and by banging the butts of their muskets against the deck.
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