Saturday, June 28, 2014

Threads of Memory 6: Salem Star for Charlotte Forten Grimké

Block #6: Salem Star for Charlotte Forten Grimké 
by Jean Stanclift

In May, 1854 a sixteen-year-old school girl in Salem, Massachusetts sat down with her diary:
 “Did not intend to write this evening, but have just heard of something which is worth recording….Another fugitive from bondage has been arrested….I can only hope and pray most earnestly that Boston will not again disgrace herself by sending him back to a bondage worse than death…”
Charlotte Forten Grimké  (1837-1914) about
 the time of her marriage in 1878

Charlotte Forten wrote about Anthony Burns, an escaped slave who had lived as a free man in nearby Boston for several months before he was arrested by slave catchers aided by local authorities. During that week Charlotte described growing outrage at Burns’s imprisonment in the heart of antislavery Massachusetts.

 The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act strengthened cooperation between slave states and free, obligating police, courts, the Army and private citizens in any state to assist slave owners in reclaiming their human property. It also set up a separate court system for blacks and set aside any rights to evidence a black person might claim. A slave owner’s statement was the only testimony necessary to send one into bondage.

Salem Star by Dustin Cecil

On Friday evening, while most of Boston’s attention focused on a protest meeting at Faneuil Hall, several men stormed the courthouse in a vain attempt to free Burns, leaving a Deputy Marshal bleeding to death.

On the day Burns was marched through the city streets to board a ship for Virginia, Charlotte only mentioned it. “I can write no more. A cloud seems hanging over me, over all our persecuted race, which nothing can dispel.”

The Burns Affair, as it became known, was one more rent in the fabric of national unity as Northerners became increasingly frustrated with a legal system that favored the slave owner.

Charlotte Forten was witness to many other events in the late 1850s that led to the Civil War. As a free black girl growing into womanhood she felt obligated to devote her time to the abolitionist cause. A few weeks after Burns’s arrest a friend overhearing her conversation, “said she believed that we never talked of or read anything but Anti-Slavery....”

Charlotte's diary is in the collection of Howard University

Her diary recorded her studies, her friends and her reading, but primarily her attendance at antislavery events, lectures, meetings, sewing circles, and fundraisers. While attending Salem’s Higginson school as the only black student, she boarded with the Remond family, important antislavery advocates whose home was a gathering place for local and visiting activists.

Sarah Parker Remond offered to board Charlotte
so she could get an education in Salem. Charlotte's hometown
Philadelphia schools were closed to black girls.

Charlotte’s hostess had been active in forming the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, one of over 100 antislavery organizations in Massachusetts in that decade.
The Salem Gazette announces a fundraising fair by the Salem
Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1837.
"Those who wish to contribute articles for this Sale are requested to leave them at
Mr. Wm. Phelps...."  Quilts, perhaps????

Salem Star for Charlotte Forten Grimké 
by Becky Brown

Salem in 1854, about the time Charlotte arrived

Although New England’s antislavery army lost the battle to prevent the United States Army from returning Burns to Virginia, they formed the support troops in the long-term war against slavery. Girls like Charlotte contributed by sewing for the annual fairs. A few weeks before the 1854 Christmas fundraiser she wrote:

“Went to a sewing party, or ‘bee’ as the New Englanders call it---Such parties possess not the slightest attraction for me, unless they are for the anti-slavery fair. Then I always feel it both a duty and a pleasure to go.”
Handmade needle case of calico printed with an antislavery motto and image. 
Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

The money earned at tables selling penwipers, pincushions, embroidered slippers and quilts added to the balance sheets carefully kept by dedicated treasurers. Few account books survive because they were so carefully kept that they could provide excellent evidence of conspiracies to deprive slave owners of their legal property.

Account book of the Boston Vigilance Committee, 1857,
lists expenses for fuel to keep fugitives warm, passage to Toronto
for one and postage for petitions.

Once the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act imposed a thousand dollar fine on anyone anywhere assisting a runaway, the Underground Railroad destroyed its paper trail. The surviving ledger above give a glimpse of how the organizations spent the money so earnestly raised by women like Charlotte. Cash was disbursed to attorneys who defended resisters, to doctors who treated sick fugitives, to landlords who rented rooms to hide them and to newspapers publishing advertisements looking for landlords willing to provide shelter.

Money went to printers for copies of antislavery speeches and posters warning of slave hunters. Funds paid for train fare and carriage rental to carry people north and for $3 cash grants---pocket money for the first few weeks in Canada.

In the 1830s the women of the Forten and Remond families were among the first females to see themselves as active agents in social change. Charlotte continued in their footsteps for the rest of her life. When the Civil War began she traveled south to teach freed slaves in South Carolina and after the War worked for the Treasury Department in Washington where she married Reverend Francis J. Grimké. She died in 1914, lauded as an exemplary minister’s wife and a poet, writer and lecturer in her own right.

Salem Star by Becky Brown in Ladies's Album

Salem Star is a new way of looking at traditional quilt design to recall the old colonial town on the
Massachusetts coast. By 1850 Salem was home to the state’s third largest African-American community.

Cutting a 12" Block
A – Cut 12 squares 2" x 2".

B – Cut 4 rectangles 9 1/2" long by 2".

C – Cut 4 rectangles 6 1/2" long by 2".

D -  Cut 4 squares 2 3/8" x 2 3/8". Cut each in half with a diagonal cut.

You need 8 triangles.

E - Cut 1 square 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".

F – Cut 1 square 4 3/16". Cut into 4 triangles with 2 cuts.
You need 4 triangles. Christine in France says:  I think for F it's 4 3/8 ? Couldn't hurt to cut it larger.


What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Charlotte Forten Grimké's Story

The Underground Railroad was not an all-volunteer organization. Reading the ledger of Boston’s Vigilance Committee makes us aware that wages, rents, and fees were paid to people willing to defend and care for fugitives. A good deal of that money was raised by women, particularly at the Ladies' Fairs. 

See selections from the diaries at the National Humanities Center:

To read the account book of the Boston Vigilance Committee, now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, click on this link:

Click on the scan of the document as well as both tables. You’ll note many disbursements to Lewis Hayden, an important Boston agent in the Underground Railroad. You may recall that it was the escape of Hayden and his family that caused the imprisonment of Delia Webster and Calvin Fairbank described in issue # 5. Lewis Hayden’s activism during the 1850s must have been some consolation to Fairbank who spent those years in a Kentucky prison for helping him.

Unidentified woman photographed in Salem about 1865
 from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Find Out More In Print

Charlotte Forten Grimke’s diaries have been published in several forms. The most comprehensive is edited by Brenda Stevenson: Journals of Charlotte L. Forten Grimke. (Schomberg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers. Oxford University Press, 1998)

Christy Steel, Kerry Graves and Suzanne L. Bunkers have edited a version for young children of the events in the exciting year of 1854. A Free Black Girl Before the Civil War: The Diary of Charlotte Forten, 1854. (Mankato, Minnesota: Blue Earth Books 1999)

Ray Allen Billington published selections from her diaries in The Journal of Charlotte Forten: a Free Negro in the Slave Era. (New York: Norton, 1953).

Salem Star
81" x 81"

Make a Quilt a Month
Sash 25 Salem Stars to make an 81" by 81" bed sized quilt. The sashing and corner stones finish to 1 1/2" just like piece A (cut 2"). The blue outer border finishes to 6" (cut 6-1/2"). Recolor the block with small yellow squares and you'll get a strong diagonal grid.

UPDATE: Here's Dustin's ticking version.


31-christine said...

Hi, I think for F it's 4 3/8 ?

Thank you, Christine from France

Deb Bear said...

Very interesting!! Thanks , Barbara!

Treadleworks said...

Very interesting and thank you for the pattern!

The Vintage Journal said...

What a fascinating story, on reading, has inspired me to make a quilt in memory of Charlotte Forten Grimke. I found your page through Temucula Quilt co. Thank you for the pattern.
Angela Australia

Jane A. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane A. said...

If someone can send me an actual size in pdf form, or whatever, so I can print actual size, send to thank you ahead of time!