Saturday, May 31, 2014

Threads of Memory 5: Madison Star for Delia Webster

5 Madison Star by Becky Brown

 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 June, 1854 a woman who'd been hiding on the Kentucky bluffs overlooking the Ohio River found passage over the water to the free state of Indiana. Sympathetic Hoosiers hid her under hay stacks and brush heaps. Delia Webster had, declared the Madison Courier, "escaped on the 'underground railroad', vanished, vamoosed…"

"Running Down Slaves With Dogs"

Delia was not a fugitive slave but a notorious "negro stealer." After serving time in a Kentucky prison, she had purchased a Kentucky farm for a station on the Underground Railroad---an act defying both prudence and the Kentucky authorities. She was, "a very bold and defiant kind of woman, without a spark of feminine modesty," criticized the Louisville Democrat.

Delia Ann Webster (1817-1876)
about the time of the
 end of the Civil War

Delia Webster's life story with its cliff-hanging moments and daring escapes reads like a melodrama. Like all melodramas, the story omits character shading to help us understand her motives and emotions.

Webster never fit the stereotype of 
 New England abolitionist illustrated in 
Albert D. Richardson's Beyond the Mississippi

At 26 years of age she traveled from her Vermont home to Kentucky to teach. Delia apparently planned to lead a double life spiriting runaway slaves to safety as she taught their owners' children.

Much of her Underground Railroad activity remains secret. Her best documented escapade, helping the Lewis & Harriet Hayden family in 1844, is known only because she and co-conspirator Calvin Fairbank were arrested, convicted and jailed in the Kentucky Penitentiary. Sentenced to two years, Delia served about six weeks as the prison's only female inmate. Her 1845 pardon has been attributed to her charm. She captivated Warden Newton Craig and his wife Lucy.

Freed and famous, Delia returned to Vermont and published a book, an unreliable account of the Haydens' escape in answer to "low innuendoes and foul detraction."

After four years she again traveled South, settling in Madison, Indiana, a town that was by accident of geography an important junction of the Underground Railroad.

Routes for runaways from the Ohio River south of 
Indiana and Ohio up to Michigan and Canada.
The arrow points to Madison.

Just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, Madison was perched between the river and a vertical slope covered with an unruly woodland where escapees could hide out in a forest of ridges and hollows. Delia is rumored to have helped many.

Madison Star by Jean Stanclift

Madison was divided between slavery's supporters and freedom's advocates.The notorious abolitionist was unwelcome even before she scandalized Madison's citizens by carrying on a very public relationship with the married Kentucky warden who'd signed her pardon.

 Kentucky's bluffs across the Ohio River from 
Madison, Indiana today. It's said that Madison knew when 
Kentucky vigilantes were raiding Delia's farm
 by the glow of burning outbuildings on the ridge.

After a few years, Delia wearied of waiting for fugitives to come to her and borrowed money from Warden Craig to buy farmland on the Kentucky plateau opposite Madison, a perfect temporary refuge for runaways on the first leg of the journey. Kentucky's slaveholders had only circumstantial evidence of her help with escapes. With Delia Webster living in Trimble County, the slave population declined.

By 1854 affection between warden and ex-prisoner faded. Delia, long on nerve but short on discretion, published Craig's letters hoping to ruin his career. He retaliated by reviving the ten-year-old case against her for Harriet Hayden's rescue. (She'd served time only for helping Lewis Hayden.)

Delia's much-publicized escape from her second Kentucky trial into the hills behind Madison eventually landed her in the city's jail, but Indiana courts set her free, refusing to return her. Delia realized Kentucky's danger and never crossed the river again.

Stevens House, Vergennes, Vermont

She went home to New England and spent the time before the Civil War writing and lecturing about her exploits and the evils of slavery.

Her 1854 escape to Indiana received a good deal of newspaper coverage.

See an article in the New York Times here:

This photograph of Delia and her sisters in their forties and fifties gives a glimpse of Delia's theatrical personality. Her sisters have dressed their hair in up-to-date style with center parts but Delia wears a fringe (bangs) with old-fashioned sausage curls, perhaps to recapture the look of her heyday in the 1840s. She's painted her lips and cheeks. She might have indulged in the plastic surgery of the era, having wax injected under her skin, as she bears little resemblance to her pleasantly aging sisters.

Madison Star by Dustin Cecil

Delia lived into her mid eighties, dying in Des Moines in 1904, eccentric and mysterious to the end.

Madison Star by Dustin Cecil

Make a Quilt a Month
Set four Madison Stars side by side to make a small wall quilt. Keep the fabric in the center pinwheel the same but vary the colors in each block to create a sparkling quartet. Add a 2-inch finished inner border and a 4" finished outer border for a 36" square quilt.

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Delia Webster's Story.

Assisting escaping slaves was dangerous work. Agents were arrested and jailed by Southern authorities and occasionally executed by vigilantes. Delia served only six weeks for helping Lewis Hayden but Calvin Fairbank spent 17 years in confinement for two separate convictions.

Marker in Trimble County, Kentucky

Links to More Information:

You can read Delia Webster's account of her trial for aiding the Haydens in her pamphlet:
Kentucky jurisprudence: a history of the trial of Miss Delia A. Webster at Lexington, Kentucky, Dec'r 17-21, 1844 before the Hon. Richard Buckner on a charge of aiding slaves to escape from that commonwealth, with miscellaneous remarks, including her views on American slavery / written by herself. 
Click here to see it at the Kentucky Digital Library.

She described the escape rather unreliably and included trial transcripts and accounts of her imprisonment and pardon. She later claimed her father forced her to lie about the Haydens' escape. 

Her anti-slavery partner also wrote a memoir. Click here to read it at the Internet Archive:
Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He "Fought the Good Fight" to Prepare "the Way."

Lewis and Harriet Hayden wound up in Boston after Webster and Fairbank got them out of Kentucky. See a picture of their Boston house and read about their activities in the fight for freedom by clicking on this link:

Find Out More In Print
For much more about Delia Webster's story see Randolph Paul Runyon's biography, Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996). For a review of the book from H-Net Online click on this link:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Civil War Commemoratives: Hooked Rugs

Hooked rug with Grand Army of the Republic image in center.

Rug-hooking was a post-Civil War crafts fashion. We can find a few in the rug subcategory
of Civil-War-commemorative textiles 

Read more about the late-19th-century GAR rug above here: gar rug

This rug recalls a guard dog at the Confederate prison for Union captives.
Read an online essay by Jeni Sandberg about the commercial pattern here:

Here's a remembrance of the Union ironclad ship The USS Monitor.

Many rugs with shields and other Union imagery from the turn of the 20th century survive.
Without a direct Civil War or veteran's organization reference, however,
we have to categorize them as patriotic rather than Union.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ruth Wins a Ribbon in Dallas

Ruth J won a ribbon at the Quilter's Guild of Dallas Show
in March.

"I won 3rd place in the 'Master one person quilt' category>

That's a lot of bling over on the right!

Congratulations to Ruth for a really effective use of the fake medallion set.

See her blog post here at Country Log Cabin:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

More about Mary Green McPherson and her Secession Quilt

Detail of the back of the Secession Quilt by
 Mary Green McPherson

The black and white photo of the quilt now in the collection of the
 Arkansas Territorial Restoration Museum shows the 
stuffed quilting in the stripes and the starry fields.

See more about the photo from Confederate Veteran magazine in the last post.

The stuffed work is not apparent in the museum's picture of McPherson's quilt.

I did find another photo in a book called Arkansas Made: Furniture, quilts...
 By Swannee Bennet,

Which shows the trapunto or stuffed work quite nicely.

Mary McPherson's quilt was inspiration for this one stitched by Cherie Ralston for my book Quilts From the Civil War, where we gave a pattern for a version with seven stars. McPherson's quilt had nine stars to represent Arkansas as the ninth state to secede.

The quilt is a tale of two families. It is attributed to Mary Green McPherson (1823-1881) in 1861. At the beginning of the Civil War she was a widow with at least two children, Elizabeth about 13 years old and Thomas, about 8, living with her. A younger daughter Anna had died at 5 years old in 1855, the year before her father Adam McPherson (1812-1856). 

They lived in West Point, Arkansas, when it was 5 miles southeast of Searcy in White County. West Point on the banks of the Little Red River was a bustling river port before the Civil War, later overtaken by Searcy in the railroad era. 

Elizabeth McPherson grew up to marry Dr. Samuel Thomas Tapscott
 (1832-1919). Here family members pose before the Tapscott home in 
Searcy about 1900 . 
Mary Green McPherson died in this home in 1881 (the date on her tombstone.)

Neighbor Joshua B. Crow (1810-1866) from West Point purchased the quilt when it was auctioned to raise funds to equip Confederate soldiers. Crow was described in a family biography as a "well-to-do farmer living about six miles east of Searcy." The quilt descended in the Crow family and the story in the McPherson family, which might be why Mrs Green McPherson's first name has been lost.

Mary McPherson's inspiration was probably the July, 1861, color pattern in 
Peterson's Magazine for a "Stars & Stripes" Bed-Quilt.

Many of these Stars and Stripes Quilts were made. This one
was sold at Cowan's Auctions.

It also features stuffed work in the stripes and stuffed-work stars
 quite similar to Mary McPherson's. 
These stars were not shown in the Peterson's pattern, 
which showed rather sketchy stars.

See more about the Stars & Stripes pattern at a post here:

And on the topic of inspiration:

Cindy Rennels has in her collection of patriotic quilts
a 20th-century take on the McPherson quilt---
but it is decidedly NOT a Confederate commemorative.

And here's one I found floating around on the internet with
4 x 12 stars = 48 and perhaps an extra star for Alaska?
I can't read the words on the right.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

McPherson Quilt Reference 1911

Secession Quilt in the collection of the 
Arkansas Territorial Museum.

Their caption:

Secession Quilt, 1861. 
Made by Mrs. Green McPherson. 
White Co, Arkansas.
85.5” x 97”
Gift of Florence C. Spore

I believe this quilt is on view at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan during the current venue of the American Textile History Museum's traveling exhibit Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War.

I recognized it immediately in a 1911 issue of the magazine 
Confederate Veteran.

The article:

A beautiful quilt has become quite noted in Arkansas. It was made in the early sixties by Mrs. Mary G. McPherson, of West Point, in that State, and finished just as Arkansas, the ninth State, seceded from the Union, May 6, 1861.
The quilt was raffled to raise funds for equipping soldiers for service. The Federal authorities were so aroused about it that Mrs. McPherson's home was put under guard soon after her home town was occupied by them, and she was kept under vigilant guard lest she do something else to aid the Confederate cause.
When the quilt was disposed of, Joshua Crow, of West Point, became the owner, and the quilt is at present owned by his daughter, Miss Ella Crow. During the war the quilt passed through many perils., From one country place to another it was carried and stored in cellars and garrets, as seemed most expedient. Although a quilt, it was so similar to a Confederate flag that the enemy sought it diligently. The picture herewith given shows more the "Stars and Stripes" than the "Stars and Bars."
Mrs. McPherson's work in the many thousands of stitches shows the zeal she exercised in its production. She died in 1891 at Searcy, Ark., in the home of her daughter, the wife of Dr. S.P. Tapscott. Her granddaughter, Mrs. George B. Gill, of Little Rock, is President of the Memorial Chapter of that city, "a most efficient and enthusiastic worker in the Confederate cause," and has the loan of the "quilt" for the time being. To Mrs. Gill, the VETERAN is indebted for the fine illustration herewith given.
Here's a link to the article at Google Books:

Now that we have her first name we can find out more about Mary Green McPherson. More next week.