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Edited by Cheri Todd Molter and Kobe M. Brown

The following information was derived from the NC Historical Site marker entitled “Freedom Seekers of Somerset Place: Rebecca Hathaway Drew” at Washington County:

During the antebellum years, many enslaved people in North Carolina tried to escape from bondage. Whether they were successful in their endeavors or not, the people who resisted being enslaved and sought emancipation were called Freedom Seekers.

Rebecca Hathaway Drew was a Freedom Seeker. In December 1845, nineteen-year-old Rebecca ran away from her enslavers, the Collins family, fleeing from their plantation, Somerset Place in Washington County. After Rebecca made her escape, she traveled toward Edenton with the hope that she could be with her mother, Tamer. Previously, Tamer and Rebecca had lived together at another piece of property, but the Collins family had separated mother and daughter when they moved Rebecca to Somerset Place.

While she was making her way toward Edenton, Rebecca was captured by Somerset’s overseer, Joseph Newberry. He took her back to the plantation, and as punishment, he locked Rebecca in stocks overnight. As a result of being exposed to the extreme cold, Rebecca’s feet became frostbitten, and gangrene soon set in. She was taken to the hospital on the plantation, and Dr. Hardy Hardison amputated both of her feet. The dangerous and painful procedure was performed without anesthesia. Rebecca survived the ordeal, but her life was forever changed by that fateful night after being left outdoors in the December weather.

Rebecca’s physical condition was permanently altered, as was the perception of her “worth” as an enslaved person: She was seen as having no financial value due to her inability to work as she had before. In 1846, despite being his legal property by law, Josiah Collins III was exempted from paying taxes on Rebecca due to her “having lost both legs by amputation.”

By 1849, Rebecca’s mother, Tamer, was brought to Somerset Place by her enslavers, reuniting mother and daughter. In December 1855, Rebecca married Virgil Drew. They had five children together before her husband died.

Once emancipated by law in 1865, Rebecca Hathaway Drew, her children, and her mother returned to Edenton as free people. According to the 1880 census, Rebecca worked as a domestic servant, despite having “both legs off below knee”. For the remaining years of her life, Rebecca was an active, highly respected member of Edenton’s African American community. In 1901, Rebecca died at the age of 76.


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