The National Park Service in 2015 named Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site, bestowing a national honor on those buried in the cemetery who risked their lives to escape slavery or helped others do so. The award recognizes the profound contribution that courageous freedom-seekers made to the cause of freedom for all in the United States.
You can read or download here the full 61-page Mt. Pleasant Plains Underground Railroad nomination. Briefly, the nomination recognizes:
- Ephraim Edmonson and his brother Richard Edmonson, two of 77 enslaved people who, in April 1848, boarded the schooner Pearl near the 7th Street wharf in Washington’s largest known Underground Railroad escape attempt. Richard and Ephraim’s brother-in-law John H. Brent and mother Amelia Edmonson also are named for their efforts to help free others. Ephraim, Richard and Amelia Edmonson, and John H. Brent were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains, along with 19 other family members. (The nomination includes the possibility that two other Pearl passengers—siblings Caroline Bell and John Bell—also were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery, but it is not clear whether those named on cemetery death certificates were the individuals of the same names who boarded the Pearl.)
- Luke Carter, who hid some Pearl passengers in his West End home before their secret departure from DC. Apart from the Pearl, Carter, a free man, undertook dangerous travel to the south to rescue enslaved family members. He worked closely with outspoken abolitionist and Pearl mastermind William L. Chaplin. Luke Carter died in 1857 and was buried originally at Free Young Men’s Cemetery at 12th and V Streets NW, the graves from which 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 here at age 95 in 1867 and was buried at Free Young Men’s Cemetery, the graves from which 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. All enlisted in the First Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry and saw battle in the Civil War. All were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery.
- Dabney Walker in 1862 gained freedom by crossing into Union lines near Fredericksburg, Va., and became a legendary 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. Dabney and Lucy Ann Walker were buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery. The Walkers represent likely hundreds of others buried in the cemetery who came to DC as self-emancipated refugees of the Civil War.
- Also named in the nomination are Colored Union Benevolent Association trustee Charles H. Brown, the first Sunday School Superintendent of Asbury Methodist Church and State Department coach driver, who was active in early struggles for civil rights in the District of Columbia. Brown in 1855 was arrested for meeting secretly to aid freedom seekers. Brown was buried at Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery. Another Association member listed in the nomination is William Bush, who helped orchestrate the Pearl escape attempt and later moved to New Bedford, Mass., where he was known as an 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.