The Rescue of Edgar Jones

1854 | Aquinnah
Plaque at Aquinnah commemorating Wampanoag Underground Railroad assistance to Randall Burton and Edgar Jones

Sometime in 1854, Edgar Jones, stowed away on a northbound ship out of Charlestown, South Carolina. By the time the ship reached Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard, the captain had discovered him but assured him he would be safe. The crew, knowing the captain would seek the reward for turning in the fugitive, urged Jones to shore telling him he could look for work on the island. Jones eventually found his way to Aquinnah where he was able to gain food and lodging in exchange for his labor. The sheriff came to Aquinnah looking for Jones and tried to enlist tribal members in the hunt, without revealing that Jones was not a criminal but an escaped slave. Beulah Vanderhoop, a member of the Aquinnah tribe, surmising that the sheriff was attempting to enlist the tribe as slave catchers, convinced tribal members to assist Jones and not the sheriff.

With the tribe no longer cooperating, the sheriff went to retrieve more hands to help with capturing the fugitive. Mrs. Vanderhoop then located Jones and convinced him of the tribe’s good intentions. She dressed Jones in women’s clothing and hid him in her garrett. It is there that he shared some of his escape story. Desperate to escape a cruel slave master, Jones was one of just two successful escapees from a group of forty enslaved men who had attempted to run away in South Carolina. After hiding for several days in a swamp to deflect search hounds, he made his way to the harbor and was able to locate a ship with sympathetic sailors who agreed to hide him amid the cargo of their ship. Believing that getting caught in Charleston would mean death, he decided to risk trusting the crew and boarded the ship.

When the sheriff returned with reinforcements they found most of the Aquinnah armed with guns, shovels, and the like. Unable to search any buildings without a warrant, the sheriff was forced to head off the reservation to procure one. In the meantime, arrangements to sail Jones to the safety of New Bedford were made, which Mr. Samuel Peters did later that same night. Edgar Jones was said to have stayed in New Bedford for some time and to occasionally return to Aquinnah in later years to thank Mrs. Vanderhoop whom he referred to as “Mother.” (1)

According to Charles Vanderhoop, Beulah’s great-grandson, the family of an unidentified man the Vanderhoops helped rescue returned to offer financial support after the Emancipation Proclamation. Finding Beulah ill, they stayed on to look after her and the grounds while she recovered. (2)


1. Vanderhoop, Netta. “The True Story of a Fugitive Slave: Or the Story a Gay Head Grandmother Told” The Vineyard Gazette. 02.03.1921

2. Beulah Vanderhoop and The Gay Head Underground Railroad - told by Great-Grandson Charles Vanderhoop. Martha’s Vineyard Oral HIstory Channel. 10.13.2021( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKOZpvaGSfA)

Image: Edgar Jones marker, African American Heritage Trail of Marthas Vineyard. Photo by Robyn Twomey via nps.gov


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