Monthly Archives: February 2018

A Sunset Escape to Freedom Along the Potomac

Ellick flight to FreedomIt’s been two centuries plus one year since Ellick’s flight to freedom.

Ellick (sometimes spelled Elleck) was one of 11 slaves owned by Hugh Conn, who ran a ferry and owned land at what is now Riverbend Park. Research by local historic preservationist Debbie Robison revealed that in 1809, when Conn’s estate was inventoried three years after his death, Ellick was about 27 years old. He was listed as the most valued of the Conn family slaves.

Following Conn’s death, ownership of Ellick passed to Conn’s children. In 1817, Ellick was convicted of breaking into a store. As punishment, he was whipped and one of his hands was burned. When the jailer released him, apparently there was no one from the Conn household to meet him at the jail, and Ellick fled. About two months later, he was captured by two men who brought him to the Leesburg jail before returning him to the Conn family. Ellick was handcuffed and left on the porch a few hours before sunset as Mrs. Conn refused to take charge of him in her son Jesse’s absence. She sent a servant to Great Falls to get Jesse, and the two men sat down to dinner while they waited. As the sun began to set, another servant interrupted the dinner to inform them that Ellick had escaped again … this time by running over the hill. Advertisements in the August 30, 1817, National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser newspaper offered $30 for his return. The ad read:

$30 reward for runaway, negro Elleck, age about 35 yrs. – Jesse Conn, lvg in Fairfax County, Va

The Conns never saw Ellick again.

Thanks to Ms. Robison’s research, in 2011 the National Park Service (NPS) recognized the Conn’s Ferry site as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. NPS established the Network to Freedom database to tell the story of resistance against slavery through escape and flight. Evidence suggests that the Conn’s ferry landing sat at the site currently used as a boat ramp at the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Va.

Riverbend was the second FCPA site to be placed on the Network to Freedom list. Sully Historic Site in Chantilly, Va., is also listed. Sully has a representative slave quarters on its land, which was owned by Richard Bland Lee, an uncle to General Robert E. Lee. Sully was home to as many as 40 enslaved African Americans. Records show there were four known escape attempts at Sully, and it is known that two of escapees did return to Sully.

As we celebrate Black History Month, the Park Authority acknowledges the significant contributions and the struggle for freedom from enslavement made by many African-Americans at sites that are now part of our park system. We are committed to preserving these sites and stories so that they may be shared and remembered for generations to come.