Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Freedom's Friends #4: The Dove for Jane Johnson

Freedom's Friends: Block #4
The Dove by Denniele Bohannon

The dove recalls Jane Johnson, a freed woman who became famous in the 1850s.
Jane Williams (?) Johnson (Born about 1830–1872)

In July, 1855 William Still at the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee offices received a hand-delivered note:

Still ran to get help from fellow Committee member Passmore Williamson. One of the group's prime duties "when hearing of slaves brought to [Pennsylvania] was to immediately inform such persons that they were not fugitives...were entitled to their freedom without another moment's service [and] advice of counsel without charge."

(1806-1882) 1863 portrait

Jane Johnson was the Washington-born slave of John Hill Wheeler, a North Carolina politician living in Washington City. He had purchased her about 1853 with sons Daniel, about 10, & 9-year-old Isaiah. (Her previous owner sold another son.) The Wheelers and Johnsons had taken the train cars from Washington and spent some time with the parents of Wheeler's wife Ellen, the Thomas Sullys. 

Ellen Oldmixon Sully Wheeler (1816-1896) and her own two sons, 
painted by her father Thomas Sully

The Sully House
Library Company of Philadelphia

The Wheelers were on their way to Nicaragua where Wheeler was U.S. Minister for three years. 
While waiting for a ferry, the next step in their journey, they spent a few hours in Bloodgood's Hotel with Jane locked in a room while the Wheelers ate a meal. Jane had a plan---in her trunk was a new dress, the clothing of a free woman to wear when she got to New York where she planned to escape. But seeing an opportunity in Philadelphia, she communicated with hotel employees who knew just the people to contact.

Library Company of Philadelphia
Bloodgood's Hotel on the Delaware River

Jane was legally free in Pennsylvania despite the 1850 federal Fugitive Slave Act. William Still was one of many writers who told of her journey.
"Slave-holders fully understood the law...Consequently they avoided bringing slaves beyond Mason & Dixon's line....But some slave-holders were...too arrogant to take heed. [Wheeler] received a terrible shock at the hands of the Committee." 

Williamson second from left, Jane, her boys and probably
William Still in the top hat from Still's 1872 book The Underground Railroad.

The Pennsylvania Anti Slavery Society published Jane's tale too.

As the ferry was loading Williamson found: 
"Jane and her children seated upon the upper deck [inquiring] 'You are the person I am looking for, I presume.' Mr. Wheeler, who was sitting on the same bench, three or four feet from her, asked what Mr. Williamson wanted with him. The answer was, 'Nothing, my business is entirely with this woman.' Amid repeated interruptions from Mr. Wheeler, Mr. Williamson calmly explained to Jane that she was free under the laws of Pennsylvania, and could either go with Mr. Wheeler, or enjoy her freedom by going on shore."
There were various assaults, alleged and otherwise, with Isaiah screaming and five dockworkers guarding her exit:
"Wheeler...clasped her tightly round the body. Mr. Williamson pulled him back and held him till she was out of danger from his grasp. Jane moved steadily forward towards the stairway leading to the lower deck. It was at the head of the stairway, if we may believe Mr. Wheeler, that he was seized by two colored men and threatened by one of them; but the most careful and repeated examination of witnesses has failed to elicit any testimony to a threat except one made on the lower deck. She was led down the stairs of the boat and her children picked up and carried after her; one of them cried vociferously. She and her children were conducted ashore, and put into a carriage, and, amid the huzzas of the spectators, were driven off to a place of safety."
Some accounts say that place of safety was Letitia and William Still's boarding house. Abigail Goodwin, a New Jersey "agent" worried about Jane.
 "You will take good care of Jane Johnson I hope, and not let her get kidnapped back to Slavery. Is it safe for her to remain in your try to impress her with the necessity of being very cautious and careful against deceivers, pretended friends. She had better be off to Canada pretty soon."
With his political clout Wheeler soon had Passmore Williamson arrested. He was held in jail for 100 days for contempt because he refused to tell the court the Johnsons' hiding place.

Passmore Williamson (1822-1895) in jail
Chester County Historical Society

Williamson said he didn't know and he was probably truthful as the Vigilance Committee operated on a "need to know" basis. His imprisonment and trial became a useful tool in abolitionist public relations.

Not everyone in Philadelphia was sympathetic to the antislavery cause. An 1855 cartoon showing "The Follies of Philadelphia" includes Williamson telling Jane Johnson: "While I engage your Master in conversation you will have a fine chance to escape." Jane did not really "escape." She walked away, exercising her rights.

Jane took her boys first to New York and then to Boston but she bravely returned for her rescuers' trial, which resulted in acquittal or reduced sentences for William Still and his accomplices.

 The Block

A simple dove from an 1858 album recorded by the Connecticut project.

The slide has shifted color over the past 30 years
so I've color corrected it but it is not this red.

The Dove by Barbara Brackman

The pattern measures 8" and will fit into the center area of the block with space around it for more applique or your name, the date, a sentiment etc.

 An inked inscription (drawing better than the poem!)

Nadal Quilt/Smithsonian/1847

We find many doves in mid-century applique from Baltimore to Connecticut and parts South.

Baltimore/Jeffrey Evans Auction
There are two pattern sheets. Print each out 8-1/2" x 11". See the inch square for scale.

Now the model makers thought my pattern (designed to fit the paper) was a bit sparse. 

The Dove by Georgann Eglinski
But we encourage addition....

Denniele solved the space problem with a ring of fussy cut dots. Georgann says she is stealing this idea and you can too.

Jeanne Arnieri added a few leaves to her small scale block.

Becky Brown moved the image from the diagonal and added more

And then there is Robyn Gragg!

Georgann, many dots

Further Reading

Jane's story has been told often. See a summary at the Library Company of Philadelphia's webpage:

The P.A.S.S. published an account of the Williamson case in 1855 with Jane's testimony beginning on page 14.
Several novelists have used the tale, among them Lorene Cary in The Price of a Child.

Here's our Facebook group: Freedom'sFriendsQuiltBOM. It's public so you can join or not.

If you'd like to buy all the patterns now for $12 in a PDF to print yourself here's a link to my Etsy shop:

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Dolly Stidham's Civil War

Dolly Bruner Tobler Stidham (1830- 1926)
From the Gateway to Oklahoma History

This elegant photo taken in the early 20th century by Jennie Elrod Elrod (1869-1961) of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, pictures a woman who was African-American, possibly part Creek. Dolly was born in the early 1830s in Alabama as a slave in the Grayson family, members of the Creek/Muscogee nation. As a child she went with the Graysons to what was called Indian Territory after the Creeks were forcibly displaced by The Trail of Tears. 

She is thought to be the daughter of Mary Ann Grayson and Jake Bruner. She lived with this couple in Coon Creek near North Fork Town, Indian Territory, now under Lake Eufaula. When her son Robert Tobler married in 1893 he listed his mother as Dollie Bruner.

She spent most of her life north of Okmulgee,
which is south of Tulsa and once the Muscogee Nation.

When the Civil War began Dolly was about 30, a slave in the Watt Grayson household. The Creeks were divided in their Union/Confederate loyalties, resulting in violence, killings and displacement, a legacy that endured in the local culture.

Albert Pike (1809 – 1891)

After the Confederate government appointed Albert Pike as Confederate Commissioner of Indian Affairs he negotiated alliances with various Oklahoma tribes but resistant groups favoring the Union or neutrality gathered under Creek leader Opothleyahola. Confederates pursued the rebellious Indians who sought refuge in Union Kansas.

Opothleyahola (1778-1863)

Carrie Clabo Fudickar tells us that in August, 1863 Confederate troops captured Jake Bruner who was imprisoned with a group of Blacks, Creeks and Seminoles to be force marched to Texas. He escaped and refugeed at the Union Fort Gibson where he died from an illness. Opothleyahola also died in a refugee camp during the war.

Stand Watie (typo above) (1806-1871) a Cherokee 
was a Confederate General

Dolly is listed as a "Freedwoman" in the early-20th-century photo's caption because that was her official classification in Creek records. Once freed she remained with the Watt Grayson family. During the war and the post war years she gave birth to ten children, perhaps, with the older seven being the children of James "JimBoy" Tobler. She had three with a man named Morris Coleman or Morris Stidham.

Was Dolly living at the Grayson home when he was robbed in 1873?
At some point she kept a boarding house.

The war-torn territory continued to be a place of almost incredible violence if we can judge by Dolly's family history. Of those ten children nine died deaths related to gun brutality. Four of her boys were said to have been hung for murder; a daughter and four boys were shot (one by his wife.)

1890, Leavenworth Times
 Shifting population as outsiders moved into the post-war territory contributed to the chaos.

From Grinde & Taylor, Red Vs Black: 
Conflict & Accommodation in the Post Civil War Indian Territory

Robert Tobler, Dolly's son listed above on the 1893 marriage document was imprisoned in an Ohio penitentiary according to this 1899 record from what is known as the Dawes Rolls. As Indian Territory prepared for statehood a list of the "Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory" was compiled between 1898 and 1907.

Tribal settlers and the "Freedpeople" were allotted land. Through allotments, inheritance and litigation Dolly seems to have owned quite a bit of land.

Applying for allotments in Muscogee

Dawes Rolls card of Dolly's family. If she was 59 this would have been about 1889. Son March is listed as 12---he was born in 1887 so 1899 is more likely and Dolly and Morris's ages are wrong.

We interpret this woman, perhaps seated in her farm yard, according to our
own perceptions and prejudgements. She looks poor in our eyes, but
she was said to have been wealthy, living alone in a comfortable home.

1922 Okmulgee Times
She testified at several trials.

1922, Muskogee Democrat
A woman with some power in her community.
How she dealt with the violence and loss she lived with is harder to understand. 

The final chapter in Dolly's life is also dramatic. She was killed in a 1926 tornado when she was 96.

Her house collapsed; she lingered for a few weeks.

It would seem that only a tornado could vanquish her.

Her quilt top seems to have looked like this EQ8 sketch. The block has been published many times
but in Dolly's time the Clara Stone catalog of newspaper patterns called it Fish or Whirligig.

More Reading:
The WPA interviews of former slaves in the 1930s include Mary Grayson's who describes Indian Territory life. Dolly was probably a relative.

Mary Grayson, interview with Robert Vinson Lackey, summer 1937, Tulsa, OK, in The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives, ed. T. Lindsay Baker and Julie Philips Baker (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996)

Donald A. Grinde & Quintard Taylor, "Red Vs Black: Conflict & Accommodation in the Post Civil War Indian Territory," American Indian Quarterly (Summer, 1984)

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Frances Henry Rickman's "Polk in the White House"


Quilt in a popular Southern pattern unfortunately often called New York Beauty today although traditionally the design was called Crown of Thorns or Rocky Mountain by the people who made them. 

Attributed to Frances Elmira Henry Rickman (1829-1926)
of north central Tennessee
Ginabeth alerted us to a version with another name at the QuiltHistorySouth facebook site.

There is a packet on the reverse with a note inside.

"Old Red, Green & White Quilt"
"Mark Rickman's mother Frances Elmira Henry Rickman pieced this quilt when James K. Polk of Tennessee, was President of United States (1844 [1845-1849]-1848) and Mark was bon in 1849; she named this quilt for James K. Polk & called it "Polk in the White House." Mark was about 3 years old when she was quilting this quilt for .... her to prick her finger here if he would quit (sic), she would give him this quilt when he married.
The quilt was finished around 1852 or 1853.                                               James K. Polk died in 1849, the year Mark was born. Mark and Ella Mills Rickman were married June 18, 1873. Mark was father of Roy Rickman."

Frances's ancestors were early European-American settlers in Tennessee up by the Kentucky border. 

As a Tennessean Frances may have begun this quilt during the hot contest between Polk of Tennessee and Henry Clay of Kentucky. Polk was yoked to a promise to admit Texas as a slave-holding territory.

Antislavery advocates in Boston were outraged.

Embroidered political statement, 1840s from Heritage Auctions

Both Democrats and Whigs appealed to women in that 1844 election. Much evidence indicates that politics played a role in the innovative patchwork of the day, particularly in Tennessee.

Set of album squares from Julie Powell's collection

Shelburne Museum Collection

Similar quilt attributed to Irene Dinning of Franklin, Kentucky. 
The family called it "President Polk in White House."
Quilt from the Kentucky project and the Quilt Index.

Raffling a "Polk in White House" quilt in Indianapolis, 1901

Eliza Calvert Hall published that name for the pattern in McCall's Magazine in 
February, 1913.

The Missouri project documented another with a note pencilled on the back
with the name "Poke Dallas Texas." (It took us awhile to figure out what Poke meant and
that Dallas referred to his running mate.)

This applique quilt from an online auction had an inscription on the reverse:
"Polk and Dallas"

The thread and embroidery style do not look 1878---
so we can guess the quiltmaker did not do the signature.
However it tells us what name was passed on with it.

Read more about Polk and quilts at these posts: