Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Freedom's Friends #3: Charity Still--- Wreath of Hearts


Block #3 Wreath of Hearts by Becky Brown

Sydney Steele/Charity Still (ca. 1780?-1857)

Assuming a new identity, Charity Still must have chosen her name carefully. Charity, a Christian attribute, is often symbolized by a heart so a wreath of hearts will recall this resourceful woman. She was born with the name Sydney (Cidney) on Maryland's eastern shore, a slave in the Griffith family on a plantation known as Edmonson's Reserve.

Caroline County in orange

Her husband Levin Steele had purchased his freedom and relocated to Burlington, New Jersey. Sydney escaped from Maryland with their young children, probably before 1810, joining him in the town along the Delaware River. But she and her four children were recaptured. She and her girls were sent back to Maryland. Her two boys Peter and Levin were sold South. Undeterred, she escaped again with her two daughters, rejoining Levin Sr. (now named Levin Still) in New Jersey where they had many more children born into freedom. Charity gave birth to 18 children in all; the youngest William was born in 1821.

Sydney/Charity traveled the 120 miles
between slavery and freedom twice.

One lost boy Levin died in slavery in Alabama but the other Peter managed to buy his own freedom decades later. He traveled north where he sought assistance in the Philadelphia Anti Slavery Society offices about 1850. Peter told his biographer that when he peered in the window of the North Fifth Street office he was impressed to see a young Black man writing at a desk. "He was graceful in his bearing and dressed with extreme neatness." This was William Still who specialized in uniting lost families.

Peter Steele Gist. (1801 - ?) 
He used the name of his last slave-owner Gist.

William asked Peter Gist for his history.
"I was stolen away from the Delaware river with my brother Levin, when I was about six years old. My father's name was Levin, and my mother's name was Sidney; and we had two sisters--one name 'Merica and the other Charity....

William Still (1821-1902)

 After listening to the story the clerk, holding on to his emotions, asked:

 "Suppose I should tell you that I am your brother?... My father's name was Levin, and my mother's name is Sidney; and they lost two boys named Levin and Peter, about the time you speak of. I have often heard my mother mourn about those two children, and I am sure you must be one of them."

Peter was quite suspicious, sure this was another trick to steal him back into slavery, but William and his two Philadelphia sisters Mary and Kitty persuaded Peter they truly were his kin and took him to see his mother. 

Indian Mills store, about 1930

Mother Charity was living near Medford, New Jersey in Indian Mills. Husband Levin had died in 1842. They were all afraid the shock would kill her but this was not a weak woman. She and Peter had a joyful reunion and he had the opportunity to visit her again at the home his well-to-do brother Dr. James Still provided.

The Still house in Indian Mills is now gone but James Still's medical office to the left
still stands.

Carolyn tells us that the Dr. James Still Historic Site on Church Road in Medford, New Jersey was recently renovated. She drove past it every day on her way home from work until she retired.

The Block

Wreath of Hearts by Barbara Brackman

Print this out on an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper. See the inch square for scale.

A wreath of eight hearts was rather popular. Many artists filled in
the corners with more flora.

Block in an album from Fishkill, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sampler recorded by the Tennessee Project
Blocks of eight repeats sometimes look as if
they need more corner motifs.

Jeanne Arnieri's small-scale version
Or more in the center

Wreath of Hearts by Georgann Eglinski

Or both


Her family's story will be told in a new Caroline County, Maryland site devoted to Still history to be situated in this cabin.

Robyn Gragg revised the heart wreath for a corner motif.

Read More:

Those Stills were born writers and story tellers.

Peter told his story to Kate E. Reynolds Pickard (1824-1864). Once he made the acquaintance of his northern family he still had to get wife Vina and children out of slavery. He tells the whole tale in The Kidnapped and the Ransomed. Recollections of Peter Still and His Wife 'Vina,' after Forty Years of Slavery, published in 1856. That must be Vina on the title page. Did the royalties buy Vina's freedom?

Read the book at this link:

And see a letter from Kate Pickard about how she met Peter in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the collection of The Peter Still Digital Edition at Rutgers University.

Read the autobiography of Dr. James Still (1811-1882), Charity's son born in 1811. He recalls his childhood in a happy if very poor family and tells a bit more of his mother's tale and of her death from a stroke in 1857.,+James.+Early+Recollections+and+Life&printsec=frontcover

I did a version years ago in some reproduction prints.


Carolyn said...

The Dr. James Still Historic Site was recently renovated and is located on Church Road in Medford, NJ. I drove past it every day on my way home from work until I retired in January. Thanks for sharing this information!

Grams Jean, OR, USA said...

What a heartening story that Peter found his family again! Such terrible times they lived through.

Sue in Marion said...

Hi Barbara, so glad to see you’re alive and kicking! I was volunteering at the front desk at The Quilters’ Hall of Fame yesterday when a couple from Texas (originally Indiana) came in for a visit. They went into the Honoree Parlor and started looking at all the plaques, and the woman asked if I’d heard that Barbara Blackman had died. I was shocked! When? How? I asked. Are you sure you haven’t confused her with someone else? No, she had Alzheimer’s, she assured me. I told her I didn’t think so, that you write two blogs and had just posted a block. She was insistent. When they went upstairs I googled Material Culture, and there was your post from yesterday morning. Showed it to her and she still didn’t believe me! she made her husband go to their car & get her iPad so she could show me the Facebook post. She handed it to me …it was a report of the death of…Harriet Hargrave. Which didn’t surprise me, but it surprised her. Anyway, glad you’re still with us 😵‍💫

Sue in Marion said...

Oops, autocorrect changed your name, sorry I didn’t catch it…

Barbara Brackman said...

I am still kicking here with most of my marbles.