- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The first sculpture associated with black history in Alexandria, depicting the freed Edmonson, sisters will be previewed Thursday evening at 6:30 at the Alexandria Black History Museum at 902 Wythe St.

Erik Blome, a Northern California artist, designed the poignant sculpture for a commemorative plaza associated with a new office building at 1701 Duke St. The work portrays the teenage Edmonson sisters, Mary and Emily, who were held captive in Bruin’s Slave Jail, which was formerly located on the site. The jail was made infamous by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Pamela J. Cressey, archaeologist for the city of Alexandria, said the Edmonson sisters, their family and hundreds of others once were held captive at Bruin’s Slave Jail, operated by Joseph Bruin from 1844 to 1861. It was one of the largest slave jails in town that offered cash for enslaved blacks.

Once people were purchased, Bruin assembled them at the slave jail for shipment to New Orleans for auction. “This is an aspect of American slavery that many people do not know about - the intrastate slave trade in which thousands of people were shipped from the Upper South to the Lower South to fill the demand for labor in cotton fields,” Ms. Cressey said.

The Edmonson sisters were part of a group of D.C. enslaved people who tried to escape on the schooner Pearl in 1848 but were caught and brought back, Ms. Cressey said. “The Edmonsons were sold to Bruin as punishment for their act of resistance,” she added.

Their odyssey at the Bruin Slave Jail, subsequent shipment to New Orleans and return to Alexandria awaiting fundraising efforts by their family and Northern abolitionists, including the Rev. Lyman Beecher, is recorded in “A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ms. Cressey noted.

The “Key” provided Stowe’s research and stories she had collected about the inhumane nature of slavery in response to her first book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which fueled the abolitionist cause and provoked denials by pro-slavery advocates, Ms. Cressey said. Stowe stated that Bruin was one of her models for the slave owner in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Ms. Cressey said a new development is under construction on the Duke property after archaeological investigation and full historical study.

“The plaza and statue recognize not only the bravery of those who were imprisoned in the slave jail - still standing - but also celebrate the accomplishments of Emily and Mary Edmonson after they were purchased from Bruin and freed,” Ms. Cressey said.