S: The Underground Railroad Quilt
FC: The Underground Railroad Quilt
1: During the summer of 2007, I visited Michigan for Risa's baptism. While there, Jonathan and Lorissa took me on a tour of Detroit. The River Walk was particularly enjoyable to me and I was quite taken with a beautiful monument to those who participated in the Underground Railroad, a group that facilitated the movement of the black slaves to Canada during the Civil War. After I retired, I decided to dabble in quilting. I took a class called The Underground Railroad Quilt. I didn't make the connection until I read the description of the blocks I was stitching. It is a beautiful quilt and and a meaningful piece of work because of my experience that beautiful day with my family in Detroit.
2: Prior to 1860, America captured and enslaved about four million Black's from Africa. Salver came about because Americans needed workers to do the difficult labor on the sprawling plantations that stretched across the South, and because slave-traders saw an opportunity to make a great deal of money buying and selling slaves. From the beginning, slaves tried to escape from owners. But, attempting, an escape, or helping someone else to escape, was dangerous and could result in severe punishment or death. The Underground Railroad is the name for the secret route fugitives took to escape to freedom. It was so named because fugitives who traveled on it just seemed to vanish as if traveling underground. It was, of course, not a real railroad, but rather a series of safe hiding places called "stations". The people who helped the fugitives travel from one station to the next were known as "railroad workers". The people who helped fugitives get food and places to sleep were known as "station masters". People who worked and traveled on the Railroad used secret codes to learn the routes from one safe place to the next Researchers recently learned that an Underground Railroad Code existed to guide fugitives to freedom. Because it was illegal in slave-holding states to teach slaves to read, slaves could not communicate with each other in writing. But, because slaves of all backgrounds shared an oral history of storytelling coupled with a knowledge of textile production and African art00an art form which embodies African symbolic symbolic systems and designs--they discovered they were able to communicate complex messages in the stitches, patterns, designs, colors and fabrics of the American quilt. To memorize the code, researchers believe fugitives used a sampler quilt with blocks arranged on order of the code. The patterns told slaves how to get ready to escape, what to do on the trip, and where to go. Once stitched, the coded quilts were "aired" out the windows of slave cabins, acting as secret maps for slaves brave and desperate enough to make the dangerous trek from South to North, from slavery to freedom. Researchers are excited about unraveling the mysteries behind the Underground Railroad codes.
3: communicate complex messages in the stitches patterns, designs, colors, and fabrics of the American quilt. To memorize the code, researchers believe fugitives used a sampler quilt, with blocks arranged in order of the code. The patterns told slaves how to get ready to escape, what to do on the trip, and where to go. Once stitched, the coded quilts were "aired" out the windows of slave cabins, acting as secret maps for slaves brave and desperate enough to make the dangerous trek from South to North, from slaver to freedom. Researchers today are excited about unraveling the mysteries behind the Underground Railroad Quilt codes.
4: with which to build shelters, compasses for determining directions, or tools to serve as weapons for defending themselves. | MONKEY WRENCH This meant the slaves were to gather all the tools they might need on the journey to freedom. Tools meant: something
5: THE WAGON WHEEL This was the second pattern to be displayed. It signaled the slaves to pack all the things that would go in a wagon | or that would be used during their journey. This was a signal for the slaves to think about what essentials they needed to survive the trip.
6: CARPENTER'S WHEEL This pattern had particular significance to slaves skilled in a craft--such as carpentry. It was also a symbol to "steal away"--a visual equivalent to the popular spiritual "Steal Away", which many slaves knew and sang. The pattern told slaves to "run with faith" to the west--northwest territories.
7: BEAR'S PAW It's believed that this pattern was sometimes used to help fugitives follow the path of the bear, and to identify landmarks on the edge of the plantation.
8: BOW TIE Slaves clothes were often tattered an d easy to spot. This pattern meant that someone would bring the slave nice clothes to help them blend in with the free blacks. | BASKET This block would advise escaping slaves to obtain enough food and provisions to make the long journey. Safe houses displayed this quilt when they had provisions available to help.
9: NORTH STAR This instructed the slaves to follow the North Star to Canada and to freedom.
10: CROSSROADS Once through the mountains, slaves were to travel to the crossroads. The main crossroad was Cleveland, OH. Any quilt hung before this one would have given directions to Ohio. | SAILBOAT This pattern indicated to travelers that they should make their way to the shore of Lake Michigan where a boat would carry them to safety in Canad.
11: SHOOFLY Little is known about his pattern. It is believed that Shoofly refers to an actual person who might have aided escaping slaves.
12: JACOB'S LADDER This pattern was used for directional purposes as the alternating path of dark and light fabrics could be used to show the direction in which a "passenger" was to travel.
13: FLYING GEESE This pattern told the slaves to follow migrating geese north toward Canada and to freedom. It was used as directions as well as the best season for slaves to escape. Geese fly north in the spring an | and summer. Flying geese pointed to the direction, north, for the slaves to move. Also, geese would have to stop at waterways along their journey in order to rest and eat Slaves were to take their cues on direction, timing and behavior from the migrating geese.
14: LOG CABIN This pattern was used to let the slaves know where safe houses were. People who helped the Underground Railroad may have identified themselves as friends to slaves on the run by tracing this pattern in dirt as a signal This quilt told slaves to look for this symbol on their journey to freedom. It was also a symbol to set up a "home" in a free state.
15: DRUNKARDS PATH This was a clear warning for the slaves to move in a staggering fashion so as to elude any following slave hunters. | It was suggested that slaves even double back to elude their pursuers.