In 1848, roughly 80 slaves from the District slaves boarded a schooner named the Pearl in an attempt to sail to freedom in the North.

Weather conditions ultimately led to their recapture. Among those on the vessel were teenagers Mary and Emily Edmonson.

Asbury United Methodist Church, which celebrated its 175 anniversary this month was one of three churches involved in the largest escape attempt in District history.

Members of the Edmonson lineage sit in the first few rows of the University of the District of Columbia Auditorium on October 15, 2011. (Macy L. Freeman/The Washington Post)

“This was the catalyst among many others that led to national recognition that slavery was a problem,” said David Smith, executive director of the Pearl Coalition, organization established “to foster a modern cultural understanding of slaves, slavery, and escapes from slavery, in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.”

Marietta Williams, the director and writer of "Washington's Greatest Slave Escape," greets a member of the Asbury congregation after the production. (Macy L. Freeman/The Washington Post)

“A lot of people don’t know what happened back during slavery, especially about five or six generations back, and this will enlighten them,” said Gilbert, who was accompanied by her two sons and grandson.

Her son Stephan Gilbert, 51, of Bowie, said the capture of the Pearl was meant to be as it subsequently led to changes nationally in terms of slavery. “It was part of God’s will,” he said.

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