Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Hands All Around #7: The Whirlwind for Ellen Garrison Clark

Hands All Around Block # 7: Whirlwind by Becky Brown

This traditional star with a whirlwind in the center is an excellent way to remember the whirlwind at the center of the Civil War--- slavery. We can celebrate an important but forgotten Black activist from Concord Ellen Garrison Jackson Clark.

In 1863 Louisa Alcott, somewhat recovered from her six-week nursing nightmare in a Washington Hospital earlier in the year, considered volunteering to go south again, this time to teach the freed slaves. As Union troops occupied the South thousands of suddenly emancipated African-Americans needed food, clothing and an education. 

The American Missionary Association set up schools and solicited teachers for children and adults, eventually supporting hundreds of Freedmen's Schools throughout the South.

Stylized photo of Ellen Garrison Jackson Clark 
(1823-1892) from the Robbins' House display.

In June, 1863 Concord native Ellen Garrison Jackson applied to the AMA to teach. About ten years older than Louisa she may have known Abba Alcott and her daughters through the Concord Ladies' Antislavery Society, an important cause for both families.

Robbins House
Ellen's Uncle Peter Robbins's home; she was born here.
The house, now moved and restored, is a museum for Ellen,
her family and Concord's black community.

Whirlwind by Pat Styring

Ellen's mother Susan Robbins Middleton Garrison was a founding member of Ladies' Antislavery Society in 1837, the only black woman listed but there were undoubtedly more who were welcomed over the years.  

Typical fair broadside

Concord's Female A-S Society advertised a fundraising fair in 1842
in The Liberator newspaper from Boston.

Susan died in 1841 shortly after the Alcotts arrived in Concord. Ellen soon moved to Boston 20 miles away but like the Alcotts she divided her time between small-town Concord and the city.

Concord Museum
Ellen's father John "Jack" Garrison (ca 1870- ca 1865)
was in his fifties when she was born. He lived in Concord
much of his life.

During the 1850s and '60s Ellen often stayed in Concord visiting her father, sister and brother---another John and his wife Asenath. Jack Junior was a respected gardener in a town of amateur naturalists. He and Henry Thoreau planted a garden at the overgrown "Old Manse" in 1842 as a gift for bride and groom Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne when they moved in to spend their honeymoon years. Both Jack and Ellen had attended the Concord Schools where Sheriff John Shepard Keyes recalled Jack as the best skater of his generation of Concord boys.

Whirlwind by Denniele Bohannon

Ellen married John Jackson on September 15, 1857 with both listed as Concord residents. Five years later she was a widow without children, looking for employment with the American Missionary Association as a teacher.

Freedmen's School in Virginia from Leslie's Illustrated,1866

Ellen was well recommended by Antislavery Society member Mary Merrick Brooks who called her a "very intelligent girl for one of so few advantages, having borne away the prize most frequently in our common schools for superiority of learning..." 

She was accepted by the AMA and began teaching for them in a school in Port Deposit, Maryland.

Ellen's peer Mary Smith Kelsick Peake 
(1823-1862) one of the first of the AMA teachers in Virginia.
Ellen spent the 1859 term in James City, Virginia.

Ellen must have enjoyed the classroom because she spent the next 25 years teaching in Freedmen's Schools in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Kansas.

(Louisa, we note, never really liked teaching---she was glad to give it up after each attempt so it's just as well she stayed home and wrote her stories when she wasn't helping her mother run the house.)

Whirlwind by Janet Perkins

Ellen usually spent her summer vacations back in Concord, staying with her brother's family where we'd hope her path crossed with the Alcotts.

School in South Carolina
Harper's Weekly, 1866

The Block

The nine-patch star has a secondary pattern in the center, a pinwheel square that Coats & Clark called Whirlwind in the 1940s

Block Base+ #2147
(If you bought the PDF of the pattern you'll see Ellen's block
was originally #11 but I switched it to #7.)

From the 1900-1925 period

The block's been published many times with names honoring
people as diverse as Admiral Dewey & Queen Victoria.
Whirlwind seems good.


You need: 
4 A squares
4 B triangles
12 C triangles.
8 D triangles

8” Block (2” Grid)
A—Cut 4 squares 2-1/2”
B—Cut 1 square 5-1/4”. Cut into 4 triangles with two diagonal cuts.

C—Cut 6 squares 2-7/8”. Cut each into 2 triangles with one diagonal cut.

12” Block (3” Grid)

16” Block (4” Grid)

D Cut 2 squares. Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts.
8” ‐ 3‐1/4"
12” ‐ 4‐1/4”
16” ‐ 5‐1/4"
Whirlwind in Ladies' Legacy fabrics

 Post Script

We get a glimpse of exactly who Ellen was when she agreed to sue the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Wilmington Railroad over a segregation issue after the war. Congress had recently passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 declaring that African-American citizens had the same rights as white.

She and friend Mary J.C. Anderson had been denied those rights, forcibly ejected from the all-white ladies' waiting room at the Baltimore depot after refusing to leave. Activists asked her to sue station agent Adam Snyder (or Smyser) in a test case and the women agreed, despite worries that such public agitation was unladylike. The principle was more important than old-fashioned ideals of proper behavior.
"We were thrown out. We were injured in our persons as well as our feelings for it was with no gentle hand that we were assisted from that room."
Their names splashed all over the papers in May, 1866 
Headlines: "Colored Persons Claiming Equal Rights of Railroad Travel"
Snyder/Smyser got a jury trial and the women abandoned the case, 
knowing no Maryland jury was going to support their civil rights.

In her fifties in the 1880s Ellen joined another cause, moving to Kansas to teach school with the great migration of Black "Exodusters," who homesteaded land in the central part of the state.

In the early 1880s she married a second time to widower Harvey Clark (1820-1897) of Barton County, Kansas. Ellen Clark claimed land near Larned, Kansas in 1885 but later let it go for taxes.

Benjamin Singleton (second from right) encouraged thousands of ex-slaves to
homestead land in Kansas in the 1880s. The Kansas climate was a hard row to hoe,
as we might say.

Kansas Museum of History
Brand new school in the Dunlap colony in Kansas, an
Exoduster town.

The Clarks with sister Susan Garrison Johnson continued west in the 1890s to Altadena, California.

View of the San Gabriel Mountains in Mountain View
Ellen had no marker when I wrote the draft of this post.

Ellen is buried with her husband and sister in the African-American area of Altadena's Mountain View Cemetery, her name appearing in the records as both Ellen Garrison and Ellen Clark. Locals like to think the cemetery was started by the John Brown family (son Owen lived in Altadena) but no historical connection has been found.

My sister Jane who volunteers at the Altadena Historical Society guesses Ellen came to Pasadena, like so many others, for her health. Southern California's mountains offered warm winters, dry air and sanitariums for tubercular patients. Ellen died of consumption on December 21, 1892 in her late 60s. Harvey Clark died five years later.

When we did our research on Ellen Clark we saw she had no tombstone and decided to remedy that.

 The Altadena Historical Society and the Altadena Town Council got together to raise money for her stone, dedicated this last Juneteenth, June 19th. Read more here:

See the family grave pages at Find-a-Grave, which has quite a bit of information about them, I'd guess provided by people back home in Concord.

Here's Christina Lenore Davis's relevant thesis:
The Collective Identities of Women Teachers in Black Schools in the Post-Bellum South
See Chapter 3, page 53 for Ellen Jackson.

Early 20th century version

Concord Star set

Alternate 13 stars with an X block and shade to emphasize
the four large stars.

The alternate block
Use the formula for cutting 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts:
Add 1-1/4"
8" - Cut 9-1/2". Quilt size = 40"
12" - Cut 13-1/4". Quilt size = 60"
16" - Cut 17-1/4". Quilt size = 80"

A little more on the Concord Female Antislavery Society:

Concord Free Library collection

Angelina and Sarah Grimke had been to town in 1837 encouraging abolitionists to organize, which the women did in the meeting at Susan Garrison's home in October. Founding members included Susan,  Lidian Emerson, Mary Merrick Brooks, Mary Wilder and the Thoreaus---Cynthia, Sophia and Helen.

Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) & Harriet Hanson Robinson (1825-1911)
Harriet lived in Concord with husband Concord native &
 antislavery journalist William Stevens Robinson.

In 1857 Harriet Hanson Robinson attended a Society sewing circle at Lidian Emerson's house (Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson.)  Upon hearing the news, friend Lucy Larcom made fun of the theorist and his transcendental philosophy. We have to look up words like Hymettus on the internet but familiarity with Greek classicism was part of their education and gossip. Do not tell Lidian that Lucy referred to her refreshments as smacking of Greece's "Mad Mountain" of antiquity.

From Harriet's Loom & Spindle autobiography.

The book on women in Concord and Antislavery:
Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, To Set This World Right (Cornell U. Press, 2006)


sue s said...

Good for you and your sister for pursuing the gravestone! You've certainly elevated Ellen's name in a positive way. I shall enjoy making this block because I finally have some Ladies' Legacy fabric for it!

Unknown said...

I've never posted a response here before but I love reading your blog Barbara. Thank you for your time and effort. I also love that you include quilt block directions in a variety of sizes. I appreciate you.