Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Anti-Slavery Quilt from Everettville

Detail of a quilt pictured in the book Massachusetts Quilts, Our Commonwealth,
edited by Lynne Zacek Bassett. (Pages 177-180). 

The inked star quilt with a date of about 1845 has been associated with reformer Abby Kelley Foster. It's in the collection of the Worcester Historical Museum.In the photo of the whole quilt it appears that ten of the plain white squares have lengthy anti-slavery statements inked in the centers.

Author of the essay on this quilt, M C (perhaps Marjorie Childers) transcribed one:
"Dedicated to the cause by a few friends in Everettville, Princeton, Mass.
While ye are sleeping on your beds of down covered with quilts and costly tapestry,
many a slave lies on the cold ground, covered with naught but Heaven's broad canopy.
Remember the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Fair."

The book includes an overall photo of the quilt but years have taken their toll and it's so faded and stained the pattern is hard to make out. Above is a sketch in EQ7 of the design alternating two blocks. In the original there are only two fabrics, one with a pink oval figure and the other a white plain. The original has cut out corners for a four-poster bed, indicating its New England origins.

The Museum's records reveal nothing about the donor or the quilt's makers. Over the years staff passed on the story that it was somehow associated with Abby Kelley Foster, an important speaker in the radical Anti-Slavery and Women's Rights movements of the mid-19th-century.

Abby Kelley Foster (1811-1887)
Abby Kelley spent much of her life in and near Worcester, Massachusetts.
Her home Liberty Farm is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Women at an Anti-Slavery meeting about 1845. 
Photo from the Madison County Historical Society, 
Oneida, New York

Perhaps women in an anti-slavery organization in Everettville, Princeton, Massachusetts made the quilt for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Fair, where it was purchased by Foster. Another option is that it was purchased and given to her. I did a search in The Liberator, the prominent periodical of the anti-slavery groups looking for mention of the ladies of Everettville.

Everettville is a neighborhood near Lake Wachusett

This letter to the editor came up in the February 12, 1847 edition of the newpaper, which was edited by William Lloyd Garrison.


Friend Wm L. Garrison

May I be indulged in the acknowledgment of a favor, through the Liberator?

A few days ago, I returned to my family at Plymouth, from which I had been absent upwards of two months, on a tedious anti-slavery tour, and was show a neat and good bed-quilt, and two or three lesser articles, which had been received during my absence from an unknown source.
More recently, I have learned that they had been presented to us by the friends of the enlaved at Everettville, Princeton as a token of sympathy, and in consideration of our need, sacrifice, and devotion to the cause of the more needy victims of American oppression. Be those practical friends assured of our heart-felt gratitude for their well-timed present. They could not have made a selection of any thing of the same amount, that would have been more acceptable at this time and season.
May the donors, and the co-workers in the cause of humanity, yet have the satisfaction of knowing that the three millions of American chattel slaves in the United States have, at least, the privilege of providing themselves with a quilt, to shield them and their little ones from the inclement weather, by their own labor and industry, instead of having their backs stripped, and quilted, as at present, by the driver's lash, under a relentless despotism.

Great Falls, Feb. 1st, 1847

Jonathan Walker (1799-1878) in his forties

Jonathan Walker was well-known to Liberator subscribers in 1846. He was then, like Abby Kelley Foster, a speaker on the anti-slavery lecture circuit. A Massachusetts native, he and his family lived in Pensacola, Florida, where he made national news in 1844 for being arrested while assisting escaped slaves. A ship captain, he attempted to sail them from Florida to the Caribbean, but plans went awry. The escapees were returned to their owners and Walker was convicted in a Federal Court, fined $600 and sentenced after his hand was branded with the letters SS for "slave stealer."

The letters SS appear reversed in this photo of "The Branded Hand"
because daguerreotypes are viewed backwards. The photo is
in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Read more here:

After a year in jail he was freed in May, 1845, when anti-slavery activists paid his fine. Captain Walker returned to Massachusetts, settling his family in Plymouth while he traveled giving lectures about his experiences and showing his scarred hand. The lecture business paid poorly in terms of money, and the Walkers with eight children at the time must have been glad to receive Christmas charity in the form of a "neat and good bedquilt" from the ladies of Everettville 18 months after his release.

Was Walker's gift the inked star quilt now in the collection of the Worcester Historical Society?

I'll keep looking for references to abolition quilts in internet records. I have found that the words to use in searching are "anti-slavery" and "bedquilt" rather than our words "abolition" and "quilt."

Meanwhile I'm thinking about making a small version of that pink star quilt pictured in the Massachusetts Quilts book. It is perfect for the pinks in my Richmond Reds and Ladies' Album reproduction collections for Moda.

 I'm thinking scrappy stars.

 If you want to make a full-sized version stitch 12" LeMoyne star blocks. 
(BlockBase # 3735b)

The alternate block is a Triangle Block (Blockbase #2375a)

25 star blocks and 16 triangle blocks (12") set on point
will give you a quilt just about 85" square.

My plans are evolving. If you made 6" blocks like we're doing in the 
Stars in a Time Warp QuiltAlong you'd wind
up with a quilt about 42-1/2" according to EQ7. Pink sawtooth stars
and brown alternate blocks?


Suzanne A said...

What ingenious research! I look forward to seeing more of what turns up.

WoolenSails said...

Wonderful idea for the pink quilt, can't wait to see how it comes out. Love the variations with the stars.


Anonymous said...

Great story, thank you again for sharing your research. I am stitching along with Time Warp Stars so I think I will include a few pink and white ones each week and I could end up with my version of this beautiful Anti-Slavery bed quilt. Judy