The Fugitives of the Pearl (excerpt)

by John H. Paynter

[Excerpted and reprinted from The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 1, No. 3, July 1916]

This article is the property of the Association for
The Study of African American Life and History, Inc. 

     The traditional history of the Negro in America, during nearly three hundred years, is one in which the elements of pathos, humor and tragedy are thoroughly mixed and in which the experiences encountered are of a kind to grip the hearts and consciences of men of every race and every creed. Just as colonial Americans resented their enforced enlistment for maritime service under the flag of King George, so it may be assumed that with equal vigor did the little band of Africans object to a forced expatriation from their native wilds, even though, as it happened, they were destined to be, in part, the builders of a great and prosperous nation and the progenitors of a strong and forward-looking race.

     There are few incidents that distinguish the bondage of the descendants of that first boat load of involuntary African explorers, that evince, in so large a degree, the elements alluded to, as do those which cluster about the story of the "Edmondson Children." There were altogether fourteen sons and daughters of Paul and Amelia who passed as devoutly pious and respectable old folks. Paul was a freeman who hired his time in the city. Amelia was a slave. Their little cabin, a few miles out of the city of Washington proper, was so neat and orderly that it was regarded as a model for masters and slaves alike for many miles around. They were thus permitted to live together by the owners of Amelia, who realized how much more valuable the children would be as a marketable group after some years of such care and attention as the mother would be sure to bestow. Milly, as she was familiarly called, reared the children, tilled the garden, and, being especially handy with the needle, turned off many a job of sewing for the family of her mistress. She was entirely ignorant so far as books go, but Paul read the Bible to her when visiting his loved ones on Sunday and what he explained she remembered and treasured up for comfort in her moments of despair.

     The older boys and girls were hired out in prominent families in the city and by their intelligence, orderly conduct and other evidences of good breeding came to be known far and wide as "The Edmondson Children," the phrase being taken as descriptive of all that was excellent and desirable in a slave.


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August 2000