Saturday, September 27, 2014

Threads of Memory 9: Lancaster Star for Deborah Simmons Coates

Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Silk quilt by Deborah Simmons Coates, 
Collection of The Heritage Center of Lancaster County.

The triangle design along the Lancaster Star's edges recalls Deborah Coates's quilt. The silk quilt, pictured in the book Heart and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, was cut in half for two descendants.

Read more about the book here:
Photograph: The Heritage Center of Lancaster County
This recent photo shows the color more accurately.

The block is often called Birds in the Air. This month's new design Lancaster Star honors the Coates family and others  in Lancaster County who resisted slavery's laws.

Lancaster Star by Jean Stanclift

Deborah Coates's silk quilt  featured an image on a central triangle, an African man in chains kneeling under the words: "Deliver me from the oppression of man." The kneeling slave was a common symbol for the abolitionist movement, originating in England where Josiah Wedgewood manufactured small blue and white medallions in his china works. 

Easily shipped and easily adapted to all manner of decorative arts, the cameos were worn by abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. The kneeling slave was translated to posters, dinnerware, and textiles.

Brocade handkerchief with kneeling slave. Source?
For her quilt Deborah Coates may have cut a piece from a similar handkerchief. There is no doubt that she meant to make a statement. The Coates farm in Lancaster County on the northern border of Maryland was one of the many Pennsylvania links in the chain to freedom in Canada.

Deborah Simmons Coates 1801-1888
From the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection

Born a Quaker in 1801, Deborah T. Simmons married Lindley Coates when she was eighteen years old. Like the rest of the large religious community in southeastern Pennsylvania they followed the Quaker conscience by refusing to own slaves. For the Coates family, passive abstention was not enough. Lindley tried futile political attempts to change the laws before he and Deborah  decided to resist the law by hiding fugitives.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased dangers to runaways and those who helped them. Vigilantes retaliated against antislavery neighbors, burning the Coates' barn. Posses kidnapped Northern blacks to sell them into slavery or collect "rewards" from Southerners claiming to be aggrieved owners. A black man recalled that people in the area lived "in constant fear" of kidnapping. When a free girl was waylaid by local slave-nabbers known as the Gap Gang, a group of blacks resisted. "The girl was rescued and her captors terribly, if not fatally, beaten," according to local historian Robert Clemens Smedley.

Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Soon American newspapers were full of reports about a violent confrontation in the nearby town of Christiana where Southerners intent upon retrieving a young man met resistance from Pennsylvanians, black and white. "The Christiana Riot" was seen as treason as well as murder when the slave owner was killed and his quarry helped to escape to Canada.

The Slave Riot, Baltimore Sun, 1851

Posses "scoured [the country arresting] every colored man that they could find," recorded Smedley.

Terrified blacks sought refuge at the Coates farm, where they "were taken to the corn field and hidden under the shocks." While the men in the family were away, Deborah played host to "a party of these ruffians, for such they were, [who] searched the house from cellar to garret, and that without a warrant."

Christiana, Lancaster County, at the end of the century

After the Christiana Riot, 41 men faced indictment, including several Quakers charged with the undeniably illegal activity of refusing to assist the Marshal in retrieving the fugitives. As Quaker passivity became high treason, the rift between North and South widened.

Cutting a 12" Block
A - Cut 4 squares 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".

B  - Cut 6 squares  4 1/4" x 4 1/4" of various shades.

Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. You'll need 24 triangles.

C - Cut 4 squares 3 7/8" x 3 7/8" for the star points.

Cut each into 2 triangles with a diagonal cut. You need 8 triangles.

D – Cut 1 square 4 1/2" x 4 1/2". UPDATE: Some readers say try 5" if it doesn't fit.


What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Deborah Simmons Coates Story

The figure inked on Deborah's quilt was familiar in antislavery literature, an early example of an image uniting a group and raising public awareness of its reformist goals. The picture on her quilt was a visual code, although not a secret code. If a runaway was looking for a friend in Lancaster County a Wedgewood cameo pin would be a good clue.

Make a Quilt a Month

Set nine Lancaster Star blocks with 3" finished sashing and a 3" border to create a 54" quilt. Experiment with shading to get different looks. Here the shading emphasizes a central pinwheel in each block.

To read a full text version of Robert Clemens Smedley's 1888 book History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania click on this link:
Once the full text page comes up you can read more about the Coates family by searching in the book on the right for the name Coates.


Sandy said...

I long to make your Dixie Diary quilt, as well as your Theads of Memory quilt - but alas... I'm still quilting on my Civil War Sampler (2011) and then somewhere along the line got started on the Farmers Wife ~

Thanks for all the fascinating history, Barbara. I really enjoy your blog.

Barbara Brackman said...

You don't have to make them. I like to know people are reading the stories.

Chantal said...

I love this block. I love to see the different colour scheme too. But reading the stories is just as pleasant. Thanks for sharing.

Donna~~ said...

I enjoy your stories too. I've forwarded the links to friends who I thought would enjoy the stories too. Very much appreciate your making them available to us.

lcscottage said...

I am also enjoying reading the stories, Barbara. And I've shared them as well. Thank you so much!

Grami24 said...

Barbara, I just finished Block 9 and had to go back and cut piece D to a 5" x 5" square rather than a 4 1/2" x 4 1/2". Hope this helps others. Thanks for the wonderful stories and great blocks!!!

Barb said...

Thanks, Grami24--I will try that. Things weren't fitting together!