Jane Johnson was enslaved from her birth circa 1814 - 1827 to her escape on July 18, 1855. John Hill Wheeler purchased Jane and her two children in 1853. Here on the Southwest corner of Christopher Columbus Blvd. and Walnut Street once stood Bloodgood’s United States Hotel. Located next to the ferry that carried passengers across the Delaware River to Camden, NJ. Wheeler left Jane with her children in the hotel room with instructions not to speak to anyone.
Wheeler left the hotel and Jane informed a black hotel worker that she was a slave who wanted to escape. The hotel worker informed William Still, the African American head of the Vigilance Committee of the local Underground Railroad. Still alerted his colleague, Passmore Williamson, and they raced off to the hotel.
They arrived as the 5 o’clock ferry was about to depart and approached the Wheeler party accompanied by five black dockworkers, John Ballard, James P. Braddock, William Curtis, James Martin and Isaac Moore. Still told Jane that under Pennsylvania law she was a free woman and could leave Wheeler here and now if she wished. Williamson explained this to the protesting Wheeler, and the five dock workers helped restrain Wheeler as Still escorted Jane and her two sons to a waiting carriage. Jane eventually settled in Boston.
Lorene Cary’s novel, The Price of a Child, was inspired by the story of Jane Johnson.