Saturday, March 29, 2014

Threads of Memory 3: New Garden Star for Catherine White Coffin

Block #3
New Garden Star by
Jean Stanclift

New Garden Star layers the classic eight-pointed star atop a four-pointed star. 

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:

New Garden Friends' Meeting House, Indiana
About 2008

The new star pattern is named for the New Garden Meeting House where Catherine Coffin, her family and friends offered help to many fugitive slaves. Their surviving minute book records the day-to-day financial details of the Underground Railroad, as in an 1849 entry about efforts "to procure a home for Marian Danse." The committee reported that "she has been removed to Canada at an expense of $20."

Catherine White Coffin in her 70s,
 portrait from her husband's 1876 book.

In 1826, young Catherine White Coffin, husband Levi and baby Jesse moved from New Garden, North Carolina, to Indiana for reasons that remain a bit mysterious. Like other westering couples they hoped to prosper. Levi flourished on the frontier, first as a merchant and later as a manufacturer of linseed oil. They chose the town of Newport because Quaker family and friends from Guilford County had also moved there, establishing a nearby meeting house they named New Garden after their old home.

In a speech towards the end of his life Levi said North Carolina had become dangerous for the antislavery Quakers. In his autobiography he claimed to be surprised that the highway near his new home was a branch of what came to be known as the Underground Railroad. His protestation of ignorance has a false ring, however. For years members of their North Carolina community had been cautiously smuggling runaway slaves north to Friends in Richmond, Indiana. Catherine and Levi must have carefully chosen their new home north of Richmond. Thanks to their generosity, courage and organizational skills, the number of fugitives escaping through eastern Indiana increased significantly.

The Coffin's Federal-style brick house, built in 1839, overlooks highway 27 in Fountain City, Indiana, the town they knew as Newport. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, restored and opened as a public museum in 1970 under the Indiana State Museum System

 The yellow star on the eastern border of Indiana is
the general location of the Coffin's Indiana home.

Block #3
New Garden Star by
Dustin Cecil
(I FORGOT to post this yesterday, sorry you fans of D.C)

Levi Coffin loved the metaphor of an underground railroad for the network of neighbors who helped escapees travel north. Of Newport he wrote, "The roads were always in running order, the connections were good, the conductors active and zealous, and there was no lack of passengers."

"Aunt Katy" Coffin (1803-1881) was at the heart of the Newport trunk line. "There never was a night too cold, or dark or rainy, for her to get up at any hour, and prepare a meal for the poor fugitives….many a time 12, 15, and even 17 sat down," recalled her husband at their fiftieth wedding anniversary party. In the twenty years they lived in Newport, Catherine gave birth to five more children, two girls and three boys, so there was always a baby or toddler to care for in addition to numerous houseguests. She organized a sewing society that stitched clothes for fugitives. Agents would meet ragged runaways to assess clothing needs and sizes and then choose garments from the Antislavery Sewing Society depository at the Coffin house.

Catherine was a woman "who wouldn't scare worth a cent," Levi bragged. Despite death threats, "they were never in the least terrified." As the years passed, the Quakers' Underground Railroad activities became accepted and they had little to fear in Newport. The "conductors" were politically and financially powerful and their Quaker neighbors, even those who felt no call to harbor ex-slaves, were not inclined to report fugitives to the sheriff.

New Garden Star by
Becky Brown

Nathan Coggswell remembered transporting refugees in his ox cart north towards Canada. Most came to him from the Coffins' organization. "When there were women and children we had to rig out a covered wagon. We sometimes hung chairs, spinning wheels and other articles on the wagon to give the outfit the appearance of movers."

Coggswell described the network of friends. "I knew every person between Richmond, Indiana and Michigan who would take us in and keep us all night….We talked over the situation freely among ourselves, but said little or nothing to others. We had no signs or secret words." During the 1840s and 1850s as national consciousness of slavery's evils developed, the need for secrecy in eastern Indiana subsided. "It was soon considered a disgrace to interrupt a colored person. The danger was about over."

New Garden Star by
Becky Brown

By then the Coffins had moved on to Cincinnati, again for vague reasons. Their 1847 visit was planned to be temporary but became permanent. Antislavery leaders requested Levi's help in running a store selling goods made by free labor there. 
Kentucky runaway Henry May had escaped, says the ad,
"in all probability to Cincinnati, Ohio." 1838.

But Cincinnati was the center of Underground Railroad activity along the Ohio/ Kentucky border. Unlike Newport, where the community agreed to ignore illegal activities, the river town was divided between antislavery and proslavery activists. Refugees crossing into the city were followed by masters who enlisted the authorities to return their human property and arrest anyone who helped in the escape.

Levi Coffin, 1865

It seems that the Underground Railroad needed the Coffin's leadership and courage not so much for a store, but for the more dangerous job of smuggling refugees. Again Catherine fed and clothed people during their first days of freedom, but her Cincinnati house had a larger attic than the one in Newport. The 1860 census finds them maintaining a boarding house for 29 men and women ranging from 2 to 50 years old, an excellent cover for a underground railroad station.

The Quaker standing in the back row is thought to be Levi Coffin
and the bearded man at top right Jonathan Cable,
who assisted Coffin. The runaway family may be a group Coffin
recalled in his memoirs.

Read the excerpt from Coffin's book here: 
Read more about the photo at the Fulton Sun:

In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe published Life Among the Lowly, the newspaper serial that came to be known as Uncle Tom's Cabin. Like many fiction writers, she drew composite characters based on real people. Her kind Indiana Quakers named Simeon and Rachel Halliday have much in common with the Coffins. The couple known for their secretiveness became public figures.

Rachel Halliday from Uncle Tom's Cabin

 During the Civil War, the Coffins changed their focus to aiding freed people living in refugee camps. After the War, with their work done, the 1870 census counts them as living alone. The year before he died Levi published his autobiography, which added to their reputation as champions of freedom. Levi died in his eighties in 1877 and Catherine followed a few years later.

The Coffin's tombstone, raised as
 "A Tribute from the Colored People of Cincinnati,"
remembers Catherine with
"Her Work Well Done."

Block #3
New Garden Star by
Dustin Cecil in last year's Moda collection
Civil War Jubilee
(Forgot to post this too yesterday)

Make a Quilt a Month

Set nine New Garden Star blocks side by side with a 3" border to create a 42" quilt. Alternate five blocks with one background and four with another and you will get a checkerboard effect behind the stars.

What can we learn about the Underground Railroad from Catherine Coffin's story?

The Coffin network of conductors was based on personal acquaintance, a chain of stations. As Nathan Coggswell wrote, "I knew every person between Richmond, Indiana and Michigan who would take us in and keep us all night….We had no signs or secret words."

Levi Coffin House is an Indiana State Historic Site, open to the public.

Read about the free-labor cotton business at the Quaker Quilts blog by and Mary Holton Robare & Lynda Salter Chenowith:

Catherine Coffin's husband Levi published his autobiography in 1876. Many online book sites contain the full text of Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad (Cincinnati: Western Tract Society, 1876) Click on this link to see an 1880 version of the book.

Documenting the American South ( is a digital publishing initiative sponsored by the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with full text versions of materials from their collection and others. 
Click this link to their home page and search by authors, titles or collections.
Levi Coffin's cousin Addison also wrote an autobiography about his work on the Underground Railroad. See the full text of Life and Travels of Addison Coffin Written by Himself (Cleveland: W, G. Hubbard, 1897) by going to Google Books.

You can read about the Coffins in their friend Laura Smith Haviland's autobiography, A Woman's Life-Work: Labors and Experiences of Laura S. Haviland. (Walden & Stowe, 1882) which is also available online at Google Books.

The Indiana Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) has a remarkable collection of online manuscripts including the "Record of the Minutes of the New Garden Branch of the Committee on the Concerns of People of Color." To read these handwritten records, which begin after the Coffins moved to Cincinnati, click

The PALNI website also has more information about Catherine Coffin in the local history collection filed under the name of Robert Nixon Huff. Look  for her obituary among the other materials from Wayne County.
Click on the above link, which will bring you to the search page for PALNI and type the name Catherine Coffin in the search box. Then hit search. Click on the Huff collection (article 5). On the next page, scroll down the menu on the left until you see her name.


susan said...

Is there any way to post the templates in pdf format? as the jpg image is printing too large for me and I have no idea how to convert to pdf.

Barbara Brackman said...

The same problem might happen with a PDF. With the JPG or Word file:
Measure how much larger it's printing out than you want it to be. Then calculate how much you want it to shrink. Say the unit is printing 6 inches. You want it to be 4.5. Divide the smaller number by the larger number. You would get .75. Your Print preview function should have a place to manipulate the size. Print it at 75%

Texas Quilter said...

GOT IT! I right click on the picture with my mouse, save the picture to a file, go to the file, then print! Took me a few to figure that one out!

Anonymous said...

I drafted the four side sections as paper piece patterns, easy and I don't need the templates. Martha

GeeGee said...

I did everything you said, wasted about 10 sheets of paper and could never get the right size for templates. Is there any way you can post this as a pdf file?

Anonymous said...

I wasted a lot of paper, too, and had no luck. Wondering why the change from previous patterns where pdf format was used? I will either have to draft this block myself, or skip it altogether.

Anonymous said...

Seems like everyone is struggling with these!

Rose said...

I'm going to try drawing this out in EQ7. Love this block and the quilt! Thanks!

Farmhousesewer said...

Simply a waste of paper and time.

Farmhousesewer said...

Could not even print email this time with pics. Wasted 20 pages trying. Could not go to website and print writeup for this month, as pics are over the words. Templates a disaster even with calcs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Barbara! I was loving these stars already but this New Garden Star is very special because I am related to the Coffin family through my maternal grandmother! Having grown up in IN and been involved with the Quakers reading your words took me back home - this quilt will be even more special. Anne Manly

Barbara Brackman said...

I added a PDF from Adobe Acrobat Workspaces but I couldn't make that print the right size. See the link on the post. Your best bet is to draft the templates yourself---it's easy. I showed you how in an update.
Hope it works!

Tammy Hutchinson said...

Beautiful block and it was fun to draw it out to make templates. Now to choose some gorgeous fabrics...
Thank you Barbara!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update...for some reason, I still can't get the right size when I print. I've never had that issue with any of your other patterns. But I will try drafting it using your directions. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful block Barbara.
I have decided to draft my pattern as a result of not being to print at the correct size from the printer.

I very much enjoyed the story of the Coffin's.

Sue in Marion said...

Barbara- there is a house here in Marion, Indiana built by the Quaker Shugart family that was an Underground Railroad house. Another Shugart house was a few miles down the road but has been torn down. One of the Shugart wives was a Coffin before her marriage, and the Shugarts almost certainly sheltered runaway slaves from the Coffins on their journey to Michigan. The home, which was not much more than a shell, was bought by our friends Bill and Marita Fields in the 1970's and restored. Bill was an industrial arts teacher and they did all the work themselves. There are two hiding places in the house, one behind a closet on the second floor, and another in the basement. If you ever come to Marion and would like to see it, I'm sure the Fields would be happy to show it to you.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering when the instructions for the more difficult sashing and borders will be posted?

Faten said...

I just figured this out. Just right click on the image of the paper piecing and choose print and change the properties of printing and enlarge it to 133%. It gave me a perfect 4 1/2" length of the dotted line like the pattern calls for. Good luck everyone!

Elisabeth Rose said...

Just found your site today and I'm in love. I am going to try to catch up on this year's BOM. I am enjoying your stories so much- I am a new CW reenactor and everything you post is so interesting. Thank you!!

Barbara Brackman said...

I think I need to remind people to right click and then save it to a file. There are a lot of steps in printing an image. Those of us who do it all the time forget how many there are.

Unknown said...

It was easy to draft. Follow the directions and mark with dots...draw lines using a straight edge. Make 4.

Rose E. Glasses said...

WOW. I am so intrigued with the history lesson. Then there is information to print or paper drafting to replicate this block.
Awesome work! I was pretty inspired by this little block.
Thank you for sharing your information.
Rose E

Jane A. said...

I am doing threads of memory. I am glad to have the last block. My husband had to fool with it, and the others, to get it right. Now I can hope for the next quilt to be in PDF format, so I won't fear not being able to do all the blocks. Thanks for these free patterns.

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Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your history of the Coffins. I also am related to them through my paternal great grandfather and grew up hearing the stories of our ancestors involvement with the Underground railroad. I have also traced a direct line to John Woolman who is listed as one of the top 10 abolitionists. The story I have found out is that there was somewhat of a mass exodus of the Quakers from North Carolina because they could no longer tolerate the slavery in NC. Many of them ended up in Ohio and after the Civil War there was another move to MO.

Anonymous said...

You probably won't see this as it almost a decade after-the-fact! But I just bought the Shugart house and am moving in as we speak. It is a fantastic and beautiful home thanks so largely due to your friends the Fields and their love and hard work. I am pursuing a doctorate in history and have always loved anything historic, and am also a native of the area. But what I learned just minutes ago shocked me! In trying to find historic photos to reference to bring this amazing home back to how the Fields intended, I came across an article that mentions that the Shugarts were closely connected to Levi Coffin....and i have known since childhood that I am descended from Levi and Catherine- my mother's maiden name is Coffin! I knew the Shugarts were crucial to the Railroad and one of the biggest reasons I bought the house was for the history and hidden passages still intact, but I didn't think to connect the Shugarts with the Coffins. Such an incredible coincidence that I should be the one to purchase the home now without realizing my own family's connection to it, even by proxy. I would love to hear from you and the Fields' as I have been trying to find a way to contact them in an effort to bring the home more closely to its intended, period-respectful glory.