• 4 min read. Two historians say African American slaves may have used a quilt code to navigate the Underground Railroad. Quilts with patterns named “wagon wheel,” “tumbling blocks,” and “bear’s paw” appear to have contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom, the pair claim.
What was the tumbling boxes quilt symbolic for?
Tumbling Blocks or Boxes: A symbol indicating it was time for slaves to pack up and go, that a conductor was in the area. Log Cabin: A symbol in a quilt or that could be drawn on the ground indicating it was necessary to seek shelter or that a person is safe to speak with.
What does the Bear Paw quilt symbolize?
The Bear’s Paw quilt was hung to encourage Underground Railroad passengers to follow bear excrement on the path. That way they would be able to find water and food.
What is the significance of barn quilts?
Barn quilts tell stories about individual farms, historical events or communities while also adding visual interest to the countryside and increasing rural tourism.
How many quilt codes are there?
“They could feel or sense light through their struggle of trying to get to freedom.” Prior to 1999, the codes were unheard of even to the African American quilting community. That’s according to Marsha MacDowell, a quilt scholar and director of the Quilt Index, a massive online catalog of more than 90,000 quilts.
What were the Underground Railroad secret code words?
The code words often used on the Underground Railroad were: “tracks” (routes fixed by abolitionist sympathizers); “stations” or “depots” (hiding places); “conductors” (guides on the Underground Railroad); “agents” (sympathizers who helped the slaves connect to the Railroad); “station masters” (those who hid slaves in
Where did slaves hide on the Underground Railroad?
Hiding places included private homes, churches and schoolhouses. These were called “stations,” “safe houses,” and “depots.” The people operating them were called “stationmasters.” There were many well-used routes stretching west through Ohio to Indiana and Iowa.
What does the bow tie quilt mean?
Also known as the necktie or hourglass quilt, the bow tie quilt originated in the time of the pioneers setting in the Western part of America. A specific theory about the bow tie quilt blocks is that it was a symbol for slaves to dress up like rich people in order to travel safely.
Where did quilting originate from?
Quilting can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt. In the British Museum is an ivory carving from the Temple of Osiris at Abydos found in 1903 which features the king of the First Egyptian Dynasty wearing a cloak or mantle that appears to be quilted.
Where did barn quilts originate?
The concept of barn quilts began with Donna Sue Groves and her wish to honor her mother, Maxine, and her Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt hung on her barn in Adams County, Ohio. As is often the case, good ideas fall by the wayside when work and other obligations intervene.
Were quilts used in the Underground Railroad?
Two historians say African American slaves may have used a quilt code to navigate the Underground Railroad. Quilts with patterns named “wagon wheel,” “tumbling blocks,” and “bear’s paw” appear to have contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom, the pair claim.
What is the oldest quilt pattern?
The Crazy Quilt is probably the oldest of quilt patterns. Early quilters used any scrap or remnant available, regardless of its color, design, or fabric type.
What is the Underground Railroad quilt code?
A quilting pattern often overlooked in today’s society is the Underground Railroad quilt code. Used during the time of abolition and the Civil War, this visual code sewn into the pattern of quilts readied slaves for their upcoming escape and provided them directions when they were on their way to freedom.
What did slaves use as a compass?
Night sky illustration of the Big Dipper, or Drinking Gourd, in relation to the North Star and Little Dipper. As slave lore tells it, the North Star played a key role in helping slaves to find their way—a beacon to true north and freedom.
Underground Railroad Quilt Codes: What We Know, What We Believe, and What Inspires Us
An embroidered quilt hanging from a clothesline or window sill, according to folklore, marked the location of a safe home along the Underground Railroad. These quilts were infused with a form of code, so that an enslaved person on the run could determine the immediate hazards in the region by reading the shapes and motifs woven into the pattern, as well as where to go next by reading the code. Dress in disguise in order to appear to be of better social position. Bear Paw = Follow an animal route into the mountains in search of water and food, which you will discover.
I can see the potential benefits of such a system.
I really want to think that took place.
Sharon Tindall is a quilter and instructor who lives in Virginia.
- Johnson House, which was built in 1768 in the center of Germantown, has woodwork, flooring, and glass that are all original to the building.
- “I took a tour around the area to see where people slept and ate.
- The presence of the slaves, as well as the Johnson family who protected them, was represented by the hues in the quilt’s sky.
- In Sharon Tindall’s “The Johnson House,” a cotton batik, Dupioni silk, tulle netting, and Swarovski crystals are used to create a 40 by 28-inch piece of art.
- Tindall is a believer in and supporter of codes, despite the fact that not all of her quilts are coded.
- Our dialogue dragged on for weeks as I pressed for more specific details about how they were being used.
- Quilts were frequently produced to mark key family events like as marriage, a child’s birth, or the relocation of the family to a new location.
Toni Tindall’s narrative compositions are made up of a variety of fabrics, including cottons, raw Dupioni silk, Swarovski crystals, natural fibers, Mali mud cloth,and even glitter, to portray the spiritual and intangible elements of the story.
When she points to the blazing horizon line on herquilt, The Johnson House, she adds that the orange represents life or light.
In the years leading up to 1999, the codes were virtually unknown, even among members of the African American quilting community.
Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, written by Jaqueline Tobin and Raymond G.
In collaboration with National Geographic and the Kennedy Center, curriculum for primary schools were designed that included references to the codes.
When we read an inspirational article online that is posted in Times New Roman, we prefer to take it as fact without questioning it.
“Almost every February, pieces of African-American history emerge in newspapers across the country,” MacDowell adds, referring to Black History Month.
Perhaps the rules for experiencing belief vs experiencing reality are just different.
There are no dates, instances, or first-person testimonies.
Evidence is required before something may be considered a fact.
According to studies of quilts manufactured during these years, the proof for some of these designs simply does not exist, so shattering the grip of this enthralling story’s engaging narrative.
Sharon Tindall provided the photograph.
It is now safe to remove your chains and shackles because you have a double wedding ring.
I inquired of Tindall about the significance of the Flying Geese quilt pattern and how it aided runaways on the Underground Railroad.
“Follow the geese as they fly north.” Look for or listen for geese moving north in the spring if the skies aren’t clear.
It read more like a poem or a nursery rhyme to me.
They were meant to physically follow the geese, right?
Although you may or may not agree with Tindall’s interpretation, you could agree that her view gives artistic grounds for believing as opposed to actuality.
“If people’s lives are on the line, it only seems sense that there would be no race of the quilts,” explains quilt researcher Mary Twining-Baird, who resides in Atlanta.
” If anyone learned the truth, they may literally lose their lives.” She specializes in kente clothquilts manufactured on the Sea Island chain, which stretches from South Carolina to Georgia to Florida, but she takes a strong position against quilt codes.
“Of course it was an amap!” says the author.
After all this time, they have either vanished or been shattered to bits.
The artist has provided permission for the use of his photograph.
She is attempting to explain or offer supporting evidence for her believe in quiltcodes, which is analogous to someone attempting to explain or provide supporting evidence for their belief in God.
The following is what she sent to me: “I consider myself a believer in Jesus Christ as well as a lady of Faith, storyteller, and acreator of quilts.” “I’ve taken the things that God has given me and I’m giving them back to Him via the quilt codes,” says the author of the book.
If we sincerely believe something, as Tindall thinks that enslaved people going north were directed by the Flying Geese design in quilts, it is possible that we may have difficulty distinguishing between belief and truth.
So it is with the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, who believe that the souls of their ancestors take up residence in various animals, such as pigs and birds, after they die.
Stories, recipes, personal experiences, and everything else that was whispered to us when we were children frequently trump scientific reality.
A classic block design, the North Star, is combined with a Jacob’s Ladder block pattern to create this quilt by Sharon Tindall.
Sharon Tindall provided the photograph.
Is it possible that these quilts are causing harm to anyone?
“I’ve discovered that some individuals have a difficult time believing or thinking about things they cannot see or touch,” Tindall explains.
Detroit’s African American population expanded by more than 600 percent between 1910 and 1920, according to the United States Census Bureau.
They brought quilts and tales of the enslaved South with them wherever they traveled.
The interviews conducted by MacDowell’s team numbered around fifty.
“Follow the Drinking Gourd (Green),” by Sharon Tindall, 2019, green batik on printed cotton, 26.5 × 26.5″ Sharon Tindall provided the photograph.
Her grandmother also taught her this.
The problem with theHiddenin Plain Viewbook is that it leads the reader to believe that every African American quilter had their needle pointed north.
Was her being white a contributing factor to her not hearing the story?
She is very aware of how widespread the myth of patchwork codes has gone.
While conducting research on quilts in South Africa, she met a group of modern quilters who, “lo and behold!” had heard about the book and had begun coding quilts of their own.
“It’s a fact of life.” Perhaps the code, whether genuine or not, serves as a platform for African Americans to explore the pain they inherited—as well as the possibility of redemption.
They were braiding in the same code she was using, which she was surprised to find out.
Some African American women are already making coded quilts for their daughters and grandchildren, and this will continue to be the case in the future.
The genealogy of patchwork code-using artists is now well-established.
In her spare time, MarieClaire Bryant works as a poet, storyteller, and archivist at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in New York City.
She formerly worked as the director of publication for the Cfile Foundation, where she wrote, edited, and published significantly on the subject of modern and historic ceramic arts, among other things.
Did Quilts Hold Codes to the Underground Railroad?
According to two scholars, African American slaves may have utilized a patchwork code to navigate the Underground Railroad during their time as slaves. According to the duo, quilts with designs such as “wagon wheel,” “tumbling blocks,” and “bear’s paw” appear to have included secret signals that guided slaves to freedom. The quilt code idea was initially proposed by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard in their book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, which was released in 1998 and has been around for six years.
McDaniel maintains that the secret of the quilt code was passed down from one generation to the next by her foremothers and forefathers.
McDaniel detailed the code in a series of conversations with Tobin and Dobard, which included the following: Plantation seamstresses would create a sampler quilt, which would have several distinct quilt designs. Slaves would learn the code with the help of the sampler. The seamstress then stitched ten quilts, each of which was made up of a different design from the code. The quilts would be hung in plain view by the seamstress one at a time, allowing the slaves to reinforce their recall of the design and the meaning connected with the pattern.
- According to historians, the first quilt made by the seamstress to be displayed had a wrench pattern on it.
- In this pattern, slaves were instructed to pack their possessions because they would be embarking on a lengthy journey.
- “You were intended to follow in the bear’s actual footsteps,” Dobard explained.
- When Dobard finished the last quilt, she used a tumbling blocks design that she described as appearing like a collection of boxes.
“It was only exhibited when specific requirements were met, and that was the case with this quilt. If, for example, there was an agent of the Underground Railroad in the vicinity, “Dobard expressed himself. “It was a clear indicator that it was time to pack up and leave.”
Fact or Myth?
Since its publication, the quilt-code idea has been the subject of heated debate. Quilt historians and experts on the Underground Railroad have questioned the methods used in the study, as well as the veracity of its conclusions. Giles R. Wright, a historian located in New Jersey, argues that there is a scarcity of supporting material. Quilt codes are not mentioned in either the slave narratives from the nineteenth century or the oral accounts of former slaves from the 1930s. In addition, there are no original quilts left.
- “They provide no proof, no paperwork, in support of that claim,” says the author.
- I was thinking to myself, “Who is going to take notes on their actions and what they meant.it may get into the wrong hands?” Dobard expressed himself.
- “Take, for example, the nature of quilts.
- “It is unreasonable to expect a quilt that has been kept within the slave community for more than a hundred years to still be in existence.” Fact or fiction, most people agree that the concept of a patchwork code is intriguing.
Quilts of the Underground Railroad – Wikipedia
Describes a contentious concept that quilts were used to relay information to African slaves about how they may escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad, as described in Quilts of the Underground Railroad. A lot of historians have expressed their disagreement with this claim.
Books that emphasize quilt use
In her book, Stitched from the Soul (1990), Gladys-Marie Fry asserted that quilts were used to communicate safe houses and other information about the Underground Railroad, which was a network of “conductors,” meeting places, and safe houses that ran through the United States and into Canada, facilitating the emancipation of African Americans from slavery and into freedom. Historiologists, on the other hand, are divided on whether quilts and songs were used to spread information about the Underground Railroad.
Ozella McDaniel Williams provided the inspiration for the book, telling Tobin that her family had handed down a narrative for centuries about how quilt designs such as wagon wheels, log homes, and wrenches were used to help slaves travel the Underground Railroad.
It began with a monkey wrench, which signified the need to gather all of the essential goods and equipment, and concluded with a star, which signified the need to travel north.
Tobin noted in a 2007 Time magazine article: “It’s distressing to be attacked while also being denied the opportunity to commemorate this remarkable oral history of one family’s experience.” I have no clue whether or not it is totally valid, but it seems sense given the quantity of research we conducted.” “I believe there has been a tremendous lot of misunderstanding concerning the code,” Dobard stated.
When Jackie and I wrote the book, we set out to suggest that it was a collection of directions.
“In Africa, there is a long-standing history of secret organizations controlling the coding of information.
In order to acquire the deeper meaning of symbols, you must first demonstrate your merit of knowing these higher meanings by not disclosing them to others,” she explained. The foreword of Hidden in Plain View was written by Wahlman.
Giles Wright, a specialist on the Underground Railroad, claims that the book is based on legend that has not been corroborated by any reliable sources. He also stated that there are no quilting codes mentioned in any memoirs, diaries, or Works Progress Administration interviews done in the 1930s with ex-slaves that have been discovered. Quilt historians Kris Driessen, Barbara Brackman, and Kimberly Wulfert do not subscribe to the premise that quilts were used to transmit messages about the Underground Railroad, as claimed by certain historians.
- Well-known historians did not feel that the idea was correct and could not see any relationship between Douglass and this viewpoint.
- Blight “At some time, the true stories of fugitive slave escape, as well as the far bigger story of those slaves who were never able to flee, must take precedence over fiction as a primary focus of educational endeavors.
- Despite this, there are museums, schools, and other organizations who think the narrative is factual.
- Using the quilts as an example, he compares the code to the phrase in ” Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” in which slaves intended fleeing but their owners believed they were going to die.
- Cecelia Pedescleaux is a quilt scholar and quilter who specializes on the Underground Railroad.
- Celeste-Marie Bernier and Hannah Durkin are two of the most talented people in the world (2016). Across the African Diaspora, artists have created artworks that depict slavery. pp. 76–77, published by Oxford University Press. Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard (ISBN 978-1-78138-267-7) are the authors (1999). Quilts and the Underground Railroad have a secret history that has been kept hidden in plain sight. Doubleday Publishing Company, New York, N.Y., ISBN 0-385-49137-9
- Abc Stacie Stukin is a woman who lives in the United States (2007-04-03). “Unraveling the Myth of Quilts and the Underground Railroad” is a book on quilts and the Underground Railroad. TIME. The original version of this article was published on April 29, 2007. Obtainable on January 23, 2013
- Abcdef Noam Cohen is a writer and musician from New York City (January 23, 2007). Douglass Tribute is a work in which Slave Folklore and Fact collide. The New York Times is a newspaper published in New York City. ISSN0362-4331. Donna Lagoy and Laura Seldman (Donna Lagoy and Laura Seldman, eds) (September 5, 2016). Chester, New York, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the Adirondacks. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-62585-701-9
- Reynolds, Glenn (2007). “quilts.” Arcadia Publishing Incorporated. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-62585-701-9
- Reynolds, Glenn (2007). “quilts.” According to Junius P. Rodriguez (ed.). The Slave Resistance and Rebellion Encyclopedia is a resource for those interested in the history of slave resistance and rebellion. Pages 407–409 in Greenwood Publishing Group’s book. 978-0-313-33273-9
- ISBN 978-0-313-33273-9 Andrew Bartholomew is a writer and poet (February 1, 2007). “Prof. Douglass debunks the Douglass myth.” The Yale Daily News is a daily newspaper published by Yale University. Donna Lagoy and Laura Seldman (Donna Lagoy and Laura Seldman, 2017)
- Retrieved on March 19, 2017. (September 5, 2016). Chester, New York, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in the Adirondacks. Publisher: Arcadia Publishing Incorporated, p. 127, ISBN: 978-1-62585-701-9
- ISBN: 978-1-62585-701-9 Barbara Brackman is a writer and editor who lives in New York City (November 5, 2010). FactsFabrications-Unraveling the History of QuiltsSlavery: 8 Projects – 20 Blocks – First-Person AccountsFactsFabrications-Unraveling the History of QuiltsSlavery: 8 Projects – 20 Blocks – First-Person Accounts C T Publishing Inc., p. 7, ISBN 978-1-60705-386-6
- AbFergus M. Bordewich, p. 7, ISBN 978-1-60705-386-6
- (February 2, 2007). “History’s Tangled Threads” (History’s Tangled Threads). The New York Times is a newspaper published in New York City. ISSN0362-4331. 30 April 2012
- Retrieved 30 April 2012
- Diane Cole is a woman who works in the fashion industry (2012). “Were Quilts Used as Underground Railroad Maps? – US News and World Report” (Were Quilts Used as Underground Railroad Maps?) usnews.com. 30th of April, 2012
- Brackman, Barbara (1997)Quilts from the Civil War: Nine Projects, Historic Notes, and Diary Entries, ISBN1-57120-033-9
- Burns, Eleanor
- Sue Bouchard (1997)Quilts from the Civil War: Nine Projects, Historic Notes, and Diary Entries, ISBN1-57120-033-9 (2003). The Underground Railroad Sampler is a collection of short stories about the Underground Railroad. Isbn 978-1-891776-13-7
- Cord, Xenia (Quilt in a Day) (March 2006). “The Underground Railroad” is a term that refers to a network of tunnels and passageways that connect cities to the rest of the world. Patchwork is really popular right now.14 (3). Fellner, Leigh (2010) “Betsy Ross redux: The quilt code.”
- Frazier, Harriet C. (2012) “Betsy Ross redux: The quilt code” (1 July 2004). Runaway and freed Missouri slaves, as well as those who assisted them, were documented between 1763 and 1865. McFarland & Company, Inc., p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7864-1829-9. Rice, Kym S., et al., eds., retrieved on April 30, 2012. (2011). 978-0-313-34944-7 (World of a Slave: A-I). ABC-CLIO, p. 390. ISBN 978-0-313-34944-7 (World of a Slave: A-I). Turner, Patricia A., et al., eds., retrieved 30 April 2012. (2009). The book Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters by Shelley Zegart is available on Amazon (2008) Shelley Zegart debunks the myth of the African American Quilt Scholarship and the technique behind it. Pages 48–56 in Selvedge, (ISSN 1742-254X) Issue 21 (Jan/Feb 2008), published by the University of California Press.
History of underground railroad quilts, african quilts
The quilts of the underground railroad have an interesting history, which you can read about here. Although there is no written record of the codes that may have been present, historians have discovered some trustworthy evidence in documented verbal testimonies that demonstrate the significance of the quilts in aiding slaves on their journey to liberty.
Harriet Tubman and The Under ground Railroad
Harriet Tubman is widely recognized as the founder of the Underground Railroad, which assisted thousands of slaves in their escape from southern plantations during the mid-nineteenth century. However, what is less widely known is the fact that quilts were used to guide slaves to freedom in the northern states during the Civil War. Quilt designs included a complicated system of codes, and those attempting to flee learned how to read the codes as they made their way down the Underground Railway’s path.
Because the majority of black people who were confined in slavery were unable to write or read, it was vital to devise a straightforward method of delivering the information.
The quilts may include information about which road to go, where a safe place could be found, and/or where to contact individuals who would be willing to provide food and shelter for a night or more.
Among the countless songs, dances, and gestures that slaves had created were some that carried signals and information that were critical to their survival.
This was the only way they could form plans and communicate with one another without worrying that the slave owners and overseers would find out what they were up to and arrest them.
Forming landscape quilts to guide
The codes that were used in the Underground Railroad quilts were devised by slaves, freed blacks, and white individuals who were opposed to the system of slavery and who wanted to see slavery abolished. It was imperative that these codes be kept secret, and even the smallest children were aware that this knowledge was to be kept safe at all times. African people were the originators of many of the patterns that may be found in Underground Railway quilts. During the traumatic years of slavery, they were passed down from one generation to the next and served as a means of preserving their history and culture alive for future generations.
Patterns with specific knots, stitching colors, or shape can provide an abundance of information.
Given the fact that quilts were typical household objects, they could be hung from trees and fences, as well as from windows, porches, and clotheslines, where they would be plainly visible to anybody passing by.
Log cabin quilt patterns
The Star, the Monkey Wrench, and the Crossroads were among the designs that were supposed to have direct significance for persons traveling on the Underground Railway system. There are three further patterns that are said to have included crucial directions and signals for fleeing slaves. These are the Tumbling Blocks, Bear’s Paws, and Wagon Wheel motifs. An indication of where to locate food was provided by the Nine Patch pattern, while the Log Cabin design in a quilt provided information about shelters that were available to those who needed it.
Having a blue center on the Log Cabin design might indicate that the pattern is associated with a safe haven.
A quilt’s role in our history has been rather intriguing, since it has had a purpose other than simply being decorative and keeping us warm.
We know what we know, we believe what we believe, and we are inspired by what we have learned about the Underground Railroad quilt codes.
This means that if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may get a commission on the sale. The following copyright rights are reserved: 2006-2021.
Underground Railroad Quilts Contained Codes That Led To Freedom
Each patch has a set of instructions sewn on it. Others were there to restock supplies, some were there to track bear prints, and some were there to take diversions. A presentation of the Underground Quilts by the Riley Center Quilters was held on Tuesday evening at the Birmingham Public Library Central Branch. Others quilts were enormous, some were little; some were completed, some were not; but all included instructions on how to emancipate oneself from the bonds of servitude. Daphne Simmons, a member of the Riley Center Quilters, explained that quilts were utilized as codes since they were the only method of communication available.
- “There was a code, an unwritten code.
- Simmons went into detail about the significance of each patch on her quilt.
- It was written on the quilt, “This block contains an alternating route of dark and light that denotes direction,” and that specific quilt instructed slaves in which direction they should move: north, south, east, or west.
- “It’s a tool in the same way that a genuine monkey wrench is,” Simmons explained.
- This patch represented the period of time during which they would need to gather the tools they would use on their trip north to freedom.
- The capacity to determine the intents of strangers, according to Simmons, comes from “knowledge and experience.” She spoke into detail about the block with the wagon wheel.
- As a result of the restricted weight and space available, they had to carry things that were vital for survival.
- It was pointed out by Simmons that the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” made reference to a wagon wheel.
According to her, it is a “secondary coding pattern.” “The song was generally chanted in conjunction with that block because plantation owners believed that slaves were singing about joining Jesus in Heaven.” They were in fact transmitting a secret message.” She explained that they were supposed to follow the carpenter’s wheel to the northwest.
- In order to avoid being eaten by a bear, “you would follow their paws and their trail.
- According to her, “following those bear paws, they’ll also be guided to food and water.” “Animals will lead you in the right direction.” Basket A basket indicated that the runaways would resupply their provisions at a secure location.
- A major crossroads occurred in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, as Simmons explained.
- I’m traveling to see someone in another city and rely on Google Maps to get there.
- Running away to a shoofly for clothes is something that may happen.
- “There would be sailors on hand to assist you in across the river and entering Canada, where the North Star (the next block away) would shine brightly with your independence,” says the author.
- “There were some northern states that empathized with slaves, and there were some northern states who were opposed to it,” she explained.
- Lesson in Learning Many people, including Miriam Omura, who was in attendance, found this seminar to be a valuable learning experience.
- She gained a better understanding of the symbols that were utilized on the Underground Railroad.
- “It was nice to learn about even more of the ones I was unaware of,” says the author.
- “It makes me want to create one,” Gross expressed interest in doing so.
“I’m still new at quilting; I’ve only been doing it for about nine months. I’ve only made one so far, and I’m now working on my second. In this experience, I learnt something that I don’t believe I would have learned otherwise,” Gross added.
Stitching Together History
The tale of slave quilts begins with words that are transferred from mouth to ear, from ear to heart, from heart to hand, and lastly to paper, where the words are finally captured on paper. Some believe the story to be true, while others believe it to be a fiction. After more than 150 years, and more than 150 years after the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted, formally ending slavery in the United States, the narrative of concealed codes in quilts intended to facilitate the escape of enslaved men and women remains a story for the time being.
Just a Little Sampler
Eleanor Burns released a book in 2003 titled Underground Railroad Sampler, which is a part of her Quilt in a Day series, which can be seen on television, online, and in print all over the globe. When Burns was young, his mother taught him the basics of sewing. He went on to revolutionize the quilting industry by creating speedier cutting, piecing, and stitching procedures. Her reputation as one of the world’s most famous quilters is widely acknowledged by contemporary quilters. When she sews the parts back together, people are more likely to pay attention.
- Slave travelers on the Underground Railroad might have utilized a form of code to communicate while going from bondage to freedom, as demonstrated by ten of the blocks.
- The arrival of the Wagon Wheel quilt block signaled the beginning of a journey.
- For example, the Crossroads quilt block meant the existence of a town ahead, while the Log Cabin quilt block denoted that there was an upcoming safe house—depending on which color of the center quilt block was used, of course.
- An agent of the Underground Railroad was expected to be nearby if the sixth block was made in the Shoofly pattern; a Bowtie quilt block advised slaves to remove their old slave clothes and dress as freedmen and women if the seventh block was made in the Shoofly pattern.
- Finally, the North Star quilt block served as a continual reminder that the north represented Canada, and Canada represented freedom from oppression.
Burns acknowledges that she has taught the story for many years, and that she became particularly interested in designing a specific Underground Railroad quilt after readingHidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, a book by historianJacqueline Tobin and art history professorRaymond G.
Throughout this book, the reader will meet South CarolinianOzella McDaniel Williams, who will share a narrative passed down from generation to generation about secret codes concealed in quilts that allowed Ozella’s ancestors and others escape from slavery and find freedom in the United States.
- Gladys-Marie Fry had a book published.
- Despite the fact that Fry refers to quilt codes as truth, the concept that slaves used quilt codes to get freedom has been adopted by children’s fiction writers as well.
- In addition, instructors all around the country have used these children’s picture books to teach pupils about the Underground Railroad, as well as the premise that codes hidden in quilts assisted slaves in their attempts to flee.
- Is the tale, however, accurate?
In the case of the late University of Louisville lecturer, Tressa Brown, the African American Heritage Commission coordinator with the Kentucky Heritage Council, argues that there was “no evidence to corroborate the very wonderful tale.” When it comes to hidden codes or messages embroidered into quilts, Judy Schwender, the curator of collections and the registrar at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, agrees with Brown that the notion is completely false.
“When the hypothesis of quilts being used as signals on the Underground Railroad is exposed to the examination of genuine historical research, it is found to be unfounded,” Schwender concludes.
In September, she spoke at the 2016 Ohio River National Freedom Corridor Underground Railroad Conference in Cincinnati on the topic “Were Quilts Really Used as Signals on the Underground Railroad?” “This period of American history ought to be remembered with reverence and integrity,” Schwender argues.
Who or what is the truth, if the tale in “this glorious history” is to serve as the beginning point from which we learn all that has gone on in the past?
Stitches of Truth
The first Africans to set foot on the land that would become known as South Carolina did so in 1526. In 1619, a group of Africans thought to be indentured slaves were reported at Jamestown, Virginia, according to historical records. Within 50 years, established colonies recognized slavery, and rules governing the treatment of slaves as chattel, or property, were enacted, published, and enforced throughout the world. It was with an African servant that explorers first walked the wild and unexplored wilderness of what would later be known as Kentucky in 1751, and it was with an African servant that Daniel Boone established a settlement at Fort Boonesborough in 1775, bringing with him a “group of African laborers.” As the population expanded from the east to the west and from the north to the south, so grew the need for slave labor.
As resistance to slavery rose, so did the number of those who supported it.
As a result of the invention of the cotton gin in 1792 and passage of the Fugitive Slave Act by the United States Congress in 1793, which protected slave owners’ rights to recover their runaway slaves even in free states, the slave trade became even more profitable as a result of the expansion of the slave trade.
- In 1833, Kentucky passed legislation prohibiting the importation of slaves; but, the business of slavery was so enticing that it lasted for decades after the law was repealed.
- Researchers believe that the Underground Railroad, a network of escape routes for people seeking liberation from slavery, enabled thousands of fugitive slaves on their trek north to freedom during the American Civil War.
- Brown, of the Kentucky Heritage Council, recalls discussing about the Underground Railroad with the late Dr.
- “He stated that it was quite difficult to investigate some sites, and that there was a good explanation for the lack of documentation: you didn’t want to be nailed with it.” People weren’t conversing with one another, and they didn’t have faith in one another either.
- “He was certain that the majority of the escapes were made by the people who got there first.
It was clearly true that there was a “underground” component to it, but portraying it as if there was a determined, overarching strategy wasn’t necessarily the how things worked, especially early on.” In slave tales, a genre that arose in the late 1800s, people of color were able to bear witness to the horrors of slavery as well as the struggles of men and women of color who yearned for freedom.
With his assistance in assisting hundreds of slaves to escape to freedom, Still is regarded as one of the most famous individuals on the Underground Railroad.
Still documented the experiences of African-American men and women who attempted to flee slavery in every way they could, whether through personal narration, the insertion of supporting historical newspaper articles, or through different correspondences.
Some were trying to get away from beatings, a lack of suitable clothing or food, and even incarceration.
Even though Still did not include the gory details that characterize some slave narratives, fugitives who hid out in caves for months to elude capture, boxed themselves into crates and were shipped north, risked death, and even killed their children in the face of recapture did so because they believed they would have more freedom in death than in life were described.
However, these aren’t the kinds of stories that most Kentuckians are familiar with.
The reason you didn’t tell anyone about your journey was because you wanted your family to be able to keep up with you,” Brown adds.
They don’t pay attention to the local stories, which are quite compelling.” The Kentucky Heritage Council has worked to give lesson plans and materials to teachers around the state that outline the importance of African Americans and Native Americans in Kentucky, as well as the authentic, substantiated tales of both groups.
Citizens may never learn if slave quilt codes are a fantasy or a reality by reading and hearing, but they may learn something far more valuable as a result of their efforts.
If we can’t comprehend the person standing next to us, if we can’t grasp the history that exists between us, then I’m not sure where we’re going to end up as a result.
We. It is not about who I am or who you are, but about who we are. This is our collective past, and I believe that this is the most essential thing we have.”
Peace by Piece
Moving around the large, well-lit chambers of the old Bierbower House in Maysville, Crystal Marshall is a sight to see. When she stands in front of the windows that face West Fourth Street, she can see the Ohio River stretching out in front of her. Bierbower House was held by Jonathan Ayers and his wife, Lucy Carey Bierbower, carriage builders in Maysville at the same time that experts believe the Underground Railroad began operating in the United States. The Bierbowers, according to legend, operated a safe house.
- A stone-walled chamber may be seen on the first floor of the home’s cellar section.
- It has a narrative to tell.
- “Checking facts and sources, as well as examining very attentively, are the hurdles in trying to comprehend this movement,” says the author.
- She notes that Christine was a woman with a good reputation in the community, a reliable secondary source who contributes to the credibility of the tale about the original source by providing more information.
- They also read extensively, listen to tales, and look for leads that may shed additional light on the history of Kentuckians.
She hopes that visitors will take away two things: the importance of community and the importance of sitting and listening to neighbors, as well as the response to the question, “If you had space, would you conceal someone?” “What we must understand about analyzing movements and how they occur is that they are carried out by individuals who are required to adhere to some form of moral code.
‘A quilt, a placard, or anything does not constitute the beginning of a movement,’ Marshall explains.
When Kentuckians take the time to stop and listen, a chance to sew together the parts of individual lives may present itself, which may result in a greater, warmer cover of understanding—a peace brought about by all the small bits.
RoundAbout Entertainment Guide – Debunking the Quilt Codes
- In order to facilitate a slave’s escape path on the Underground Railroad, various geometric quilting patterns were employed to send information.
- Ozella McDaniel Williams, a former Los Angeles school administrator who promoted her own version of the Quilt Code in order to sell quilts in a Charleston, South Carolina, tourist mall, was the inspiration for the book.
- Williams was coerced into allegedly divulging the Code to her by the woman.
- This year’s Barn Quilt Project in Trimble County is based on the Underground Railroad, bringing to light the ongoing argument about whether or not the Quilt Code is legitimate.
- Due to the fact that “Trimble County was involved in the Underground Railroad,” according to Jane Proctor, Trimble County Cooperative ExtensionAgent, this seems plausible to the quilters.
- For example, quilt blocks like as the Double Wedding Ring and Sunbonnet Sue, which are believed to have developed no earlier than the late 1920s, are used in the Code.
|PhotoprovidedLeighFellner, anationally known quilter from Pensacola, Fla., has researched the Quilt Code, only to find evidence that thestory is a myth.|
It is “completely inconsistent with all first-hand accounts of actual fugitives who made it to Canada” to escape using the Code (in groups on carefully planned dates, traveling northwest from South Carolina and Georgia across the Appalachian Mountains to Cleveland, then to Canada via Niagara Falls), she asserted. “The majority of fugitives who fled to the north were from the border states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee; slaves from the Deep South fled even further south.” According to Jeannie Regan-Dinius, director of Special Initiatives for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, Fellner’s point of view was correct.
“The Underground Railroad is so entwined in local stories and myths that the Quilt Code just serves to amplify these legends and myths even more.” However, there are several authentic, compelling, and little-known accounts of free African-Americans who risked their lives in order to aid enslaved people in escaping.
- “These are the actual tales of real people who faced real peril, and they should be part of our national legacy,” said Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker, Curator of Social History at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.
- The fact that they have been forgotten and that imaginary stories, no matter how amusing, have replaced them is upsetting, according to Teeters-Eichacker.
- Supporters of the Code assert that they learnt about it via their relatives’ oral histories, however there is no physical evidence to support this claim.
- Following the publication of an essay on the Quilt Code by author Williams’ niece, Serena Wilson, in a quilt magazine, Fellner decided to conduct further study and react to the piece.
- Fellner never found the documented responses she was searching for in her interactions with Kemp to corroborate the Quilt Code’s claims during her conversations with him.
- Fellner asserted that the Quilt Code “conveys all kinds of incorrect conceptions about slave existence.
- However, despite the fact that her research has focused on Henry Bibb, a slave born in New Castle, Ky., who managed to escape and go on to become a renowned antislavery speaker and Canada’s first black newspaper editor, Coon is aware with the Quilt Code.
She, as well as Tobin, believe that the Gullah Natives, who resided along the Sea Islands off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, are responsible for the Quilt Code.
When writing about the Gullah people in his book “The Gullah People and Their African Heritage,” William S.
Despite their migration to the New World, the Gullah kept their African ancestry, which many think was turned into their quilts, which were later employed as a secret code.
Her reasoning is that the Kentucky and Indiana Underground Railroad lines could not have operated under the Quilt Code as a result of this fact.
They became friends and eventually married.
If it had not been for free blacks, the Underground Railroad would not have been successful in the Kentucky area, according to Coon’s research.
Because the Freedom Trails organization represents the whole state of Indiana, there is no space for mistake in their conclusions.
|Photoby Helen E. McKinneyMichelleKlein ofThe Gathering Roomand The Quilt Shoppein La Grange, Ky., poses with some ofthe quilts she sells.She has always thought the codeswere real.|
According to her, the subject of the Quilt Code comes up frequently in her field of employment. She is a well-known historian in Jefferson County, having spent 17 years researching the history of the county. The institution, which was established in 1848, was a station on the Underground Railroad, as it was the first destination north of Madison on the route. Breitweiser, like many other historians, relies on primary sources for his research, such as actual courthouse documents from the time period in question, books written in the local area, any personal slave accounts and orabolitionist diaries that may exist, and other primary sources such as historical fiction.
“If you think about the actuality of escape,” Breitweiser explained, “these folks were barely making it through the door.” As a result of the bounty of $500 to $1,000 placed on the heads of certain runaway slaves, there were slave catchers on the prowl, waiting to apprehend them and either restore them to their masters or sell them for profit.
She claimed that someone was continuously on the lookout for fugitive slaves.
In addition, Breitweiser stated that there are historical accounts of slaves being led to a safe home by lights put in the windows, signifying a location where they might rest or be fed.
“They were given permission to enter, but (the state) did not make it simple for them to do so.” The author cites a state legislation that was put into place in 1837 and declared that every single person, even if they had never been a slave, was nevertheless had to pay a $500 bond in order to dwell in the state.
According to Breitweiser, De Baptiste transported 180 slaves to Lancaster and filed a lawsuit against the government.
Stevens, a well-known lawyer, assisted De Baptiste in winning his lawsuit by exploiting a gap in the original statute.
Michelle Klein, proprietor of The QuiltShoppe in La Grange, Kentucky, expressed her desire to believe that the Code was valid, despite the fact that “others say it’s a fallacy.” Klein, a lifelong quilter, has stated on several occasions that quilting motivates quilters to research the history of the designs they are employing.
Most quilt blocks have namesand different meanings.
Much like the information presented in “Hidden inPlain View,” the authors state that quilts were used as communicationtools between slaves and those helping them escape.
Because the Code is based on the oral history of the Deep South, itis probable that it has been embellished as it was pieced together,Coon believes.
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