Could it possibly be that these splendid truths, this forecast of universal liberty, might include them too? A few of the more intelligent, among whom was Samuel Edmondson, drew together to discuss the event and were not long concluding that the authority they had listened to could not be questioned and that they should at once contribute their share towards so desirable a consummation.

     Coincident with this celebration there had arrived at Washington the schooner Pearl with Daniel Drayton2 as super-cargo, Captain Sayres, owner, and a young man, Chester English, as sailor and cook. Drayton witnessed the great demonstration near the White House and, as might have been expected, the sentiment that seemed to have won all Washington found a natural and active response, for when the news of the purpose of his visit was communicated by the woman for whose deliverance he had agreed to make the trip, he was appealed to on behalf of others and consented to take all who should be aboard by ten o'clock that night.

     The Edmondson boys actively promoted the scheme and, rightly in so just a cause, abused the privileges which their integrity and unusual intelligence had won for them. The news was passed to an aggregate of 77 persons, all of whom faithfully appeared and were safely stowed away between decks before midnight. Samuel sought his sisters Emily and Mary at their places of employment and acquainted them with his purpose. They at first hesitated on account of the necessity of leaving without seeing their mother, but were soon persuaded that it was an opportunity they should not be willing to neglect.

     The Pearl cast free from her moorings shortly after midnight Saturday and silently, with no sign of life aboard, save running lights fore and aft, crept out to mid-stream and made a course towards the lower Potomac. The condition that obtained on Sunday morning after the discovery of the absence of so many slaves from their usual duties may be accurately described as approaching a panic. Had the evidences of a dreadful plague become as suddenly manifest, the community could not have experienced a greater sense of horror or for the moment been more thoroughly paralyzed. A hundred or more families were affected through the action of these seventy and seven slaves and the stern proofs of their flight were many times multiplied.

     The action of the masters in this emergency is eloquent testimony that the fine orations of two days before concerning the spread of liberty and universal brotherhood had been nothing more than so many meaningless conversations. When confronted on Sunday morning with the fact that theirs and their neighbors' slaves, in so great numbers, had disappeared during the night, the realization of the difference between popular enthusiasm for a sentiment and a real sacrifice for a principle was borne in upon them and they found that while they enjoyed the former they were not at all ready to espouse the latter.


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August 2000