Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Freedom's Friends #7 Abigail Goodwin's Beehive


Block #7 Honeybee for Abigail Goodwin by Becky Brown

Honeybee recalls Abigail Goodwin, a devoted member of the Underground Railroad team whose home seems to have been a beehive of activity assisting fugitives.

Abigail Goodwin (1793-1867) 
From William Still's Underground Railroad

Her housemate essayist and teacher Anne Walter Maylin did not care for this portrait. William Still quotes from "A.W.M.":
"From my long residence under the same roof, I learned to know well her uncommon self-sacrifice....No friend of hers would for a moment think of permitting that miserable caricature, the only picture be given to the mournful and ridiculous a misrepresentation of her interesting face."
Abigail was a life-long resident of Salem, New Jersey, a town
founded by Quakers with a port linked to the Delaware River
and regular steamship service to Philadelphia.
The Delaware, its tributaries and canals were a nautical branch of the underground railroad.

Salem is southeast of Philadelphia about 40 miles.

The wharf in Salem

William Still remembered Abigail Goodwin: "New Jersey contained a few well-tried friends, both within and without the Society of Friends [Quakers]" She was "one of the rare, true friends to the Underground Rail Road."

Quakers and free Blacks aligned in breaking 
the law in the 1850s. 

In his book Still assigned roles to the people and places using railroad metaphors---agents, stations, station masters, conductors and stockholders. Abigail was a station master who spent much of her time persuading "friends to take stock in the Underground Rail Road," in other words, to donate to the movement. Fundraising, collecting coins for the cause, was a major occupation. Abigail spent little on herself. Her wardrobe, as several noted, was in worse shape than that of the refugees she clothed.

The 1821 Goodwin home at 47 Market Street in Salem, New Jersey was a station. Abigail and Elizabeth (Betsy) Goodwin (1789-1860) are remembered as the active station masters and the house is known as the Goodwin Sisters home but the 1850 census shows us that seven women were living there. The house seems to have been the property of the elder Betsy, worth $2,500. Perhaps the other women were boarders, contributing rent to the common cause. We can imagine that house full of women as a hive of good works.

Honey Bee by Denniele Bohannon

Eliza Ales (?) was the youngest, a Black woman. Ann Brown and Ann W[alter] Maylin (1806-1889)
continued to live with Abigail as shown in the 1860 census although by this time Jonathan and Sarah Woodnutt (Abigail's elder sister) were listed as the household heads as Betsy died that year.

Notice Judy Waring at the bottom here, a Black woman of 90 listed as a servant, although we cannot imagine her contributing much to running the household. She's classified as an "Idiot," perhaps a tenant suffering from dementia, presumably one more generous gesture by the household.

The Goodwin home and Abigail first came to public notice in the 1830s when James Miller McKim, a traveling lecturer on the antislavery circuit stayed with them while delivering a message of immediate emancipation, a radical idea not welcomed by the mob.

J. Miller McKim (1810-1874)

As William Still wrote:
"His fate was not different from that of his colleagues, in respect of interruptions of his meetings by mob violence, personal assaults with stale eggs and other more dangerous missiles."
Rioters stoned the Goodwin house.

Pro-slavery rioters in Illinois in 1837

The Goodwin sisters were two of six daughters of William and Elizabeth Woodnutt Goodwin of Salem: Betsy and Abigail remained single, sisters Prudence married and Mary and Sarah married the same man---a Woodnut cousin--- in succession. Another sister is unaccounted for. 

The Block
Block #7 is one of the early applique designs drawn from a quilt dated 1844
 by Sarah A Smith of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. 

Much like a quilt in Debra Grana's collection
found in Vermont.

Debra showed hers at an AQSG exhibit a few years ago.
More honeybees here:

Eby Byers & Catherine Byers
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Honeybee by Georgann Eglinski

Further Reading

Honeybee by Barbara Brackman


sue s said...

I made this block in a sew along several years ago, but the designer certainly didn't know this very appropriate story- thanks!

Barbara Brackman said...

Don't forget Sue I made it up---the link between Abigail and the Honeybee.

Chris S said...

A great summary of Abigail Goodwin and her contributions to the Underground Railroad. You may be interested to know that the building is now owned by Quilt Designer Jacquelynne Steves - see