Monday, February 23, 2009

Quilts and the Underground Railroad

Quilts played a big role in the Underground Railroad. The book Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond g. Dobard, Ph.D., tells the history of quilts during this time.
There were secret symbols in the quilts which were used to communicate messages to escaping slaves. It has become the Underground Railroad Quilt Code. The quilts would hang outside the homes along the way to convey a message. The message may be to get ready, which direction to go, or whether the house was a safe house to hide. Harriet Tubman, known as the conductor of the Underground Railroad, was a quilter and made quilts for the slaves to keep them warm during the nights of hiding in the woods. Many different churches participated, such as the Quakers, by fighting the war against injustice. The stories for many years were passed on through families as a verbal history. This book takes the opportunity to put the verbal history of Ozella McDaniel Williams into written words.
Quilt Patterns that told a story:
Dresden Plate - go to Dresden, Ohio or Dresden, Ontario
Bear's Paw - follow bear's tracks through the mountains
Drunkard's Path - follow a zigzag path
Flying Geese - indicate which direction to go
Monkey Wrench - get tools and belongings together and ready to escape
Stars or North Star - to follow the stars north
There were many more codes including knots stitched into the quilts.
There is a rich history in quilts for African Americans, but also for many different ethnic groups and families.


Annie said...

I had NO idea. I'll have to share this with Don. It will fit right in with his interest in the Civil War era.

Britt-Arnhild said...

I love that about quilts, the way they can tell a story.

Steph said...

Wow - VERY interesting!

Rosemary said...

Very interesting post Marilyn, I hadn't heard about this before. We have a tea room in Spring Grove, PA called the Freedom Log House that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Located right beside the railroad, they discovered a hidden room when doing some remodeling and then pursued the history of it, discovering its purpose.

delighted heart said...

Thanks for stopping by! Great post about the quilts. I've only been doing this since Dec. Having a ball with it. With names like ours it opens up many possibilities for posts! Have a great week!

Maison Douce said...

Even thought other things have been occupying my life lately, quilting is still a great passion of mine!! Have to check out that book...

Kindred Spirit Soap Co. said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope to see you at our show!

Laurie said...

Hi Marilyn, my sister has a book on the quilts with block patterns and is doing a quilt with all the different blocks in it. The history and meanings behind each one is so interesting. Do you think maybe we could do a block of the week or month with these, with the story behind each? I think it would make a great quilt, and very educational. What do you think!?

La Tea Dah said...

How very interesting. Thank you for telling us about this book; I will look for a copy. This is a topic of great interest to me. I have a children's book on the subject that is really interesting, but of course does not have the depth of yours.


Anonymous said...

FAscinating, I love quilts! I really like story quilts and crazy quilts, which also have interesting histories, but I did not know about the Underground Railroad aspect of traditional quilting patterns. Thank you for sharing that!