The National Park Service in 2015 named Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. This national award honors those buried here who took mortal risks to escape slavery and who helped others become free. You can read or download the full 61-page Mt. Pleasant Plains Underground Railroad nomination here. It recognizes:

  • Ephraim Edmonson and his brother Richard, two of 77 enslaved people who, in April 1848, boarded the schooner Pearl near the 7th Street wharf in the largest known Underground Railroad escape attempt in history. Their brother-in-law John H. Brent and their mother Amelia Edmonson also are named for their efforts in the Pearl escape. They were all buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains, along with 19 other members of the  extended Edmonson family.

    Fugitives of the Pearl by John H. Paynter, published in 1930. Paynter was a historian and Edmonson family descendant. His father James was a member of the Colored Union Benevolent Association.

  • Luke Carter, who hid Pearl passengers in his West End home before their secret departure. Also, Carter, a free man, undertook dangerous travel to the south to rescue enslaved family members. He worked closely with abolitionist and Pearl mastermind William L. Chaplin. Carter died in 1857 and was buried originally at Free Young Men’s Cemetery at 12th and V streets NW. The graves from that cemetery were moved to Mt. Pleasant Plains in 1873.

  • Dennis Magruder, who in 1814 ran away from Prince George’s County, Md., and marched off with the invading British forces to find freedom in Canada. Canadian records document his arrival and settlement in Nova Scotia by 1815. Magruder later returned to Washington. He died at age 95 in DC in 1867 and was buried at Free Young Men’s Cemetery at 12th and V streets NW. The graves from from that cemetery were moved to Mt. Pleasant Plains in 1873.

  • Lewis Ferguson (alias William Henson), William Tolson (alias John Gray), and Edward Marks, who escaped slavery in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, respectively, to join the front lines of the Union Army. Each enlisted in the First Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry to fight in the Civil War. All were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery.

  • Dabney Walker, who in 1862 gained freedom by crossing into Union lines near Fredericksburg, Va., and became a scout for the Union Army. His wife, Lucy Ann Walker, remained behind Confederate lines for some time. As a laundress for rebel officers, she reportedly sent coded messages to her husband across the Rappahannock River by hanging clothes out to dry in ways that conveyed enemy plans. The Walkers were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery. They represent likely hundreds of others buried in the cemetery who came to DC as self-emancipated refugees of the Civil War.

  • Colored Union Benevolent Association trustee Charles H. Brown, who was an early fighter for civil rights in the District of Columbia. In 1855 he was arrested for meeting secretly to aid freedom seekers. Brown was buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery in 1868. The Underground Railroad nomination also honors Association member William Bush, who helped orchestrate the Pearl escape and then moved to New Bedford, Mass., where he was a well known Underground Railroad conductor. Bush died and was buried in Massachusetts, but his membership in the Colored Union Benevolent Association links him to Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park.

If you have ancestors buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery and would like to share their ways to freedom, we are happy to publish their stories. The National Park Service also welcomes factual updates to Underground Railroad listings, and we would be glad to add more names to the Mt. Pleasant Plains nomination at a future date.


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