Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Emily C. Edmonson (b. circa 1835 - d. 1895)
MSA SC 5496-15206
Fled from slavery, Washington, District of Columbia, 1848


Emily Catherine Edmonson was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1835, to parents Paul, a free black, and Amelia, a slave belonging to Rebecca Culver.  One of fourteen children, Emily was raised a devout Methodist, and together with her sister Mary, was hired out by Culver to wealthy families in Washington D.C.  At the age of thirteen, Emily, her sister Mary, and four of her brothers attempted to escape slavery on the Pearl - a merchant schooner belonging to Captain Edward Sayres.  Emily's brother Richard discovered a rumor that slaves were planning to flee aboard the vessel, discussed the idea of escape with his other three brothers.  The decision was made to inform Emily and Mary of the escape plans, and Samuel Edmonson went to tell them at the house where they worked in the city.  Emily agreed to go only if Mary agreed, and as the case was so, the six siblings boarded the Pearl.  The Edmonsons reached the docks on the evening of April 15, and along with seventy seven other slaves, hid underneath the cargo in the ship's hulls and awaited the coming journey.

Some time after midnight, the vessel set sail on the Potomac River, but poor weather hindered the journey and the Pearl was anchored near Alexandria.  Unfortunately conditions did not improve, and the fugitives were discovered by a posse of white slave holders who sent them back to Washington D.C., where they were marched back into the city, surrounded by an angry mob.  A brother-in-law of the Edmonsons witnessed the event, and through him Paul and Amelia Edmonson were made aware of the situation.  A guardian of the Edmonsons came to the jail where they were imprisoned, and promised that if the Edmonson family could raise the money to purchase the freedom of the six captured fugitives, then he would allow the purchase.  The guardian did not live up to his word, the Edmonsons were sold to Bruin and Hill - slave holders from Alexandria - for 4,500 dollars.  Emily, Mary, and their brothers were then transferred to a prison in Alexandria called the Georgia Pen, where they remained for four weeks, before being transferred yet again to Baltimore, Maryland, where they were placed in a slave pen kept by an associate of Bruin and Hill, for three weeks.

The six children were boarded on the Union - a steamboat bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, and although Richard's freedom had been purchased by the family, he was still taken South.  While in transit, Emily was so sick that her family feared she would die.  Once the ship arrived in New Orleans, they were marched to a "showroom," where potential slave holders sat ready to inspect and purchase slaves.  Hamilton, another brother of the Edmonsons, and a free black who lived in New Orleans was sought by Richard, and after being found was brought to the prison where the family was reunited for the first time in over thirteen years - Emily had never met him before.  During their three week imprisonment, Samuel was sold to an Englishman, and at the close of the three weeks, the remaining siblings - including Richard - were sent back to Baltimore due to an epidemic of yellow fever.

Back in Baltimore, Richard returned to his wife and children who were free, and the others were kept in prison.  Three weeks later, Bruin and Hill visited the prison, dissolved their partnership with their Baltimorean associate, and took the Edmonsons back to Washington D.C.  Once in Washington, Emily and Mary were employed in washing and ironing during the day, and imprisoned at night.  Bruin worked out an agreement with Paul Edmonson for the gradual purchase of Emily and Mary, for a total of 2250 dollars, stipulating that if the amount was not paid, they would be sent back South.  Their father traveled to New York, where he was recommended to see the Rev. H. W. Beecher about raising the necessary funds for his daughters' purchase.  The money was raised, and the girls' freedom was procured on November 4, 1848, after which time they were educated in New York with the aid of the Brooklyn church.

Emily became close friends with Maryland abolitionist Frederick Douglass, with whom she participated in anti-slavery activities. In 1853 Emily and her sister Mary attended the Young Ladies Preparatory School at Oberlin College in Ohio.  Their attendance there was made possible through the support of  Rev. Beecher and his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  At the age of twenty and after the death of her sister Mary, Emily returned home to Washington, D.C. and enrolled in the Normal School for Colored Girls in Washington, D.C.

Emily married Larkin Johnson of Montgomery County in April of 1860. Emily and Larkin Johnson lived in Sandy Spring, Maryland with their family. She helped to raise his children from a previous marriage as well as their children together. After years of living in Montgomery County they moved to Washington, DC and became part of the founding members of the Hillsdale community. While in Hillsdale, Emily continued her friendship with Frederick Douglass, who was also a resident of Hillsdale.  It has been said that the two were like brother and sister.  Emily Edmonson Fisher Johnson died on September 15, 1895.

Return to Emily Edmondson's Introductory Page

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