Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Freedom's Friends #10: Elijah Shaw Birds of a Feather


Freedom's Friends: Block #10 Birds of a Feather
by Becky Brown

Birds of a Feather remembers Elijah Shaw who found many friends "on the road," escaping from slavery. Elijah was typical of those who sought help at the offices of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, a young man who escaped slavery by crossing into Pennsylvania from the slave states directly south of its border, the Mason-Dixon line. He was 23 and apparently came overland to freedom in 1858.

The Mason/Dixon line (blue above) divides North and South, running along Pennsylvania's and Delaware's borders with Maryland and Virginia. Most of the fugitives who came through Philadelphia came from Maryland and Virginia. Elijah came from a town called Maryland Line or New Market in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Office manager William Still may have been indulging in a bit of bragging about his agents and station masters when he described Elijah's "luck on the road," finding "accommodations and privileges... were so much greater than he had ever dreamed of....delighted to find that the Committee...forwarded [him] on 'without money and without price'." 

A young man telling his story

Those birds of a feather, young men walking to freedom, disappear from history. Elijah may have gone on to Canada; he fades from the record.

1838, upscale family served by slaves

Georgann Eglinski fussy cut a wacky stripe to make the birds' beaks.

We don't know enough about Elijah but he and William left an ugly portrait of the woman who had once owned him, the wife of Dr. Ephraim Bell of the town named Maryland Line. Her name was Julia A. Dagon (Dagan) Bell, "a most tyrannical mischievous and stingy as she could live, wouldn't give [slaves] enough to eat or wear." He seems to have been a house servant under her control.

Julia A. Dagon Bell 1803-1875
Be nice or it may come back to haunt you.

"She would make a practice of rapping the broomstick around the heads of either men, women, or children when she got raised, which was pretty often."

Elijah wrote that he was "resolute" in resisting her abuse, warning her that if she struck him "he would scald her with hot tea," which seemed to deter her and her broomstick. 

Dr Bell recommending midwife Hester Henam Graham
in Baltimore, 1819.

Julia Dagan had married Ephraim Bell (1793-1875) in 1835, a physician Elijah described as "a very clever and nice man." Bell was also a Baltimore County politician; they had two daughters and lived in a "German-style" three-story house built in the early 1830s, which may still be standing.

The 1850 census listed 5 enslaved people at the Bells, none of them fitting Elijah's description. Slaves were not named in these slave schedules but there may be a clue to who they were in the 1870 census which lists five African-Americans living at the Bell home: Jane Ho???? (Family Search reads the name as Honory) and her three children plus Daniel ??? (Hillen) 23. Jane is 39 in 1870; she may be either the 19 or 20 year-old female listed twenty years earlier. Daniel now 23 might have been the 5-year-old boy.

Thomas Nast "Emancipation," 1863
A cheery view of a family in freedom.

The Block

Our 10th pattern is drawn from a Maryland album quilt with blocks dated 1844 to 1846, a rather early sampler sold at a Pook & Pook Pennsylvania Auction in 2009, signed by members of the Hollingsworth family of Harford County, Maryland plus Bensons & Parkinsons, etc. 

The birds reflect the proximity of
Pennsylvania and its German folkloric style 
(see #8 the Pennsylvania Tulips.)
Like Maryland Line, Harford County is also in Northern Maryland.

Using the Birds of a Feather in a diagonal block setting.

Elijah's Birds go in the 8 edge blocks to fill out the diagonal set. The sprig-shaped tree goes in the four corners. For the edge blocks you need 16 cardinals and 12 sprigs. 
William Still's account of Elijah Shaw.

Read more about the Hollingsworth quilt:

Robyn Gragg takes the patterns and runs off in her own direction
producing some amazing quilts.

Freedom's Friends by Robyn Gragg
Always glad to provide her with a starting point....


Mary Says Sew! said...

I grew up a quarter-mile from Hollingsworth Road in Harford County, Maryland, and grew up near the Friends House in Fallston. Another family name on the quilt, Benson, is also the name of a community close to these two places. The Maryland State Police have a barracks there, known locally as the Benson Barracks.

Harford County is adjacent to Baltimore County, to the east. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, borders Harford County to the north.

It was great to learn there's a quilt associated with places I grew up with!

Laura Lane said...

It was interesting to learn about a quilt from Harford County, Maryland. I lived there briefly from 1978-1979 and have fond memories of my time there.