Women’s History Month: MCM Spotlights Abolitionist and Activist Emily Edmonson

In honor of Women’s History Month, MCM is recognizing some of Montgomery County’s most notable women. Women who have driven change, fought for equality and provided representation for the many diverse parts of our community.

Emily Edmonson was born in Montgomery County in 1835. Her father Paul was a free man and her mother Amelia was enslaved. Emily was one of 14 children all born into slavery because of their mother’s status.

In 1848, Edmonson and her siblings sought to escape slavery along with 77 other slaves via the Pearl, a ship that was heading North. While sailing down the Potomac, a captain of another ship noticed the Pearl and reported it. Soon after, the Pearl was intercepted while docked in a creek. Edmonson and the other slaves were taken to a D.C. jail.

The slaves were bought by slave traders, Bruin & Hill, from Alexandria, Virginia. They were taken to New Orleans where they endured inhumane conditions. Around this time, there was a Yellow Fever outbreak and Edmonson and her sister Mary were taken back to Alexandria.

Edmonson’s father sought help from Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and liberated his daughters on November 4, 1848. The church that helped free the girls raised money to send them to college.

Edmonson and her sister attended the New York Central College in Cortland, New York. While attending, they protested alongside Frederick Douglass to demonstrate against the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act made it legal to arrest runaway slaves anywhere in the U.S. and have them returned to their owners.

In 1860, she married Larkin Johnson and moved to Sandy Spring where they lived for 12 years. Edmonson and her husband moved to Anacostia and became the founding members of the Hillsdale Community. She continued to fight in the abolitionist movement and maintained her friendship with Frederick Douglass.

Emily Edmonson passed away in her home in 1895. A full account of Edmonson’s slavery is featured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, “A Key To Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Her work during the abolitionist movement has helped pave the way for the community we live in today.

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Ashley Profitt

About Ashley Profitt

Broadcast Journalism Student at University of Maryland College Park and Intern at Montgomery Community Media.

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