Saturday, January 25, 2014

Threads of Memory 1: Portsmouth Star for Ona Judge Staines

Threads of Memory
Block 1: Portsmouth Star
by Becky Brown
The first block in the 2104 block-of-the-month here at Civil War quilts is Portsmouth Star, a new block with an old-fashioned look, named for Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The coastal town was a place of refuge for Ona Judge Staines and uncounted other African-Americans looking for liberty. The townspeople, as John Whipple informed George Washington in 1796, were “in favor of universal freedom.”

Threads of Memory
Block 1: Portsmouth Star
by Jean Stanclift

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:

On June 1st, 1796, a ship named the Nancy sailed into Portsmouth harbor near what is now the New Hampshire/Maine border. An African-American girl named Ona Marie Judge made her way from the ship to the town. Just fifteen, the runaway slave hoped to pass as a free black in Portsmouth's small African-American community.

Ona's new life collapsed one day that summer when she passed an old acquaintance on the street. Elizabeth Langdon, eighteen-year-old daughter of New Hampshire's Senator, recognized the fugitive from visits to Ona's mistress's parlor. Elizabeth tried to say hello but Ona brushed by without a word, hoping the wealthy white girl would believe she'd been mistaken.

Elizabeth was confident she knew Ona and word soon reached the Virginia slave owners that their property resided in New Hampshire. Ona's master and mistress wanted her back and knew they had constitutional rights to recover the runaway. Under the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, Portsmouth's officials were obliged to arrest Ona and hold her.

"Absconded from the household of the President
of the United States, ONEY JUDGE, a light
mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black
eyes and bushy black hair..."

Ona's master was quite familiar with the Fugitive Slave Act. As President, George Washington had signed the law. Washington pressured federal appointees to return the girl he called Oney. His correspondence, visible online at the Library of Congress, tells some of the story. 

When Ona was in her seventies she talked to two newspaper correspondents about her escape. Their articles tell the other side.

When they moved to the new capital of Philadelphia the first family brought eight slaves from their Virginia plantation. At the age of ten Ona became Martha Washington's personal maid. Oney "was handy and useful…being perfect Mistress of her needle," wrote Washington. 

The President's House in 
Philadelphia. Ona came to work here
in 1790.

She recalled that her life in the President's household posed no hardships but she wanted freedom, particularly after she learned the Washingtons planned to will her to granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Custis. Ona apparently did not care for Eliza Custis, a few years her junior. She was determined "never to be her slave."
Gilbert Stuart painted this picture of Eliza Custis the year
Ona ran away. Between Ona's opinion
and the portrait, we get an idea of Eliza's personality.

Realizing Washington's presidency would soon be over, Ona made the most of her last weeks in Philadelphia.

"Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn't know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington's house while they were eating dinner."

Ona's escape by ship took her from Philadelphia
north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Captain John Bolles or Bowles

Somehow she booked passage on the Nancy commanded by Captain John Bolles. "I never told his name till after he died, a few years since, lest they should punish him for bringing me away."

Martha Washington with a slave
By Edward Savage

Like many slave holders, the Washingtons believed outsiders stirred up discontent. Martha was of the opinion that a deranged Frenchman had seduced Ona. Joseph Whipple, the New Hampshire official charged with returning Ona, explained that the escape was Ona's idea---her "thirst for compleat freedom…had been her only motive for absconding."  An angry George Washington fussed, "I am sorry to give you, or any one else trouble on such a trifling occasion, but the ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up and treated more like a child than a Servant…."

Letter from Whipple
"I have ascertained the fact that the person mentioned is in this town."

Whipple warned the Ex-President it would be difficult to persuade Ona and just as hard to kidnap her, despite the fact that New Hampshire still sanctioned slavery. "I am informed that many Slaves from the southern states have come to Massachusetts & some to New Hampshire, either of which States they consider as an asylum; the popular opinion here in favor of universal freedom has rendered it difficult to get them back to their masters."

Washington instructed Whipple to use charm. "If she will return to her former service without obliging me to use compulsory means to effect it, her late conduct will be forgiven." Whipple should avoid violence, any measures that "would excite a mob or riot." Whipple's last letter on the topic, mailed right before Christmas 1796, announced the banns for Ona's marriage to Joseph Staines had been published. He was pessimistic he could act without causing the riot Washington hoped to avoid. 

Portsmouth Star by Becky Brown
from my Ladies's Album reproduction collection for Moda---
in shops in March.

Ona married sailor John Staines. A year passed in which she gave birth to daughter Eliza before she heard from the Washingtons again. Frustrated with Whipple's inaction, Washington sent nephew Burwell Bassett to retrieve her. Bassett tried persuasive lies, promising Ona that on her return the Washingtons would free her, something George Washington had actually dismissed as a bad example to the other slaves. Ona recalled her response to Bassett: "I am free now and choose to remain so."

 The Langdon's house, still standing,
was a decade old at the time of the plot to kidnap Ona.

Bassett returned to Portsmouth while John Staines was at sea, planning to take Ona and the baby by force. He sketched his plot to Elizabeth Langdon's father at whose home he was lodging. Senator John Langdon sent a messenger warning Ona to run. 

Senator John Langdon warned Ona of
the Washingtons' kidnap plans.

Portsmouth Star
by Dustin Cecil
in my Civil War Jubilee collection plus white.

The story's end appeared in the newspaper account fifty years later: "She went to the stable and hired a boy with a horse and carriage to carry her to [the Jack's house] in Greenland [New Hampshire] where she now resides, a distance of eight miles, and remained there until her husband returned from sea."

Washington Mourning Picture
Published by Pember & Luzarder, 1800,
 from the Library of Congress
Ona was unlikely to have mourned Washington's passing.

Washington died late in 1799. "They never troubled me any more after he was gone." Ona and her husband raised two or three children in Portsmouth. After being widowed she returned to the house of her Greenland friends, the free black family of John Jacks. In the 1840s, newspapermen found her there, poor and ill but glad to tell her tale.

Ona Judge Staines's story tells us of a network of help in the nation's early years, an Underground Railroad decades before that name or railroads of any kind appeared. Ona absconded on her own but she remained free due to the kindness of many people, among them friends in Philadelphia, ship captain John Bolles, Joseph Whipple who stubbornly refused to act in Washington's behalf, Senator Langdon who alerted her to flee and the Jacks family who took her in when she needed refuge.

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Ona Judge's Story

Officials often refused to enforce the slavery laws.

Refugees like Ona could live out in the open because authorities did not enforce the laws. New Hampshire was a slave state in the 1790s and her owner had all the clout one could wish for, but officials like Whipple chose not to act. Others like Langdon surreptitiously assisted her. We can only guess their motives, but Whipple suggested that "popular opinion" in the town threatened civil disorder if Ona was arrested.

You can find much more about Ona Judge Staines’s life by reading several primary documents online. 

Read two interviews by clicking on this link to a site about the President’s House in Philadelphia.

Read correspondence between George Washington and Joseph Whipple concerning Ona by clicking on this link to the website of the Weeks Public Library in Greenland, New Hampshire.

See three of Whipple’s letters by going to the Library of Congress website American Memory.
Type Joseph Whipple in the search box at the top right. When the results appear, click on the three letters in the George Washington Papers collection near the top of the first page (letters 2, 3 and 4).

Read more about Ona Judge Staines at these sites:

Portsmouth Star
Dustin's All-Ticking Version
This is real ticking---not a printed quilt-weight fabric.

Make A Quilt A Month

Set nine Portsmouth Star blocks together with a 3" border to create a 42" quilt. 
Alternate 5 blocks with one background and 4 with another for variety.

Another Option

You could rotate those smaller half-square triangles
to create a layered look but it would require set-in seams (Y seams)  in each corner.

Calm down; you can do it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Quilting Party Like It's 1862

Phila L Brown
Scituate, Rhode Island

I keep a file of quilts with the dates inscribed. 
The list for the first full year of the Civil War
1862 is fairly short.

Amity Powers
North Scituate RI

Betsy Walker
North Scituate

Betsy Woodmansee
Scituate RI

I have photos of four blocks from this Rhode Island top from an online auction. It's set with white

A few more quilts date-inscribed 1862:
Signature quilt from the Iowa State Historical Society

Same pattern. This one from an online auction
was made in Ulster County, New York.

The International Quilt Study Center and Museum
has three with that date including this hexagon friendship 
quilt possibly from Cheshire, Massachusetts.

See the whole quilt here:

And a Pennsylvania quilt here:

A four-block set from the Carlson collection made by Permelia Ann Watkins in Miami County, Ohio.

Applique sampler from the Wortendyke Family
See details here:

And a version of the Rose of Sharon
signed by Hannah Custer and Nancy Lehman
(possibly Pennsylvania sisters)

I have 16 quilts inscribed 1861 in the file and only 8 from 1862.
We would have to guess that war was disruptive to everyday
life in many ways.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dixie Diary Label

Here's a printable label for your Dixie Diary quilt.
Click on the picture above and copy it to a JPG file or a Word file. Then print it out on a sheet of prepared cotton. I planned it to be about 6" wide with plenty of room to write your name and hometown.

Dixie Diary
by Stitch & Knit

Stitch & Knit's top turned out to be a great repro of the Civil War era look. The fabrics include a lot of my older Moda Civil War collection: Climbing Jacob's Ladder.

You'd definitely better write the date on the label. I can see quilts like this being confused with actual mid-19th century quilts in the future.

See Stitch & Knits' blocks and plans at her Flickr Photostream here:

Oops I didn't mean to post this till Saturday.... but what the heck.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sarah Morgan After the War

Sarah Morgan Dawson about 1892,
portrait published in The Strand Magazine in 1906

The Morgan family's trials continued after Sarah and her mother found refuge in Union-occupied New Orleans in 1863. Brothers Gibbes and George both died in January, 1864.

Mourning at Stonewall Jackson's grave

Thomas Gibbes Morgan

Gibbes left wife Lydia and three children, Howell, 
the youngest, born at Clinton Plantation.

An anonymous portrait from the 1870s
picturing grief and mourning, the general lot of
postwar women.

In the words of Sarah's son, Warrington:  "The war over, Sarah knitted together the threads of her torn life and faced her present." 

Judge Philip Hicky Morgan
was a post-war Louisiana Supreme Court Justice.
Sarah and her mother lived with him in New Orleans
from 1863 to 1872.

Sarah took over the care of Gibbes's son Howell Morgan (1863-1952), and in 1872 moved with her mother to South Carolina to live with her youngest brother James. 

 James Morris Morgan in his 
Egyptian Army uniform in 1870.

The Dawsons, married January 27, 1874

Two years later she married widower Francis Warrington Dawson, an Englishman who'd changed his name and sailed to America to fight on the Confederate side. Dawson, a friend of brother James, won her heart with his letters and his offer of a position as editorial writer for his newspaper, the Charleston News & Courier. Their letters and Sarah's unsigned articles for the paper, edited and published by Giselle Roberts, offer insight into a feminist philosopher in the post-war South. Although she refused to support women's suffrage she wrote extensively about women's roles and rights in a changing world.

The Dawson's Bull Street house survived 
Charleston's 1886 earthquake,
although the front porch collapsed. 
Sarah and the children were in France at the time.

Frank Dawson (1840-1889) 
was an important journalist
in postwar America.

Frank published his Reminiscences of Confederate Service with the note

"These pages I have written at the request of my wife, Sarah Morgan Dawson, and for her dear sake.... Year after year and so long as I have known her, [she] has strengthened my faith by believing in me, and enlarges my hope always by her confidence and love."

Sarah and Frank Dawson had three children, Ethel Morgan Dawson (1874-1912) who married Herbert Barry;  Francis Warrington Dawson, Jr. (1878-1962) and Philip who died at six-months in 1881. Their happy marriage came to a sad end in 1889 when Dawson was shot by a neighbor who had been making advances towards the children's governess.

The sensational event was made even more painful by the killer's acquittal. In 1892 Sarah sought refuge from memory in France where son Warrington had established a reputation as a novelist and newspaper reporter. 

In 1909, reporter Warrington Dawson (at right) 
accompanied ex-President Theodore Roosevelt on his 1909 
African safari, providing photos and accounts that he
later used in lectures.

While Warrington was on that African trip Sarah died suddenly at 67 in Paris. She was buried next to her husband in St. Lawrence Cemetery in Charleston.

Sarah's reputation as a writer was a comfort in her years in Paris. In 1906 London's Strand magazine
published a series on "The American Woman in Paris," characterizing her as, "one of those rare authors who write with equal facility in two languages, French to this daughter of the South being as much her native tongue as English." Today her reputation is based on her Civil War diary, which Warrington published in 1913. 

Warrington Dawson
publicity photo for his 1910 lecture tour
on Theodore Roosevelt.

Researching Sarah Morgan Dawson's life makes one realize how important an American family the Morgans are. Every thread of genealogy leads to impressive achievement in their real-life American saga. Cecil Morgan (Sarah's nephew Howell's son) tried unsuccessfully to impeach Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Howell himself and wife Thisba worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Sioux reservations and Cecil donated their collection of Sioux arts to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. In France, Warrington was friends with authors Josef Conrad and Rudyard Kipling, as well as the Theodore Roosevelts. During World War I he worked at the American Embassy in Paris. As noted in an earlier post, Sarah's brother Philip's descendants include Thelma Furness, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.

Links to read more about the Morgans and the Dawsons:

Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman,edited by Charles East. Simon and Schuster, 1992. The later edition of the diary includes biography and analysis.

The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson, edited by Giselle Roberts. University of Georgia Press, 2004. View a Google Preview:

Read Giselle Roberts's chapter, "Sarah Morgan Dawson: A New Southern Woman in Postwar Charleston" in South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, (University of Georgia Press, 2010) by clicking here:

See Roxana Robinson's blog post about her great-grandfather Frank Dawson here:

Read Francis W. Dawson's account of his Civil War experiences and letters to his mother in Reminiscences of Confederate Service 1861-1865, a new edition edited by Bell Irvin Wiley. See a Google preview here:

More about Frank Dawson in Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius,  Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow, University of Georgia Press, 2011