April 15, 2023 will mark the 175th anniversary of the escape on The Pearl the largest attempted non-violent escape of enslaved people in American history. On April 15, 1848, approximately seventy-seven enslaved people—according to one account “38 men and boys, 26 women and girls, and 13 small children or infants” — boarded the schooner The Pearl, which sailed surreptitiously from a District of Columbia wharf near seventh street down the Potomac, with the hopes of voyaging up the Chesapeake to reach the free state of New Jersey. In the early hours of April 18, a posse of slaveowners on a steamboat intercepted the ship near Point Lookout, at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay, and captured the escapees. Nearly all of the enslaved people were sold by their owners by slave traders; many were transported to New Orleans, to be sold in slave markets there.
As we approach the 175th anniversary, the challenge of locating the fate of the escapees and their descendants seem especially urgent. Lines of descendants from Alfred Pope and the Edmonson’s are well documented and Kaci Nash  has made some progress in tracing the post-slavery history of the Bell family. Yet the other fugitives and their posterity remain, to my knowledge, untraced.
Having previously studied the enslaved families in the household of Ariana Jones Lyles of Tenallytown, at her 95 acre farm known as The Rest (in the current vicinity of 39th and Windom Streets NW, Washington DC), I am particular intrigued by three of the enslaved people she owned, who are listed as escaping passengers on The Pearl:
Who precisely were these individuals and what became of them and their kin?
The 1828 Inventory of the Dennis Magruder Lyles Estate
Two of these individuals. Hannibal and Nat, appear in the 1828 probate inventory of the estate of Ariana Lyles’ late husband, Dennis Magruder Lyles, in the Piscataway district of Prince George’s County, at his family seat of Harmony Hall, located about three miles down the Potomac from the current location of National Harbor: “One boy Hanable,” valued at fifty dollars, appears after the name of the woman Sophia, so is presumably her son. “One small boy Nathaniel,” also valued at fifty dollars, appears after the name of the woman Harriet, so is likely to be her son. There is no reference to an Augustus or Gus, so presumably he was born after the 1828 inventory.
The full inventory of enslaved persons, to whom we will return to, is as follows.
Prince George’s County Inventories, Register of Wills. TT vol 7. p. 248. Slaves of Dennis M Lyles, bequeathed to widow Arianna Lyles. (Names followed by valuation in dollars.)
Negro Man John 325
Ellick Oliver 300
Negro woman Kitty
one small boy Abraham 50
one small girl Sarah 25
woman Sophia 200
one boy Hanable, 50
one boy James 150
woman Harriet 225
one small boy Nathaniel 50
one small girl Priscilla 25
One old woman Winny 25
one boy Bacchus aged about 14 years, 200
One girl Jane 50
One girl Arianna ? 100
one woman Mary 200
one girl Betty 50
One boy Thomas 50
With the exception of Rachel, and perhaps Sarah, all of these enslaved individuals passed to Ariana Lyles, the widow of the late Dennis Margruder Lyles. Under the term of Dennis Lyles’ will, his slave Rachel Loggins was freed. (Prince George’s County Will TI#l:438j Prince George’~County Certifi-cates of Freedom, p. 126, 1 January 1829)
In 1836, seven years after her husband’s death, Arianna Jones Lyles acquired the property known as The Rest, which still stands at 4343 39th street on the northeast corner of 39th and Windom, a bit southeast of the current location of Tenley Circle. The house had been previously owned by Arianna’s aunt Sarah Jones Love. The property was adjacent to the estate known as Clean Drinking, which had been in the possession of her mother’s kin, the Jones family. The Rest farm and orchard extended south to the northern border of the Highlands, the Charles Josephus Nourse estate. Presumably, in the late 1830s the widowed Ariana Lyles relocated to The Rest with her young daughter Sallie and fifteen or so enslaved persons. It is from this property, so far as we can tell, that three of the enslaved individuals owned by Ariana Lyles–Hannibal, Nathan, and Augustus Rosier–escaped in mid-April 1848. These three, along with the other 74 or so other escapees on The Pearl were recaptured on April 18 and were forcibly returned to the District of Columbia.
1848: Who Remained in Georgetown? The Case of Alfred Pope
It is generally asserted by historians that nearly all the recaptured escapees on The Pearl were sold by their owners to slave traders. The only clear exception to this case that I know of was Alfred Isaac Pope of Georgetown, whose owner Colonel John Carter, a North Carolina congressmen, decided not to sell him. Alfred, believed to have been fathered by a white male relative of Colonel Carter, held a relatively high status in the Carter household. Alfred’s descendant, the community historian and activist Ann Chinn, shares the family story that Colonel Carter asked Alfred, with astonishment, why he had chosen to escape, given his comparative life of privilege in Georgetown. Alfred replied that he simply could not tolerate a life in slavery. This seems to have influenced Colonel Carter, who in his will indicated that Alfred and his wife Hannah Cole Pope should be freed, along with the couple’s daguther Jedidah, Alfred’s mother Jedidah and other people enslaved in the household, which they were after Carter’s death in 1850. The Pope’s in time became one of the most prominent African American families in Georgetown.
Hannah Cole, it should be noted, was a direct descendant in the female line of enslaved woman Sall Twine, a dower slave held by Martha Custis Washington at Dogue Run farm at Mount Vernon. Hannah’s mother was Barbara Cole Williams, who was held in slavery in the household of Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon, great granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington, at Tudor Place in north Georgetown. Hannah, her descendants note, was fathered by one of the white brothers of Britannia. As Britannia’s (unacknowledged) niece, it may be that Hannah was afforded some restricted privileges within the Tudor Place compound. Around 1845, Britannia consented to Hannah’s request that she be sold to Colonel John Carter, who lived a few blocks away, so that she could reside with the enslaved man Alfred Pope, whom she intended to marry.
An 1867 Freedmen’s Bureau document records that Alfred Pope and Hannah Cole were married in 1847. The following year, Alfred Pope boarded The Pearl, in the failed escape.
It is not clear why Hannah did not join her new husband on The Pearl. Perhaps, Alfred hoped to establish himself in New Jersey or another free state, and in time arrange to purchase Hannah’s freedom at a distance. Since the Pope’s first born child Jedidah was born around 1848, it is possible that Hannah was pregnant or caring for a newborn in April 1848, and thus deemed an escape inadvisable. It may also have been that Hannah was reluctant to leave behind her mother Barbara, who was still enslaved at nearby Tudor Place as a maid to Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon.
Reviewing the 1848 slave trading records
What happened to all the other escapees on The Pearl?
After they were captured and returned to the District of Columbia, some of the fugitives were initially purchased from their owners by the slave trader Joseph Bruin, who in 1843 had formed in Alexandria, the slave trading firm Bruin and Hill with his partner Henry P. Hill. Bruin purchased the six Edmonson siblings and transported them to New Orleans, bringing back the two Edmonson sisters to Alexandria because of a Yellow Fever outbreak in Louisiana. Their freedom was eventually secured through fundraising by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and others. Bruin’s slave jail became nationally infamous after it was featured in Rev. Beecher’s sister Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Unfortunately, no records of Bruin and Hill’s operations survive to my knowledge, so it is unclear if Hannibal, Nathaniel and Augustus Rosier were purchased by the firm from Ariana Lyles after their recapture.
In a widely reprinted letter to the editor, Congressman John L Slingerland of Albany NY, describes encountering (evidently on the evening of April 21) about fifty fugitives from The Pearl, “some of whom were nearly as white as myself,” confined to a rail box car at the District of Columbia’s railroad depot, about to be taken to “Georgia.” Slingerland describes a Baltimore-based slave dealer on the train, purchasing the escaped individuals from their owners. (first published Albany Evening Journal; reprinted in the The Semi-Weekly Eagle, Brattleboro, Vermont. May 4, 1848, under the title “Horrors of Washington-Scene at Washington:). Harriet Beecher Stowe reports in The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Part II, Chapter Six) that after the recapture about forty Pearl escapees were transported to Baltimore, and held there about three weeks, until they were transported south to New Orleans.
Some of these names, including the Edmonson siblings, are recorded on the slave manifest of the brig Union, arriving in New Orleans on 18 May 1848. However, the three Rosier men are not listed. Nor have I seen them listed in the other coastwise inward and outward slave manifests held in the National Archives. (It is possible that were listed under other surnames than Rozier or Rosier, or that they were sold locally within Maryland, Alexandria or the District of Columbia, in which case no ship manifests would record their names.)
1855 Tax Assessments, Washington County, District of Columbia
Are we sure that Ariana Lyles sold Hannibal, Nathan and Augustus Rosier after their recapture in 1848?
The January and February 1855 tax assessments for Washington County (which was until 1871 separate from the capital city of Washington for tax collection purposes) lists the following enslaved people owned by “Lyles, Mrs. Arian[n]a J”, with their names, ages, and estimated value:
Randall [Ford], 48, $350;
Anthony [Riley], 30,$500;
Adam [Contee], 28, $600;
John, 26, $600;
Calhoun, 18, $600;
H[enry?] Clay, 18, $600;
David[Oliver], 15, $500;
John [Oliver], 9, $250;
Eliza [Rozier], 23, $500;
Maria [Brown],18, $500;
Sylvia, 18, $500
Milly, 35, $400;
Caroline [Oliver], 8, $250;
Jack, 3, $150;
Abram, 1, $50
Given that Hannibal. Nathaniel and Augustus are not included in this tax assessment, they presumably had been sold before 1855. It seems likely that in keeping with nearly all the other owners of the Pearl escapees, Ariana Lyles sold them in 1848. (Incidentally, Kitty, the first woman listed in the 1828 inventory of Dennis Lyles’ estate is missing from the 1855 assessment, but I speculate she may be the same person as the Kitty, age 42 (born around 1813) in the tax assessment list of Thomas Marshall, Arianna’s son in law and immediate neighbor. Perhaps Arianna’s daughter Sallie brought Kitty into her marriage with Thomas Marshall.)
Compensated Emancipation Petitions, 1862
In her 2005 book on The Pearl, Josephine Pacheco incorrectly asserts that Hannibal Rosier, escapee on the Pearl, was the only one of the estimated seventy seven escapees who still resided in the District of Columbia at the time of compensated emancipation in 1862. This is clearly incorrect. As noted above, Alfred Pope, a Pearl passenger, was freed in 1850 following the death of his owner Col, John Carter, and continued to live in Georgetown with his wife Hannah Cole Pope, the daughter of Babara Cole Williams, who had remained enslaved at Tudor Place.
There is a Hannibal Rozier in the 1862 compensated emancipation petition of Ariana Lyles, but he was six years old when manumitted, so was born around 1856 and clearly could not have participated in the April 15, 1848 escape on board The Pearl, six years before his birth.
Having said that, the enslaved Rozier family documented in the 1862 compensated emancipation petition of Ariana Lyles is certainly intriguing. The thirteen enslaved people freed in her household are:
Randall Ford, 57
Adrian Conter , 32
David Oliver, 24
John Oliver, 26
Henry Rozin, 8
Hannibal Rozin, 6stemboat
Sophia Ford, 70
[Chiah?] Bowman, 62
Eliza Rozin, 31
Maria Brown, 26
Caroline Oliver, 16
Sally Rozin, 4
& Anthony (no age given)
Of these, Ariana attests she inherited all from her late husband Dennis Margruder Lyles, with the exception of Chiah, whom she “purchased from the Estate of Hanson Marshall late of Charles County Maryland, deceased.”
Of all the individuals listed in the petition, only Randolph Ford matches with anyone listed in the 1828 inventory of the Lyles estate at Harmony Hall.
All four of the individuals with the Rosier surname —Eliza, Hannibal, Henry and Sallie—are born after 1828, so it is not surprising that they are absent from the inventory of Dennis M. Lyles’ estate. Of the four Rozier’s listed in the 1862 petition, only Eliza is recorded in the 1855 tax assessment rolls. Eliza is presumably the mother of Henry, Hannibal and Sallie. Perhaps Eliza, born around 1833, was a daughter of Harriet or Sophia, the evident mothers of two of the escapees on the Pearl, “Hannable” and “Nat.” (I do not know if Eliza took her surname Rozier from her mother, or from a husband, as both practices are documented in enslaved communities.)
1870 Census: Eliza and her Children
I see no evidence of the Pearl escapees Hannibal, Nathaniel and Augustus Rozier in the 1870 census, the first Federal census in which the names of all persons of color were recorded, or in the 1880 census. Perhaps they died in the period since 1848, or perhaps their names had been changed. (In the 1870 census, there is is only one African American with the surname Rosier born in Maryland in the state of Louisiana, the state to which the recaptured Rosier’s were possibly transported in 1848: this is Charles Rosier, born around 1829, living as a farmer in East Baton Rouge.)
However, Eliza Rosier and her children Hannibal, Henry and Sallie, listed in Ariana’s 1862 peition, do appear eight years later in the 1870 census in downtown Washington DC, in an alley off of 10th street:
Randolph Ford Age 57 (hence born around 1805 )
Eliza Rozur, 42 (born c. 1828)
Hanibal Rozur, 16 (born 1856)
Henry A Rozur, 12 (born 1858)
Sally Rozur, 10, born 1860
Note that the ages of Hannibal and Henry have been exchanged between the 1862 and the 1870 census, and that Sally is listed in 1870 as two years younger than in the 1862 petition, which suggests the 1870 census enumerator may have been hasty and somewhat inattentive.
In any event, since the eldest of Eliza’s listed children was born in 1854, six years after The Pearl incident, they clearly could not have been fathered by any of the escaping Rozier men. Perhaps the escaping Hannibal was the elder brother, uncle, or grandfather of Eliza, and she named her child Hannibal ( most likely born in 1854, six years after the failed attempt) in his memory.
It is just possible that the “A” in Henry Rozier’s middle name may have stood for Augustus, and that he too was named for one of the Pearl escapees.
As noted above, in 1870 Eliza and her children are living with 65 year old Randolph Ford (born around 1805), who had also been listed “Randall,” (same age) in the 1862 petition and had been listed as Randolph in the 1828 inventory of Dennis M. Lyles, as one of nine enslaved men owned by the estate. Perhaps Randolph Ford is the father or father-in0law of Eliza Rozier, and grandfather of the children Hannibal, Henry and Sally.
Hannibal Rozier, presumably the son of Eliza, is listed in the 1873 District of Columbia directory, as a laborer, boarding at 504 10th street, SW. I have not yet located further records of him.
Nathan Rosier: 1870 Freedman’s Bank
A possible kinsman of escapee Nat Rosier may appear twenty-two years after the Pearl Affair in the Freedman Bank’s records, in the District of Columbia. On April 16, 1870 Nathan Rosier, age 63 (born around 1807) opens a bank account with a $7.50 deposit, noting that his parents are no longer living, and indicating that he was born and grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland.
In his 1870 bank record Nathan lists his wife Jane Rosier and children Henrietta Turner and James Rosier. He reports as his half brothers Henry Smallwood and Joseph Rosier, and as his sisters Cenia Ann, Jane, Eliza, and Mary.
This Nathan, born around 1807 cannot be the “small boy Nathaniel” listed in the 1828 inventory of the Dennis Lyles estate. As noted above, there is no Nathan or Nathaniel of his age listed in the 1828 Dennis Lyles inventory. Much more likely is that the escapees Nat, Hannibal and Augustus were all young men in 1848, perhaps in their twenties.
Yet this Nathan Rozier in the 1870 bank record seems likely to be a relative of some sort to the group Rozier’s previously enslaved by the Lyles. One of his sisters is “Eliza,” who could be related to the Eliza listed in Ariana Lyle’s compensated emancipation 1862 petition.
I do not see Nathan and Jane Rozier in the 1870 census, but the 1880 census lists a Nathan Rozier, born around 1839, a farmer in Trappe, Talbot County, on the eastern shore of Maryland, married to Jane.
Background: Enslaved and Free Rozier’s
There are many 19th century records of enslaved and free people of color with the surname of Rozier, Rosier, Rozur, or Roser, primarily in the District of Columbia, and the Maryland counties of Montgomery County, Prince’s George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Talbot, and Charles County.
It is possible that this extended network of enslaved and free Rosier people had their origins in the estates of H. Rosier, who is recorded in the 1810 census in Pescataway and Hynson Hundreds, Prince George’s, Maryland, as owning 20 slaves (with two free people of color) and Mary Rosier, who in 1810 in the same district owned 52 slaves. These slaveowning Rosier’s were likely descendants of Benjamin Rosier (d.1681) Charles Cty, Port Tobacco, MD.
The estates of H. Rosier and Mary Rosier, near the current location of National Harbor, were within a few miles of the location of Dennis Magruder Lyles’ family seat Harmony Hall, where the slaves enumerated in the 1828 inventory resided. I am not sure if the enslaved individuals in question came into the Magruder and Lyles family through inheritance or sale.
As of this writing, I have found no direct documentary traces of the fates of The Pearl escapees Nathanial, Hannibal and Augustus Rosier after their recapture on April 17, 1848. It seems likely that they were quickly sold by Ariana Lyles, who had evidently inherited them or their parents from her husband Dennis Magruder Lyles in 1828, to local slave traders. Perhaps they were sold within the District of Columbia or surrounding Maryland counties, or perhaps, like so many other Pearl fugitives, they were transported in New Orleans and then were resold into plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi, where many enslaved people faced horrific working conditions and abbreviated life spans.
One of the many remaining questions from the spring of 1848 is how precisely did Hannibal, Augustus, and Nathaniel learn of the pending escape, as word spread through the network of enslaved and free families in Georgetown? At the time, were all three residing at The Rest, over three miles from the heart of Georgetown up the Fredrick Road, now know as Wisconsin Avenue? We do know that some enslaved people from Georgetown, including those from Tudor Place, were regularly rotated out to family farms in Tennalytown, so they may have helped spread the word. Alternately, Ariana Lyles may have rented out one or more of the Rosier men to a white family or business in Georgetown, where they gained knowledge of the plan. We can only speculate why of the fifteen or so people then enslaved at The Rest, only the three Rosier young men decided to take the great risk of escape, while the others remained in captivity. (Ann Chinn suggests that escape organizer Paul Jennings, who had been enslaved by President Madison. worked hard to spread the word among enslaved people in the area’s affluent households.)
One thing we can be sure of, however, is that, whether they were conscious of the fact or not, as the three Rosier men sailed down the Potomac on board The Pearl on April 16, 1848, they passed directly by Harmony Hall and the other lands on the eastern shore of the Potomac where generations of their forbearers had been enslaved. A day later, as the white posse returned them under armed guard back up the Potomac, they would have passed the same sites of familial enslavement, as they approached the District of Columbia and faced a terrifying and uncertain future.
Mary Beth Corrigan, “The Legacy and Significance of a Failed Mass Slave Escape”, H-Net Reviews: Josephine Pacheco, The Pearl: A Failed Slave Escape on the Potomac, April 2006.
Kaci Nash. Emancipating the Bell Family: An Inquiry into the Strategies of Freedom-Making. O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family. June 2018.
Josephine F. Pacheco. The Pearl: A Failed Slave Escape on the Potomac. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005
Quertermous, Grant S. (ed.) A Georgetown Life: The Reminsicences of Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon of Tudor Place. Georgetown University Press. 2020.
Mary Kay Ricks, Escape on the Pearl The Heroic Bid For Freedom on the Underground Railroad Harper-Collins: New York 2007
Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story Is Founded, Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work. . Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1854.
2 thoughts on “Searching for Three Escapees on The Pearl: The Rosier Men in 1848”
Wow, I find this highly fascinating! My great-grandpas fathers name was James Rosier (born 1844) and his mother was named Jane Rosier. Mind you, our records aren’t in Maryland but further south, so it’s probably a grand coincidence. But this made for an exciting read, thank you for research!
What made you interested in these three Rosier’s?
How fascinating. I first became interested in the Rosier’s through work on enslaved people in the household of Ariana Lyles in Tenletytown, Washington DC. I had noticed a Rosier family in Wakulla County, Florida, and wondered if there might be any connection. Mark