Sea Change!

Sea Change!

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“The reason we’re here tonight is really because of David Smith and his family,” said Max Kennedy at a book party in his honor for Sea ChangeA Man, A Boat, and A Journey Home at the residence of Sarah and Bob Nixon in Georgetown.  “I don’t know how many of you know the story of  The Pearl, but David is gonna tell us a little bit about it. The whole point of this book was to try to bring a real wooden schooner to Washington DC to represent The Pearl and to give children who are going to the public schools in DC a chance at experiential learning, a chance to experience the natural environment, and a chance also to understand what it was, to some degree, to try to escape to freedom.”

Max Kennedy Bob Nixon Liz Stevens

First things first: “The Pearl Incident was the largest recorded nonviolent escape attempt by slaves in United States history. On April 15, 1848, seventy-seven slaves attempted to escape Washington D.C. by sailing away on a schooner called The Pearl. Their plan was to sail south on the Potomac River, then north up the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River to the free state of New Jersey, a distance of nearly 225 miles (362 km). The attempt was organized by both abolitionist whites and free blacks, who expanded the plan to include many more slaves. Paul Jennings, a former slave who had served President James Madison, helped plan the escape. The slaves, including men, women and children, found their passage delayed by winds running against the ship. Two days later, they were captured on the Chesapeake Bay near Point Lookout, Maryland by an armed posse traveling by steamboat. As punishment, the owners sold most of the slaves to traders who took them to the Deep South.”  Wikipedia

“David’s father was an extraordinary community activist as is David now in Washington, DC and he was one of the few people who kept the story of The Pearl alive which is the background behind the entire book,” Kennedy told Hollywood on the Potomac. “They had very good jobs. Many of them  lived in their own homes and so it was an enormous risk to take just for the freedom. It wouldn’t have changed their lifestyle much.  So the story of this boat is the story about all of us trying to get from California to Washington and she was kind of leaking a little bit.”

“So I have to be completely honest,” replied Smith, “my introduction to The Pearl came from Lloyd Smith. He was the head of the Department of Planning and while he was doing his work, doing his planning around the city, he found this history that was rooted in ’79, and he just dedicated his life to it. My grandfather was eccentric. If you knew Lloyd Smith you would know that once he’s passionate about something, there’s no taking his teeth off. So when I got involved with him, I was working [as a] River Keeper on the Anacostia – actually at Buzz’s point, the location where about 30 of these people boarded the boat to escape.”

David Smith and Maxwell Kennedy

About Sea Change: “In this fast-paced and rollicking book, author Maxwell Taylor Kennedy takes readers on a wild ride as he relates the harrowing voyage to deliver his boat, Valkyrien, a 90-foot dilapidated wooden schooner, from San Francisco to Washington, DC. From day one, Kennedy and his skeleton crew face difficult odds and personal danger in their quest to make the crossing. Rich in nautical detail and humor, Kennedy recounts his adventure―its pleasures and perils―as he encounters never-ending technical problems and a hilarious cast of characters. As everything goes wrong and trouble and losses mount, Kennedy must rely on instinct and a lifetime of sailing experience to endure, steered by the love of his family, his respect for the sea, and his admiration for those who dare to venture far from shore.”  Islandport Press

Max Kennedy Bob Nixon David Smith Liz Stevens

“So I’ll give you a little bit of background on the story of The Pearl,” explained David “These people were of all races that were on that boat. The abolitionist movement was not a black or indigenous thing. It was Irish and Jewish and Moorish – everyone was involved. People came together of all races, all socioeconomic classes and fought for one thing we all have in common and that is freedom for ourselves and our children. I met Max and he’s one of the craziest people I know; actually is more passionate about it than me. I go out to California, we’re all on the boat. Max is getting to work. He had to move this boat. I had no idea the level of seriousness. Max, he’s a hell of a Captain, a hell of a man, and he really helped us get the momentum that we needed to get The Pearl fully recognized. When we started this work, there were no books. There’s six books now, there’s six books written just around this story. So I encourage you all to finish raising the money, not just for the economic and educational opportunity, but to save some DC history before it’s gone.  Half the time we tell history, but it becomes alive when you can touch it, feel it, experience it.”

“I think it’s Divine Orchestration that Max has finished the book and we talked about this again now because in light of what is going on in the world. I mean the ship represented multiple people, different ethic and religious backgrounds coming together and fighting for something that everybody believes in which is freedom.”

Max Kennedy

The Pearl Coalition was founded in 2001 by the late Lloyd D. Smith whose mission was building the replica of the 1848 Pearl schooner Spirit of the Pearl with youth and volunteers as an educational, training, and creative enterprise experience. This mission will facilitate cultural offerings designed to educate visitors on the array of racial, social, economic factors, contributions of the people and places involved in The Pearl escape, and the inner workings of the Underground Railroad. The story of The Pearl escape exemplifies the strength and dignity of free and enslaved African Americans,  native Americans, and their free families taking matters into their own hands. These were not people waiting to be saved. These were heroes, saving themselves and their families. This is why The Pearl is different from all other Tall Ships; it represents hidden history that needs to be told.

The publication of Sea Change hopes to bring attention to this effort.