Saturday, October 25, 2014

Threads of Memory 10: Britain's Star for Charlotte Henson

# 10: Britain's Star by Jean Stanclift


Twelve years after the U.S. Civil War was over, an English woman described in her diary a "most interesting book" about an African-American man who'd escaped slavery and run to Canada with his wife and children. The book may have been a gift from the author whom she'd just met. 


Henson's story was told in several editions under several titles.

Josiah Henson was on a publicity tour of sorts. In their short conversation he impressed her with his concern for others. She wrote that she admired his energy and patient endurance for he had been through many trials in his long life,


She liked to think that she too had endured many trials.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria noted in that diary entry that Henson was the real-life model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's bestseller Uncle Tom's Cabin


Victoria was certainly not alone in believing the myth that Josiah Henson inspired Stowe's riveting story of life in slavery. The autobiography the Queen read was titled Uncle Tom's Story of His Life but Uncle Tom, a kind, wise man who dies in Stowe's story, had very little in common with Henson's history. 


 Today few see a link between the famous fictional character and the real-life fugitive.

Nancy and Josiah Henson

Victoria also met Josiah Henson's second wife Nancy in that 1877 audience. His first wife Charlotte had died in 1852, the year Stowe's story appeared. Charlotte was often described as the model for Uncle Tom's memorable wife Chloe. In an 1881 edition of Josiah's book, the editor quoted him: "Aunt Chloe was my first wife, whose real name was Charlotte. She was famed as a good cook. Her beautiful singing of spiritual songs first won my heart." 

Chloe on the left

Stowe's Aunt Chloe is a character to make the modern reader grind her teeth, the essence of Aunt Jemima, fat and subservient, an excellent cook who guffaws while speaking in an almost impenetrable dialect.

The 1849 edition

Before Uncle Tom, Henson created a different sketch of Charlotte. In his first autobiography, published in 1849,  he revealed a woman with real fears, real intelligence and real love. His wife was "a very efficient, and, for a slave, a very well-taught girl."



Henson, living his own version of slavery's misery in Kentucky in 1830, decided to escape with Charlotte and their four young children. At first Charlotte refused to go, "terrified by the dangers." He recalled that she argued "to persuade me from it, and try to make me contented with my condition as it was." 



After fighting all night he threatened to leave her and take the children. "I said to her, very deliberately, that though it was a cruel thing for me to part with her, yet I would do it…. She wept and entreated, but found I was resolute." She agreed to go. 


Stowe's Eliza became the national image of the escapee.

Their youngest boys were too small to run, so he asked her to stitch a linen knapsack, a sort of backpack large enough for Josiah to carry them. Their trip north took them through Cincinnati, where antislavery friends sheltered them; then along an old military road through the backcountry to Lake Erie. They spent two weeks scrambling through the Ohio and Indiana woods, frightened, starving, exhausted and occasionally squabbling over who was at fault. Charlotte fainted from hunger and Josiah chanced talking to a farmwife who gave him venison and bread to carry back into the woods.
They were fortunate enough to receive provisions from the Indians who still dominated Ohio's woodlands.


At the Great Lakes they found sailors who carried them to Canada and sent them off with a dollar to invest in a new life.

The Henson's house at Dawn near Dresden, Ontario, has been preserved.

The Hensons settled in a colony called Dawn where Josiah co-founded a manual labor school that earned a reputation as a model for ex-slaves helping their brothers and sisters. Josiah's 1849 book, brought him additional fame.

While he was on his first trip to England to promote the book and raise funds for the utopian community, Charlotte became ill. He rushed home to say goodby.

Britain's Star by Becky Brown

After Charlotte's death, as Josiah aged, he became according to historian Fergus M. Bordewich, "an imperious and self-righteous patriarch who could admit no wrong."

Henson adopted the popular image of Uncle Tom.

He published a new version of his autobiography, reinventing himself as Uncle Tom and Charlotte as Aunt Chloe. He returned to England as a celebrity, meeting "the noblest men and women in England," including Her Majesty herself. Josiah's need for recognition, not merely as an admirable fugitive from slavery but as literature's most famous slave, led him to redraft his first wife as Stowe's fictional jolly cook.



Charlotte's memory deserves rescue from the unfortunate stereotype of enslaved women.

Britain's Star by Becky Brown
in Ladies' Album reproductions

Britain's Star is a new block in traditional fashion honoring the foresight of the British empire in outlawing slavery decades before our Civil War. Canada offered the refuge noted by Mary Jane Robinson who lived near Dawn during the Presidency of Millard Fillmore. In the early 1850s she wrote friends in New York: "I hear that OLD FILLMORE is a screwing you all up tighter still, but don't stay there, come to Queen Victoria's land, where they are not making laws to oppress and to starve you."



Cutting a 12" Block

Note that you can print out templates for B and C or draft your own pieces easily. Instructions
for rotary cutting for Piece C are also below.

Drafting B and C.

Printing Templates

To print:
  • Create a word file or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11".
  • Click on the image above.
  • Right click on it and save it to your file.
  • Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". The top side of piece B should measure 4" on the dark sewing line. Adjust the printed page size if necessary.

A –Cut 2 squares 4 7/8" x 4 7/8". Cut each into 2 triangles with 1 cut. UPDATE! Cut 4 squares so you have 8 triangles; 4 light and 4 dark.


You'll need 8 triangles.

B – Use template B to cut 4 triangles.

C – Cut 4 rectangles 5-5/16" x 2-5/8". Cut the rectangles diagonally to make 1 triangles and 1 reversed. You need 4 of each.



D -  Cut 4 squares 2 7/8" x 2 7/8". Cut each into 2 triangles with 1 cut.


You'll need 8 triangles.




What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Charlotte Henson's Story
Charlotte's true story reminds us that black women living in slavery were neither comic relief nor perfect heroines. Stereotypes abound in the stories of slavery and the Underground Railroad. To understand history we not only have to overcome images of stoic, jolly cooks but also unreasonable images of impossibly brave and dedicated fugitives who never faltered. We can relate to her experience as a woman justifiably frightened of the unknown, the law and her impetuous husband's will.

Read More:

Fergus M. Bordewich weaves the Henson's tale through his overview of the Underground Railroad. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) tells the story of their escape and Josiah's later life in Canada.

You can find several versions of Josiah's autobiographies online by going to www.google.com/books . Search in the "full view" books for Josiah Henson to read how the story changed over the years.

1851 The  first version from 1849 doesn't seem to be available online but a second printing is. See The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave as Narrated by Himself  [to S.A. Eliot] (London: Charles Gilpin, 1851)

1858. Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson's Story of His Own Life. With an Introduction by Mrs. H. B. Stowe. (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1858)

1879. An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom"), From 1789 to 1879 (Boston: B. B. Russell, 1879)

1876 Uncle Tom's Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom") from 1789 to 1876 (London: Christian Age Office, 1876). This version is available at Documenting the American South, a web page from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

To learn about Uncle Tom's Cabin and its remarkable influence see a webpage from the University of Virginia. Stephen Railton has created Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture. Click on this link:

The illustrations and the virtual bookshelf (in the center of the home page) are particularly interesting. To view a page about Josiah Henson's role as the model for Uncle Tom click on this link:

Make a Quilt a Month

Combine two similar stars to make a 42" quilt with a 3" finished border. Alternate 4 Britain's Star blocks with 5 Jacksonville Star blocks (#8). For coloring, think outside the block. Recolor to
create a kind of Barn Raising shading with a central focus.


Is this the enduring image of Uncle Tom painted on an 1880s crazy quilt?
Collection of the Quilt Complex

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Abolitionist Image on the Wistar Quilt

"Remember the Slave. Rebecca S. Hart"

This month's block Lancaster Star recalls a Quaker quilt with a printed image of the kneeling slave. (Scroll down to see the September 27th post.)

Another version, this one hand-drawn, is inked on a quilt by Sarah Wistar in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Wistar Family Tree Quilt, blocks inscribed 1842-1843
IQSC collection #2005.059.0001

The Wistars were a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia.

Rebecca S. Hart's block may have been
drawn from this image in the Liberator,
a leading abolitionist periodical.


Note that the figure is a woman. This kneeling slave headed the Ladies' Department in the paper during the 1830s.


See the quilt at IQSC's website here:
http://cdn.firespring.com/images/dfa4f802-2c8e-4fa8-8cd1-6a4c6221f01a.jpg

Read more about it at Quaker Quilt History:
http://www.quakerquilthistory.com/2012/10/the-sarah-wistar-quilt.html

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Emma Safford's Inked Civil War Quilt

"Commenced March 22' 1862
Emma S. Safford"

The great-great grandniece of Emma Safford inherited this quilt (it looks like an unquilted, bound coverlet) and has shown it in the past decade or so.

Each of the Turkey red and white blocks is inscribed
with an outline-embroidered initial E or S, or a pair of crossed flags.
In the white strips are inked inscriptions and drawings.
This block commemorates Abraham Lincoln and announces
the quilt was "Commenced March 22, 1862."

Articles about the quilt say that the inscriptions contain portraits of the first 16 (or more accurately---22) Presidents of the U.S. in the edge triangles. The quilt was probably finished before 1889 when 23rd President Benjamin Harrison took office. The 22nd and 24th President was Grover Cleveland. Each portrait is accompanied by the politician's birthday and date of election.

Other inscriptions recall major Civil War battles and items such as the 1862 national debt of $491 million dollars.

The quilt seems to have been begun during the Civil War, or at least the inked inscriptions on the white cotton were commenced in 1862. One can guess that Emma continued inking for decades. The fact that her initial E is embroidered in  flowery, outline fashion is a clue to a post-1880 date, however. This type of embroidery and patterns for such monograms tend to be after 1880.

Outline embroidered "S" on a crazy quilt.

Photo of Emma Safford passed down with the quilt.

The family knew little about her. I found two possible candidates as quiltmaker.

A woman from Massachusetts:
 Emma S. Safford (1837-1911) married to Henry H. Safford (his second marriage) and buried in the Main Street Cemetery, Hudson, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
Here's the link:

And one from Illinois:
Emma Safford Pettit (1853-1928) born in Marengo Illinois, married in 1876 to Daniel Barton Pettit Jr. and buried in Belvidere Cemetery, Boone County, Illinois. She died at the home of her son in Columbia Falls, Montana.
http://files.usgwarchives.net/il/boone/cemeteries/bel0012s.txt

I'm betting on the Massachusetts woman, about 24 in 1862, rather than the Illinois Emma who was only 9 then.

See stories about this quilt here:
http://www.americaisgrowing.com/pages/c_1quilt.html

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Civil-War-history-unfolds-Family-s-heirloom-2825975.php#photo-2217934

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War" at the Shelburne


Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War is currently on view at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont through January 1, 2015. 

The exhibit "highlights a broad range of textile artifacts and other objects to explore the Civil War. Textiles from collections across the United States, including quilts from Shelburne Museum, tell the political, economic and social histories of the Civil War through fabric and cloth."


You may have viewed the show in New York (above at the New York Historical Society) or
at the American Textile History Museum in Massachusetts but the Shelburne will be adding quilts from their collection, so this venue is worth another view.

Detail of a stuffed work flag quilt by 
Mary Green McPherson, Arkansas

Read posts I've done about this quilt here:


This show, curated by Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett, originated at the American Textile History Museum. The next venue is scheduled for the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln, opening February 1, 2015.

The prize-winning catalog is available on
line from the American Textile History Museum store:


(A reader posted this comment about ordering the catalog: You can email sprice@athm.org or call Sandra Price at 978-441-0400.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Threads of Memory 9: Lancaster Star for Deborah Simmons Coates

Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Silk quilt by Deborah Simmons Coates, 
Collection of The Heritage Center of Lancaster County.

The triangle design along the Lancaster Star's edges recalls Deborah Coates's quilt. The silk quilt, pictured in the book Heart and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, was cut in half for two descendants.


Read more about the book here:
http://shop.thequiltcomplex.com/2008/08/heartsandhands.php#sub%20
Photograph: The Heritage Center of Lancaster County
This recent photo shows the color more accurately.

The block is often called Birds in the Air. This month's new design Lancaster Star honors the Coates family and others  in Lancaster County who resisted slavery's laws.

Lancaster Star by Jean Stanclift



Deborah Coates's silk quilt  featured an image on a central triangle, an African man in chains kneeling under the words: "Deliver me from the oppression of man." The kneeling slave was a common symbol for the abolitionist movement, originating in England where Josiah Wedgewood manufactured small blue and white medallions in his china works. 


Easily shipped and easily adapted to all manner of decorative arts, the cameos were worn by abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. The kneeling slave was translated to posters, dinnerware, and textiles.

Brocade handkerchief with kneeling slave. Source?
For her quilt Deborah Coates may have cut a piece from a similar handkerchief. There is no doubt that she meant to make a statement. The Coates farm in Lancaster County on the northern border of Maryland was one of the many Pennsylvania links in the chain to freedom in Canada.

Deborah Simmons Coates 1801-1888
From the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection


Born a Quaker in 1801, Deborah T. Simmons married Lindley Coates when she was eighteen years old. Like the rest of the large religious community in southeastern Pennsylvania they followed the Quaker conscience by refusing to own slaves. For the Coates family, passive abstention was not enough. Lindley tried futile political attempts to change the laws before he and Deborah  decided to resist the law by hiding fugitives.


The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased dangers to runaways and those who helped them. Vigilantes retaliated against antislavery neighbors, burning the Coates' barn. Posses kidnapped Northern blacks to sell them into slavery or collect "rewards" from Southerners claiming to be aggrieved owners. A black man recalled that people in the area lived "in constant fear" of kidnapping. When a free girl was waylaid by local slave-nabbers known as the Gap Gang, a group of blacks resisted. "The girl was rescued and her captors terribly, if not fatally, beaten," according to local historian Robert Clemens Smedley.


Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Soon American newspapers were full of reports about a violent confrontation in the nearby town of Christiana where Southerners intent upon retrieving a young man met resistance from Pennsylvanians, black and white. "The Christiana Riot" was seen as treason as well as murder when the slave owner was killed and his quarry helped to escape to Canada.

The Slave Riot, Baltimore Sun, 1851


Posses "scoured [the country arresting] every colored man that they could find," recorded Smedley.


Terrified blacks sought refuge at the Coates farm, where they "were taken to the corn field and hidden under the shocks." While the men in the family were away, Deborah played host to "a party of these ruffians, for such they were, [who] searched the house from cellar to garret, and that without a warrant."


Christiana, Lancaster County, at the end of the century



After the Christiana Riot, 41 men faced indictment, including several Quakers charged with the undeniably illegal activity of refusing to assist the Marshal in retrieving the fugitives. As Quaker passivity became high treason, the rift between North and South widened.


Cutting a 12" Block
A - Cut 4 squares 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".

B  - Cut 6 squares  4 1/4" x 4 1/4" of various shades.

Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. You'll need 24 triangles.

C - Cut 4 squares 3 7/8" x 3 7/8" for the star points.

Cut each into 2 triangles with a diagonal cut. You need 8 triangles.

D – Cut 1 square 4 1/2" x 4 1/2". UPDATE: Some readers say try 5" if it doesn't fit.

Sewing:



What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Deborah Simmons Coates Story

The figure inked on Deborah's quilt was familiar in antislavery literature, an early example of an image uniting a group and raising public awareness of its reformist goals. The picture on her quilt was a visual code, although not a secret code. If a runaway was looking for a friend in Lancaster County a Wedgewood cameo pin would be a good clue.

Make a Quilt a Month


Set nine Lancaster Star blocks with 3" finished sashing and a 3" border to create a 54" quilt. Experiment with shading to get different looks. Here the shading emphasizes a central pinwheel in each block.

To read a full text version of Robert Clemens Smedley's 1888 book History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania click on this link:
Once the full text page comes up you can read more about the Coates family by searching in the book on the right for the name Coates.