Saturday, December 27, 2014

Threads of Memory 12: Rochester Star for Amy Post & Harriet Jacobs

Rochester Star by Jean Stanclift
This is the last block in the 2014 Threads of Memory BOM

The patterns were free online for two years but now I am offering them for sale in two formats
at my Etsy shop. Buy a PDF or a Paper Pattern through the mail here:

In 1849 in Rochester, New York, two women spent many hours in intense conversation. One in her forties, the other in her thirties, the women began their talks with little in common.

Amy Post (1802-1897) in later life

Amy Kirby Post was a white New Yorker, born a Quaker, the wife of a prosperous druggist and mother and stepmother to a flourishing family.

Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) in later life

Harriet Jacobs, the younger woman, was born a slave in North Carolina and had rarely enjoyed the luxuries of a family life.

"The old Post residence on Sophia Street---the headquarters
of the Underground Railway" [in Rochester]

Amy Post and her husband took in Harriet as a boarder and kept her as a friend. Despite Amy's conviction that, "The Empire State is a shabby place of refuge for the oppressed," Rochester offered temporary shelter to the fugitive and Amy offered a sympathetic ear.

As the months went by Harriet revealed more of her past, a difficult thing to do as much of her story concerned sexual obsession. When she was about fifteen years old she'd attracted the notice of her master James Norcom who demanded her sexual services.

 James Norcom of Edenton, North Carolina

Harriet understood the system of concubinage inherent in slavery and sought the protection of another white lover, Samuel Sawyer, a lawyer with a higher social status. With Sawyer she had two children. Obtaining their freedom became an overriding goal in a life made unbearable by her master's lust and her mistress's jealousy. 

Norcum's second wife Mary

Southern Diarist Mary Chesnut described the system:

"Every lady tells you who is the father of all the Mulatto children in everybody's household, but those in her own, she seems to think drop from the clouds or pretends so to think..."

Even proper Quaker women like Amy Post knew Harriet's story of sex in slavery was not unusual. Many enslaved women were driven to escape by an owner's grasping hands. Harriet's tale was remarkable because once free of Norcom's desires she did not go far.

Sawyer tricked Norcom into selling him his children Joseph and Louisa. He sent them to live with Harriet's free grandmother. Refusing to leave her children, Harriet hid in a crawl space over their porch for years. Norcom never gave up looking for her, posting an advertisement describing her carefully:

"She is a light mulatto, 31 years of age, about 5 feet 4 inches high, of a thick and corpulent habit, having on her head a thick covering of black hair that curls, but which can be easily combed straight. She speaks easily and fluently and has an agreeable carriage and address. Being a good seamstress she has been accustomed to dress well, has a variety of very fine clothes made in the prevailing fashion, and will probably appear if abroad tricked out in gay and fashionable finery…."

Harriet asked friends to post letters from northern cities to fool Norcom into believing she had fled to a free state, when in reality she lived in a cramped attic close by. Sawyer, elected to Congress and newly married, arranged to have the children travel north. 

Harriet herself ran first to Philadelphia and New York City and then north to Rochester where a brother lived. Rochester in 1849 was an exciting place, a thriving mill town on the falls of the Genesee River, a mecca for antislavery activists where Frederick Douglass, the most famous of fugitive slaves, published his North Star newspaper. The city located near the Erie Canal, Lake Ontario and the Canadian border, was an important way station on the Underground Railroad.

Harriet spent her months in Rochester managing an antislavery reading room above the North Star offices where a group of women met every Thursday to sew items for sale in the library gift shop and at the antislavery fairs.

Reformers like Amy heard many stories from fugitive slaves and abused women but she recalled that Harriet's tale was painful to hear and exceptionally painful to tell. "Even in talking with me, she wept so much, and seemed to suffer such mental agony, that I felt her story was too sacred to be drawn from her by inquisitive questions, and I left her free to tell as much, or as little, as she chose."

As the story unfolded Amy encouraged Harriet to write it down and publish it, "but the weeping woman demurred: 'You know a woman can whisper her cruel wrongs in the ear of a dear friend much easier than she can record them for the world to read.' "

Federal laws tightened and runaways in Rochester realized the danger. Her brother went west to California and Harriet returned to the larger city of New York where she hoped to disappear. Without Amy to hear her, she spent her evenings writing out the story.

After the malevolent Doctor died in 1850 his family accepted a friend's payment for her freedom. Harriet gained the confidence to send her autobiographical sketches to the editor of the New York Tribune. Readers were shocked by her frank accounts of sex and slavery.

With Amy's encouragement she collected the essays into a book called Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, published just before the Civil War under the pen name Linda Brent. In a preface, editor Lydia Maria Child emphasized that the book was true despite its far-fetched plot. Amy added a short account of how she first heard Harriet's stories, also testifying about the book's accuracy. But few readers believed the book was anything more than fiction.

Harriet's younger child, Louisa Matilda Jacobs (1833-1913)

During the Civil War Harriet and her daughter Louisa assisted in relief efforts for freed slaves and both spent the rest of their lives in frustrating efforts to obtain civil rights. Most of Harriet's friends and acquaintances in her post-War homes of Washington and Cambridge, Massachusetts, were unaware of her connection to "Linda Brent's" scandalous book, which gradually came to be forgotten until recent years.

Rochester Star by Becky Brown

Rochester Star is a new angle on an old star design. The block honors the friendship between two remarkable women and the town where their paths crossed.

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Amy Post's & Harriet Jacob's Story

Amy's persistence in encouraging Harriet to publish her story may seem insensitive but she and other reformers realized that the best way to sway public opinion about slavery's injustice was to reveal how cruelly women suffered. Once the mid-19th-century concept of women's sensibility was extended to enslaved women, religious Northerners began to seriously question the "monstrous system." Many stories and pictures focused upon the common theme of women sold as concubines.

Make a Quilt a Month
Set nine blocks in the Rochester Star pattern side by side, but focus the shading on a central star to create a 48" wall quilt. You'll need 2 lights, (yellow and sky blue here), 2 mediums (ochre and blue) and 2 darks (rust and navy). Add a 2" inch finished navy inner border and a 4" finished outer border.

This is the last block in the 2014 Threads of Memory. We'll be discussing sets next month and looking at everyone's finished tops and quilts.

Joseph Jacobs, Harriet's son with Samuel Sawyer, was born in 1829.

Read Harriet Jacobs's story in Jean Fagan Yellin's book Harriet Jacobs: A Life.
Harriet is above the x in the cover photo.

Harriet Jacobs and Amy Post were remarkably prolific writers. Through fortunate circumstances as a child in slavery, Harriet was taught to read. Through even more fortunate circumstances many of her letters have survived. Pace University is sponsoring The Harriet Jacobs Papers Project to publish those letters in a two-volume set. You can read about the project and see a photograph of Harriett by clicking on this link:

Almost 2,000 of the Post family letters (including 33 of Harriet's letters to Amy) are in the collection of the University of Rochester. They are not available on line but you can read much more about the Post family at the University web site by clicking on the following link:

You can read Harriet Jacobs' book online at the web page of the New York Public Library's Schomburg Collection. Once you arrive at the home page of their African-American Women Writers archive, enter the site by hitting the area marked "click," and then where you see "Browse By Title" click on "Select Menu." When the list appears scan down to the title Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and click. You can see Amy Post's part of the book by clicking on the Appendix. Begin the process by clicking on this link:

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.