Saturday, May 31, 2014

Threads of Memory 5: Madison Star for Delia Webster

5 Madison Star by Becky Brown

In June, 1854 a woman who'd been hiding on the Kentucky bluffs overlooking the Ohio River found passage over the water to the free state of Indiana. Sympathetic Hoosiers hid her under hay stacks and brush heaps. Delia Webster had, declared the Madison Courier, "escaped on the 'underground railroad', vanished, vamoosed…"

"Running Down Slaves With Dogs"

Delia was not a fugitive slave but a notorious "negro stealer." After serving time in a Kentucky prison, she had purchased a Kentucky farm for a station on the Underground Railroad---an act defying both prudence and the Kentucky authorities. She was, "a very bold and defiant kind of woman, without a spark of feminine modesty," criticized the Louisville Democrat.

Delia Ann Webster (1817-1876)
about the time of the
 end of the Civil War

Delia Webster's life story with its cliff-hanging moments and daring escapes reads like a melodrama. Like all melodramas, the story omits character shading to help us understand her motives and emotions.

Webster never fit the stereotype of 
 New England abolitionist illustrated in 
Albert D. Richardson's Beyond the Mississippi

At 26 years of age she traveled from her Vermont home to Kentucky to teach. Delia apparently planned to lead a double life spiriting runaway slaves to safety as she taught their owners' children.

Much of her Underground Railroad activity remains secret. Her best documented escapade, helping the Lewis & Harriet Hayden family in 1844, is known only because she and co-conspirator Calvin Fairbank were arrested, convicted and jailed in the Kentucky Penitentiary. Sentenced to two years, Delia served about six weeks as the prison's only female inmate. Her 1845 pardon has been attributed to her charm. She captivated Warden Newton Craig and his wife Lucy.

Freed and famous, Delia returned to Vermont and published a book, an unreliable account of the Haydens' escape in answer to "low innuendoes and foul detraction."

After four years she again traveled South, settling in Madison, Indiana, a town that was by accident of geography an important junction of the Underground Railroad.

Routes for runaways from the Ohio River south of 
Indiana and Ohio up to Michigan and Canada.
The arrow points to Madison.

Just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, Madison was perched between the river and a vertical slope covered with an unruly woodland where escapees could hide out in a forest of ridges and hollows. Delia is rumored to have helped many.

Madison Star by Jean Stanclift

Madison was divided between slavery's supporters and freedom's advocates.The notorious abolitionist was unwelcome even before she scandalized Madison's citizens by carrying on a very public relationship with the married Kentucky warden who'd signed her pardon.

 Kentucky's bluffs across the Ohio River from 
Madison, Indiana today. It's said that Madison knew when 
Kentucky vigilantes were raiding Delia's farm
 by the glow of burning outbuildings on the ridge.

After a few years, Delia wearied of waiting for fugitives to come to her and borrowed money from Warden Craig to buy farmland on the Kentucky plateau opposite Madison, a perfect temporary refuge for runaways on the first leg of the journey. Kentucky's slaveholders had only circumstantial evidence of her help with escapes. With Delia Webster living in Trimble County, the slave population declined.

By 1854 affection between warden and ex-prisoner faded. Delia, long on nerve but short on discretion, published Craig's letters hoping to ruin his career. He retaliated by reviving the ten-year-old case against her for Harriet Hayden's rescue. (She'd served time only for helping Lewis Hayden.)

Delia's much-publicized escape from her second Kentucky trial into the hills behind Madison eventually landed her in the city's jail, but Indiana courts set her free, refusing to return her. Delia realized Kentucky's danger and never crossed the river again.

Stevens House, Vergennes, Vermont

She went home to New England and spent the time before the Civil War writing and lecturing about her exploits and the evils of slavery.

Her 1854 escape to Indiana received a good deal of newspaper coverage.

See an article in the New York Times here:

This photograph of Delia and her sisters in their forties and fifties gives a glimpse of Delia's theatrical personality. Her sisters have dressed their hair in up-to-date style with center parts but Delia wears a fringe (bangs) with old-fashioned sausage curls, perhaps to recapture the look of her heyday in the 1840s. She's painted her lips and cheeks. She might have indulged in the plastic surgery of the era, having wax injected under her skin, as she bears little resemblance to her pleasantly aging sisters.

Madison Star by Dustin Cecil

Delia lived into her mid eighties, dying in Des Moines in 1904, eccentric and mysterious to the end.

This new star block recalls Madison, Indiana, an important station on the Underground Railroad. Madison remains a beautiful river town with many restored examples of mid- and late-nineteenth century architecture.
Cutting a 12" Block

A - Cut 4 squares 4" for the corners.

B - Cut 1 square 6-1/4". Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts.
You need 4 triangles.

C & D - Use the templates to cut 8 each of C and D or you may prefer to paper piece the overall point.

On the left the templates, on the right a paper pieced star point.

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". The side of the diamond should measure 3-1/2" on the dark sewing line so it matches the sewing line on the A square. Adjust the size if necessary.

Repeat and finish out the star.

Madison Star by Dustin Cecil

Make a Quilt a Month
Set four Madison Stars side by side to make a small wall quilt. Keep the fabric in the center pinwheel the same but vary the colors in each block to create a sparkling quartet. Add a 2-inch finished inner border and a 4" finished outer border for a 36" square quilt.

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Delia Webster's Story.

Assisting escaping slaves was dangerous work. Agents were arrested and jailed by Southern authorities and occasionally executed by vigilantes. Delia served only six weeks for helping Lewis Hayden but Calvin Fairbank spent 17 years in confinement for two separate convictions.

Marker in Trimble County, Kentucky

Links to More Information:

You can read Delia Webster's account of her trial for aiding the Haydens in her pamphlet:
Kentucky jurisprudence: a history of the trial of Miss Delia A. Webster at Lexington, Kentucky, Dec'r 17-21, 1844 before the Hon. Richard Buckner on a charge of aiding slaves to escape from that commonwealth, with miscellaneous remarks, including her views on American slavery / written by herself. 
Click here to see it at the Kentucky Digital Library.

She described the escape rather unreliably and included trial transcripts and accounts of her imprisonment and pardon. She later claimed her father forced her to lie about the Haydens' escape. 

Her anti-slavery partner also wrote a memoir. Click here to read it at the Internet Archive:
Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He "Fought the Good Fight" to Prepare "the Way."

Lewis and Harriet Hayden wound up in Boston after Webster and Fairbank got them out of Kentucky. See a picture of their Boston house and read about their activities in the fight for freedom by clicking on this link:

Find Out More In Print
For much more about Delia Webster's story see Randolph Paul Runyon's biography, Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996). For a review of the book from H-Net Online click on this link:


WoolenSails said...

That was a wonderful post to read and enjoyed hearing about her life and how she helped others, really brings the blocks to life.


Sandy said...

What an interesting story about a remarkable woman. I'll definitely be following up on some of your links.

And.. I love that quilt block!

TexasJane said...

I love all the blocks and the blog. I am having a hard time with the templates. The statement "This dark sewing line should measure 3 1/2" to match up to square A"...which dark sewing line? I think I know, but Square A is 4" so why would the sewing line be 3 1/2"? Please help.

Chez Nadege said...

Hi Barbara,
I love doing this BOM, it's so exciting !! I've already done the 4 left blocks, it's real pleasure !
But this time I have a question about the block : I don't understand, how it is possible that triangle B is bigger than the A square. If A mesures 4", 12"- 2X4"(the 2 corners square) =4"
how long is the D basis ?
Thanks a lot for your help !


Jean said...

I am having trouble with printing out the template to the right size this time. I am using Windows 8.1. I have made all of the Civil War blocks with template with no previous problems. I wonder what I can do differently to get this printed to the right size. Any ideas that might help?

Farmhousesewer said...

I too cannot get the print to work to match the line.

Rachael Ferrera said...

I was having some issues with the template as well, but figured it out. Hope this helps:
1. Create a new Microsoft Word document and change the margins to 0.25" under Page Layout.
2. Right click on the template picture in the blog post and save on your desktop.
3. From your Word Document insert this saved picture.
4. To get the picture to be the right size, I had to change the vertical height to 10". The width should change automatically and proportionally to 7.73". (You do this on the right hand side of the "Picture Tools" toolbar that appears after you've clicked on the picture in your document)
5. When I printed this document the solid line measured 3.5" as described.

TexasJane said...

Thanks, Rachel! This tip worked really well. I am still not sure I understand the dimensions, but I have a 3 1/2" line so I am going to give a go!

Rachael Ferrera said...

Phew! Glad it worked for someone else.

Lynn said...

Myself and two of my friends are having a terrible time with this block.
I read Rachel's info but am not that computer savy. I would love it if an actual templet size could be printed to cut out. I am not all that good at paper piecing eaither.

Lynn said...

Thank you Rachael, I tried again and followed your instructions step by step. I got it, thanks so much.

Jane Anderson said...

Madison star was not made in Ladies Album fabrics. I was following those blocks exactly, and wish to go on in that manner. Can you make one in my fabric? Thanks, Jane A.

Pip said...

Thanks Rachael, your tip worked really well, I've printed it out in case I need it in the future. Off to make my block now.

Rachael Ferrera said...

No problem everyone! I also made a paper piecing pattern if you'd like to use foundation paper piecing for the whole block. This pattern does have a couple more seams than the original pattern, but no y-seams (see the picture of my block to get the idea). I'll be happy to email to anyone, just email with the request at

Anonymous said...

Had a nightmare with this BOM, until I recut the outer units and removed the need for Y seams. But got there in the end - just love the blocks, and am fascinated by the history.
Mrs Stitches