Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Cradle-Quilt's Journey

Cradle Quilt
Historic New England

Click on the link to see more:

I've been writing posts about the Boston crib quilt in the collection of Historic New England. I've discussed the likely source of the quilt and of the poem. There's another story in what happened to it after the December, 1836, Antislavery Fair.

The cradle quilt on display

Francis Jackson (1789-1861)
Photo from the Boston Public Library

The quilt was purchased at the bazaar by Francis Jackson for $5 (over $100 in today's dollars.) Jackson was a wealthy real estate developer and politician who volunteered as treasurer for Boston Vigilance Committee.

Number 31 Hollis Street, Boston.
Jackson lived here in the last decades
of his life. He died just before the Civil War.

His daughter Eliza Francis Jackson (1816-1881) had married Charles Danforth Meriam in November, 1836. The curators at Historic New England record that Jackson bought the crib quilt with its abolitionist message as a gift for the bride. She'd surely be needing it.

Eliza and Charles had three children, the eldest named Francis Jackson Meriam for his grandfather. Charles Meriam died in 1845 leaving Eliza with baby Charles Levi, four-year-old Eliza Frances and Francis Jackson, about eight. We don't know if any of the Meriam children actually slept under the crib quilt with the poem.

It was created to carry on the abolitionist message and it did its job.

Francis Jackson Meriam (1837-1865)

Eliza's son Francis Jackson Meriam's commitment to the antislavery cause drove him to Haiti and the Kansas Territory in the mid-fifties.

Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, Kansas
The town was founded by antislavery activists from

When he was 22 he arrived at a Virginia farmhouse near Harper's Ferry, where he'd heard that John Brown and several others were plotting to begin a slave uprising by attacking the federal arsenal there.
Portrait from R.J. Hinton's 1894 book John Brown and His Men.

The plotters had accepted Meriam's $600 inheritance as a donation and asked him to buy ammunition in Baltimore, where he'd almost been arrested.

The Booth Kennedy Farm was headquarters for the conspirators in 1859.

Brown and his men left Meriam at the farm to guard the ammunition while they went to Harper's Ferry to start a war by terrorism. Meriam's fighting skills (he had a glass eye) and judgment might have been factors in his staying behind. He has been recalled as erratic and emotional. The decision saved his life.

Meriam was one of the few of Brown's men to escape.

After Brown and the raid's survivors were arrested, Meriam fled the farm, made his way to Canada through Boston and returned after the Civil War began to become a Captain in the 3rd South Carolina Colored Infantry.

The quilt remained in his family. His mother had remarried when he was about 11. With husband James Eddy she had four more children. The youngest Amy was about five when her brother's name made newspaper headlines in 1859.

Amy Eddy (1854-1938) inherited the crib quilt and in 1923 as Mrs. Edward M. Harris she donated it to a historic house that became part of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, later Historic New England.

Read a first person account of the raid on Harper's Ferry by one of co-conspirators, Richard J. Hinton.
John Brown and his Men, 1894
Over on the left do a search for Merriam (with 2 r's) to read specifically about Francis Jackson Meriam.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Poem on the Anti-Slavery Cradle Quilt

The cradle quilt attributed to Lydia Maria Child is on the cover of
Mary Babson Fuhrer's recent book A Crisis of Community,
a good image for a study of a New England town.
Read a post about this antislavery quilt from the collection
of Historic New England here:

And an article about the quilt by Historic New England's Curator Nancy Carlisle here:

Lydia Maria Francis Child

Child is remembered as an anti-slavery activist, but she first achieved fame in the 1820s at the age of 22 with a novel Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times, remarkable in being an early historical novel, one written by a woman and one told from a woman's point of view.

Hobomok was published anonymously in 1824,
 "By an American."

She supported herself and her husband author David Lee Child with her literary successes, including childrens' books with moral themes, womens' advice books, political columns for newspapers and editing a childrens' periodical.

The Juvenile Miscellany, 1832, edited
by Mrs. D.L. Child

As antislavery activists in Massachusetts became more radical, Child did too. Her 1833 essay An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans was one of the books that influenced the growing antislavery movement. But it also ruined Child's literary career. Her books were boycotted and she lost her editorial job. She continued to edit radical books, among them the 1834 gift book The Oasis, a miscellany of stories and poems with an antislavery theme.

The Oasis contained a poem called Remember the Slave. It's first two verses are inked onto the cradle quilt made two years later, which is now in the collection of Historic New England.

Mother! when around your child
You clasp your arms in love,
And when with grateful joy you raise
Your eyes to God above, —
Think of the negro mother, when
Her child is torn away,
Sold for a little slave, — oh then
For the poor mother pray!

The table of contents (a portion here from an edition on Google Books) indicates that
Mrs. Follen wrote "Remember the Slave". Lydia Maria Child ("Editor") wrote "Malem-Boo" and the editor's husband David Lee Child wrote "Henry Diaz." 

But over time the poem was reprinted with credit to the editor rather than to Mrs. Follen,

as in this 1837 reprint in Thomas Price's compilation
  Notices of the Present State of Slavery where the poem
is published as "By Mrs. Child."

Who was Mrs. Follen? 

Eliza Lee Cabot Follen

She was a good deal like Mrs. Child, a little bit older and much wealthier (one of the Boston Cabots,) She married poet Charles Follen, a German immigrant forced to leave Hesse-Darmstadt for his radical ideas. He continued to act upon them in the United States where he and Eliza were outspoken in their antislavery beliefs.

Like Lydia Child, Eliza Follen published essays, compilations
and books for children...

and anti-slavery poetry.

Twenty years after the 1836 Fair, Charlotte Forten wrote about meeting Mrs. Follen at the annual anti-slavery fair. On Christmas Day, 1856:

"Spent the day very delightfully at the Fair.—Saw many beautiful things and many interesting people. Had the good fortune to be made known to three of the noblest and best of women;--Mesdames Chapman, Follen, and Child; who were very kind and pleasant to me. [Charlotte was a free black so could not count on Bostonians being kind and pleasant to her.]

...Mrs. Follen has a real motherly kindness of manner. She is a lovely looking silver haired old lady."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cradle Quilt from Historic New England Collection

Abolitionist Crib Quilt
Collection of Historic New England

This small star quilt is in the exhibit telling the story of the American Civil War now at the Shelburne Museum. Above, the framed quilt is shown at the New York venue of Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War.
Gift of Mrs. Edward M. Harris.
Accession number: 1923.597

Sixty-three small stars make up the quilt
which is 36" wide, making each star
block about 5" square.

In the center block is inked a poem:

Mother! when around your child

You clasp your arms in love, 

And when with grateful joy you raise 

Your eyes to God above,

Think of the negro mother, when

Her child is torn away, 

Sold for a little slave, — oh then 

Thirty years ago quilt historian Cuesta Benberry called our attention to this piece of history in the collection of what was then called Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA). She was interested in quilts having to do with slavery and abolition but there was so little reliable information available in 1981 she was thrilled to find this well-documented example.

(Cuesta Benberry A Quilt Research Surprise." Quilters Newsletter Magazine, July/August 1981, pp 34-35.)

I saw snapshots of the quilt's details and in 1996 Terry Thompson and I made a copy. We were just finding reproduction prints available and thought this would be a good project to use our small stash of early-to-mid-19th-century repros. We had no idea how many blocks it had and how the edges were finished out...

so we used our own taste and our largest chintzes (not very large)
to add two borders.

I inked the poem.

Since then several researchers have done work on the quilt. One important find was an article in the antislavery newspaper The Liberator describing articles for sale at the Boston Antislavery Fair held December 22, 1836.
“The Ladies’ Fair” from The Liberator, January 2, 1837 
A cradle-quilt was made of patchwork in small stars; and on the central star was written with indelible ink:
 ‘Mother! When around your child..."
See a transcription of that article here:

In Historic New England magazine (Spring, 2012) Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections, wrote about the quilt in an article "Comfort for a Cause," giving some background as to how the quilt came to be in the organization's collections.

Francis Jackson (1789-1861)
Photo from the Boston Public Library collection.

They believe that Francis Jackson, president of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society bought the quilt at that 1836 fair. It was passed through his daughter Eliza Francis Jackson Eddy to her daughter, the donor, Mrs. Edward M. Harris (Amy Eddy Harris).

In the catalog for Homefront & Battlefield the authors add the information that Jackson bought the quilt for his daughter who'd recently married and that the quilt is attributed to well-known Massachusetts abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. In a January, 1837 letter to a friend Child wrote, "You have doubtless learned the success of our Fair . . . My cradle-quilt sold for $5." (Letter is in the collection of Brown University.)

Lydia Maria Francis Child (1802-1880)
She was about 34 at the time of the 1836 fair.

More evidence that Lydia Maria Child made the quilt in question:

Throughout her papers she mentions doing needlework for the cause. Martin H. Blatt, ‎David R. Roediger in their 1999 book The Meaning of Slavery in the North write that Child "noted many times that she was 'stitching for the Fair every spare moment.' "

I've found two other documents from Child discussing star crib quilts.

In the 1861 letter above she writes that despite her "irrepressible anxiety about public affairs" during the first summer of the Civil War:
"I made, and quilted on my lap, the prettiest little crib-quilt you ever saw. The outside had ninety-nine little pink stars of French calico, on a white ground, with a rose-wreath trimming all round for a border; and the lining was a very delicate rose-colored French brilliant. It took one month of industrious sewing to complete it. I sent it to my dear friend, Mrs. S., in honor of her first grand-daughter. It was really a relief to my mind to be doing something for an innocent little baby in these dreadful times."
This letter was published in an 1883 collection of her letters, printed after her death. Read it here:

The second reference is in an 1864 list of her accomplishments in which she mentions one quilt:
"Made a starred crib quilt, and quilted it; one fortnights work."
Part of Child's long list

The list has been published in Gerda Lerner's The Female Experience: An American Documentary.

Child seems to have returned to the pattern several times to make crib or cradle quilts.

The poem has been attributed to Child too, but there is doubt about this. More posts on this quilt in the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Threads of Memory 11: St. Charles Star for Louisa Alexander

#11 St. Charles Star for Louisa Alexander
 by Jean Stanclift

In the fall of 1863, as Union troops and Confederate sympathizers skirmished in the countryside near St. Louis, a woman sent a letter to her husband who had escaped from slavery and run away to the city.
St. Louis in 1859

There Archer Alexander found shelter from people who also offered to donate money to buy his wife out of slavery. In reply to that welcome news Louisa Alexander dictated a response:

MY DEAR HUSBAND,--I received your letter yesterday, and lost no time in asking Mr. Jim if he would sell me, and what he would take for me. He flew at me, and said I would never get free only at the point of the Baynot, and there was no use in my ever speaking to him any more about it. I don't see how I can ever get away except you get soldiers to take me from the house, as he is watching me night and day. If I can get away I will, but the people here are all afraid to take me away. He is always abusing Lincoln, and calls him a old Rascoll. He is the greatest rebel under heaven. It is a sin to have him loose. He says if he had hold of Lincoln he would chop him up into mincemeat. I had good courage all along until now, but now I am almost heart-broken. Answer this letter as soon as possible. I am your affectionate wife, LOUISA ALEXANDER
Louisa lived near a settlement called Naylor's Store in St. Charles County where "Mr. Jim" Hollman owned her and her family. Naylor's Store is now a ghost town, but was located 20 miles north of the city of St. Charles, according to an 1855 reference.

St. Louis is the larger arrow on the right; St. Charles city the smaller arrow,
and Naylor's Store is north on the flood plains about half way
 between the Missouri River (diagonal green line) 
and the Mississippi River that curves around St. Charles County
and south to St. Louis.

Missouri, first settled by the Illiniwek tribes, then by the French and in the 19th century by Southern immigrants, was a slave state that never joined the Confederacy.

"Old Frenchtown" in St. Louis by the Mississippi River

St. Louis was its Union heart, home to Federal troops and recent German settlers opposed to slavery. St. Charles County was one of the many rural areas where Southern sympathies reigned.

Friedrich Paul Wilhelm's watercolor 
of a boat towed by slaves on the Missouri
River across from St. Charles, ca. 1825

Louisa and Archer had enjoyed a relatively stable married life for an enslaved couple, living together for thirty years and raising ten children. After their marriage, Archer's owners sold him to Louisa's master rather than take him out of the state.

Black Union troops

By the time Louisa sent her letter, only 13-year-old Nellie lived with her. Three of their girls had escaped to St. Louis and a son was fighting in the Union Army. Archer had disappeared six months earlier.
Slave holder Jim Hollman and his neighbors were characterized as "Haystack Secessionists," men who helped the Southern cause in small ways by burning bridges and blocking roads to endanger Federal patrols. Archer heard of a planned attack on a wooden bridge and alerted Union sympathizing neighbors.
Archer Alexander in later life

Knowing he'd be punished, he made his way across the Missouri River to St. Louis, where he was fortunate to meet William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister with abolitionist sympathies. Eliot hired him and made the offer to buy Louisa.
William Greenleaf Eliot, about 1850,
from the collection of the Missouri History Museum

But "the greatest Rebel under heaven" refused to negotiate, as Louisa dictated in the letter that one of her German-born neighbors carried to St. Louis. Archer, the Eliots and the German farmers formed other plans. The Eliots offered to hide Louisa and Nellie. A farmer agreed to carry them in his oxcart to the city for payment of $20.

Typical everyday wear for enslaved women during the Civil War

Clad only in day dresses without bonnets or shawls so as not to raise suspicion they were planning to travel, Louisa and Nellie sauntered to the road near their cabin where they'd agreed to meet the farmer. After hiding them under the cornshucks in his wagon, their driver casually walked along, leading his oxen.

A hay wagon could hide quite a bit

Soon one of the Hollmans rode up demanding to know if he'd seen a woman and girl. The farmer honestly confessed, "Yes, I saw them at the crossing, as I came along, standing, and looking scared-like, as if they were waiting for somebody; but I have not seen them since." The italic emphasis is in William Eliot's published account of the escape. He added, "Literal truth is sometimes the most ingenious falsehood."

The Eliot home
Collection of Washington University

Louisa enjoyed freedom under the Eliot's roof with her loving husband and several children for only a year. In early 1865, after slavery was finally abolished in Missouri her former master sent word she could return to Naylor's Store to retrieve her things, which Eliot described:
her "bed [bedding] and clothes, and little matters of furniture….We advised her not to go, as they were not worth much, and there might be some risk involved; but she 'honed' for them, and went. Two days after getting there, she was suddenly taken sick and died. The particulars could not be learned, but 'the things' were sent down by the family."

St. Charles Star by Becky Brown

St. Charles Star combines a traditional star with an easy-to-piece curve to create a star atop a circular shape. The block reminds us of St. Charles County along the Mississippi River where Haystack Secessionists, slaves, Federal troops, and antislavery farmers were neighbors during the Civil War.

Cutting a 12" Block

This block is closely related in basic structure to Block 10, Britain's Star. See those instructions here:

The curved pieces (D and F) in the St. Charles Star can be pieced or appliquéd. The instructions directly below are for piecing. Scroll down to see instructions for appliqué. *

A – Cut 1 square 4 1/2" x 4 1/2".

B - For the points cut 4 rectangles 5 5/16" x 2 5/8". Cut the rectangles diagonally to make 2 triangles. (Or use template B.) You need 4 triangles and 4 reversed.

C – Cut 4 squares 4 1/2" x 4 1/2" and use template C to cut out the curve.

D - Use template D to cut 4 curved pieces.

E – Use template E to cut 4 shapes with 4 cut out pieces.

F - Use template F to cut 4 curved pieces.

Printing Templates

To print:
  • Create a word file or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11".
  • Click on the image above.
  • Right click on it and save it to your file.
  • Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". At the bottom side of piece C the dark sewing line should measure 4" . Adjust the printed page size if necessary.


*Alternate appliqué instructions: 

Jean Stanclift who made the block at the top of the page loves to appliqué, so she machine-appliquéd pieces D & F onto backgrounds. She cut 4 squares 4 1/2" x 4 1/2"  for the corner square backgrounds (C/D). See a template for the triangles E & F in Block 10, last month's pattern for Britain's Star.

Block 10 Britain's Star

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Louisa Alexander's Story

Louisa's letter is a rare example of an enslaved woman's words. She probably was unable to write, but she dictated her letter. Her German-born neighbors held slavery in such contempt they were willing to serve as an informal and illegal post office.

We often think of illiterate people as deprived of any written communication (a possible reason for all the stories about secret visual codes) but we should realize many social systems assisted people who could not write or read. Friendship often meant helping with communication. Store keepers and postmasters wrote and read letters for a fee. Scribe-written notes about the Underground Railroad might have been far more numerous than we realize. Most correspondents must have obeyed the advice: "Burn this letter."

Read William Greenleaf Eliot's account of the Alexanders' escapes in his book The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom (Boston: Cupples, Upham and Company, 1885). The book, which includes Louisa's letter, is available online at the website "Documenting the American South" sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Click on this link:

Read more about the Alexanders and the Eliots here at this post:

St. Charles Star by Becky Brown
Becky changed the center here to 4 squares cut 2-1/2"
and fussy cut a fancy stripe.

Make a Quilt a Month

Choose high contrast coloring to evoke the night sky in a 45" wall quilt, Moon and Stars. Sash four of the St. Charles Star blocks with 3" finished strips. Add a 2" finished inner border and a 4" finished outer border.