Saturday, April 26, 2014

Threads of Memory 4: Canada Star for Lucie Blackburn

# 4 Canada Star by Becky Brown
12" Block

Canada Star is a new 9-patch with an old-fashioned look. The star recalls Canada and the hope offered to runaways by a legally protected refuge north of the U.S. boundary line. By the time of the Civil War, an estimated 35,000 escapees were safe across the border in Canada.

 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:

Canada Star by Jean Stanclift

In June of 1833 Ruth Blackburn, a black woman imprisoned in a Detroit jail, welcomed two visitors who offered consolation about her imminent return to slavery in Kentucky. Although Ruthie had lived as a free woman in the Michigan Territory for two years, the slaveholder who caught up with her possessed legal rights to reclaim her. He'd sent an agent who had booked passage on a ship back to "the States." 

Two women left the cell sobbing, handkerchiefs to their faces, but they were not the same two who had entered. Caroline French, a free black woman, had traded places and clothing with the fugitive. Ruthie Blackburn boarded a boat to Canada and the courageous Caroline French paid a $25 fine for her part in the escape.

The following day Ruthie's husband Thornton also left the jail but as the Sheriff's prisoner. Thornton's journey back to Louisville was interrupted by an irate crowd of free blacks, escaped slaves and white citizens. 

Detroit's Blackburn Riot of 1833, as it became known, was actually well-planned civil disobedience. Women secretly disabled the wheel on the slave owner's carriage while men readied a second cart to carry the prisoner away to the border crossing to meet a ferryman. On the jailhouse steps, Thornton caught a gun tossed from the crowd and aimed it at the sheriff. When Thornton shot into the air, chaos ensued.

Several young men threw the shackled Thornton into a wagon. After a horse-cart chase at furious speed and a run through the woods hobbled by his chains, Thornton and seven other young men crossed the river into Sandwich, now called Windsor, Canada.

The Thorntons traveled from Louisville (arrow at lower left)
to Detroit in the Michigan Territory, then south from Detroit into Canada.
This map shows undergound railroad routes in red.

Free people like Caroline French and runaways under the illusion they were safe in the Michigan Territory followed the Blackburns across the Detroit River into today's Ontario, then known as Upper Canada, which had outlawed slavery in 1791.

Canada Star by Becky Brown in the Ladies' Album prints

The Blackburn's Kentucky owners refused to give up, challenging Canada to return the criminals who had stolen themselves. Canadian diplomats were still smarting from the British/American War of 1812. Eager to assert independence from their southern neighbors, Territorial authorities established a landmark law forbidding extradition for fugitives and refused to extradite the Blackburns.

International Underground Railroad Memorial.
Bronze sculpture by Ed Dwight at
Hart Plaza in Detroit, recalling the passage to Canada.

The British colony's shaky position as a refuge for runaways acquired a firm legal foundation. The Detroit-Sandwich ferries across the Detroit River became one of the most traveled trunk lines in the Underground Railroad.

Sandwich, a tiny settlement in Upper Canada, 
south across Lake St.Clair from
Detroit, 1821 by John Elliott Woolford

Toronto in the 1840s by John Gillespie, who captured an image of Thornton
Blackburn's cab in the center. Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Blackburns moved on to York, eventually named Toronto, and Ruth changed her slave name to Lucie by which she was known the rest of her life. Thornton ran a horse-drawn cab service and she kept house. They prospered and lived into the last decade of the century, years after the end of the American Civil War.

Descendants of the Blackburn's generation in Toronto
in the early 20th century.

Canada Star
When you shade B and A triangles like this
you get a frame around the star.

Canada Star by
Dustin Cecil

Here's Dustin's ticking version with a pieced center square.

The Sackville School was built on the site of the Thornton's home.

Ninety years after the Thorntons died, archaeologists excavated the school playground and one of the team, Karolyn Smardz Frost, became fascinated by the Thorntons' story. To add to the material evidence sifted from the house site--- a button, fragments of a dog collar, a needle and crochet hooks---Frost compiled court cases, newspaper accounts, memoirs and the Kentucky newspaper advertisement offering a $25 reward for "Thornton…about 5 feet, 9 or 10 inches high, stout made, and a yellow complexion; light eyes and of good address…" She tells the story of the Blackburns and their Canadian refuge in her book I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad.

Here's a preview:

And a review in the New York Times:

A monument in Louisville, Kentucky

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Lucie Blackburn's Story
We tend to think of the Underground Railroad as a series of secret journeys, but it was also a sequence of very public court cases. The Blackburns fought slavery by actively fighting extradition. Through their resistance they established a legal precedent that sheltered thousands of escaped slaves.

Links to More Information
Two organizations, Lansing Newspapers in Education and the Michigan Historical Center, cooperate in a webpage with an entry about the Blackburns and photographs of the sculptural pieces on both sides of the Detroit River that commemorate the Underground Railroad link between Detroit and Windsor.

Make a Quilt A Month

Set 13 of the Canada Star blocks on point to make a bed quilt. Make 4 blocks with light corners and 9 with dark to get a layered look. With a 6" finished border you'll have a 63" square quilt. For the edge triangles cut 1 square 18 1/4" and cut it into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. For the 4 corner setting triangles cut 2 squares 9 3/8" and cut each into 2 triangles with a single cut.


Chantal said...

I didn't know Canada had a quilt block in the form of a star. I learn so much every time I read your blog. Thank you for sharing all your researches. Always so interesting.

Barbara Brackman said...

Chantal---I made up that quilt block. Canada needs more blocks named for it.

MuleHill said...

Love that you're making new blocks for this BOM. Wish there were Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia blocks. I could make my own but that doesn't really count.

Also love to see Canada celebrated. Mr. Mule had white Canadian ancestors who fought for the Union. Bless them. Farmers.

Normally when I see a wife change her name, it's actually a new wife. That's not a possibilty here? I haven't looked at any primary documents on the Blackburns and remembered far less than you posted here.

Great BOM post. Can't wait for the book version (in a year or so!).

Denniele said...

Beautiful star block!

Nann said...

What a great block! It looks as though it's banded, and I had to look again to figure it out. (That visual complexity is what makes it such a good design.)

I enjoyed the history lesson, too.

Anonymous said...

Love the history lesson! I am sharing it with my grandchildren! Thank you!

Jane A. said...

I cannot use the latest pattern because I don't have word, and don't know how to create a jpg file. Can I send a sase to get the actual pattern, or could you load the pattern the way the others were done. I had no problem with those after saving to pictures, then hitting print. Came out the right size.