The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery

By Don E. Fehrenbacher; Ward M. McAfee | Go to book overview
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3
SLAVERY IN THE NATIONAL CAPITAL

ON THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 1848, the schooner Pearl sailed up the Potomac River to the Seventh Street wharf in Washington, carrying a load of wood to camouflage the real purpose for which it had come. Aboard was Daniel Drayton, a middle-aged veteran of the coasting trade, who had hired the vessel and its captain, Edward Sayres. It was a year of revolutions throughout much of Europe, and the two men found the city preparing to celebrate the recent overthrow of Louis Philippe's regime in France. A torchlight procession that evening was preceded by some extravagant oratory in one of the public squares. Speaking to an audience that probably included some members of the black population, Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi rejoiced that “the age of tyrants and of slavery” was drawing to a close and would soon be followed by the “universal emancipation of man from the fetters of civic oppression.” Two nights later, with the wood having been sold, Drayton and Sayres were busy loading a different kind of cargo. They set sail at dawn, passed slowly down the river to Chesapeake Bay, and turned northward. But a stiff adverse wind forced them to anchor in a cove and wait for a change. By then it was Sunday night. Meanwhile, back in Washington and nearby Georgetown, about forty households had awakened that morning to find one or more of their slaves missing. 1

This mass escape of seventy-six slaves gave rise to much excitement and a mood of vigilantism in the capital city. 2 The first hasty searches proved futile. But then a Negro drayman, vexed at not having been paid for a trip to the waterfront, revealed that all the fugitives had been carried away by the Pearl. Soon more than thirty armed men were embarked on a

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