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Edmonson Sisters

mary and emily edmonsonEmily and Mary Edmonson were African-American slaves who tried to make a daring escape to freedom in Alexandria.

Born to a free father and an enslaved mother in Maryland, the Edmonson sisters tried to escape slavery by boarding a ship called The Pearl. The Pearl was stranded in the Potomac at the time, and the sisters knew it would carry them to freedom. However, the girls were captured and taken to the Bruin jail at 1707 Duke Street. Attractive and in their early teens, the Edmonson sisters were destined to leave Alexandria for New Orleans where they would become "fancy girls," or prostitutes.

In Alexandria, the sisters remained under control of slave trader Joseph Bruin, while their father tried to raise money to buy their freedom. Abolitionists including Harriet Beecher Stowe learned of the girls' story. They launched a fundraising campaign and bought the girls' freedom. Mary Edmonson and Emily Edmonson were emancipated on November 4, 1848.

Stowe later shared Emily and Mary's remarkable account in an 1853 book, The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. The story proved the inhumanity of slavery as it was portrayed in her bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In freedom, the Edmonson sisters fought against slavery. In 1850, they attended the Slave Law Convention, an anti-slavery meeting where Frederick Douglass spoke. The girls studied at Oberlin College in Ohio through the support of Stowe's brother, but Mary died of tuberculosis within a year.

At age 18, Emily returned to the Washington, D.C., area and continued her studies. Among her longtime friends was fellow abolitionist Douglass. Emily married and raised a family in Maryland and died in 1895.

 

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Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
703-746-3301 or 800-388-9119
ask@visitalexva.com
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