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Thread: How quilts were used in the Underground Railroad

  1. #1
    Super Member #1piecemaker's Avatar
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    How quilts were used in the Underground Railroad

    I attended a presentation yesterday by a group of ladies from Linden, Texas who showed and told about how quilts were used in the underground railroad. The presentation was held at our local college and room was packed. It was very informative and very interesting. the quilt on display looked like an ordinary sampler quilt. But, the different patterns held a secret message. Some of the patterns were the monkey wrench, the wheel, the bear paw, the crossroads, the log cabin, the drunkard path, the star. If you ever get a chance to see this presentation, be sure and go. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed a light lunch provided by our local Home Extension Officers.
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    Super Member auntpiggylpn's Avatar
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    I would have been sitting in the front row at this presentation !!! I really enjoy quilting history and I am fascinated by the Underground Railroad. Lucky you that you got to go!!!
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    Senior Member ksdot417's Avatar
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    Sounds like an interesting presentation. I have Eleanor Burn's book, Underground Railroad, and it has some great stores in it. I had no idea how creative they were.

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    This is jsut a myth that continues. http://www.time.com/time/arts/articl...606271,00.html

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    Super Member Lori S's Avatar
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    There have been investigations into this claim, that quilts were used as a signaling methods for the underground railroad. The research indicates that this is a myth.

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    Super Member GailG's Avatar
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    It probably is a myth, but it is a believable myth. How do we know that some of this is not true? I, too, love the story. I've made the quilt in Eleanor Burns' book (eh-hum -- the top only; still not quilted). It was a fun and interesting experience. Love the poem that goes with it.
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    Super Member humbird's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GailG View Post
    It probably is a myth, but it is a believable myth. How do we know that some of this is not true? I, too, love the story. .
    I agree. I to love the story.

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    Senior Member nvb50's Avatar
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    Even if it is a myth, I still love the stroy.

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    Super Member Scissor Queen's Avatar
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    Total fiction. And if you know anything about history and about how things really were, not even all that believable.

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    Super Member MaryMo's Avatar
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    I've heard it was a myth but it seems so reasonable .... people running had to have some kind of signaling system to know which routes were safe and which homes were open to them. I believe these stories were partly true.

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    It certainly makes for good reading.

  12. #12
    Super Member ghostrider's Avatar
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    I think Underground Railroad Quilts and Amish Humility Blocks are the two most entrenched myths in the quilting world. No factual basis to either one, but people sure do want to believe them.
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    Here's some interesting reading on the subject. My personal belief is that someone somewhere ran with the "quilts were hung outside safe houses" and created their own (very successful and lucrative) version of "history." There's also some program running somewhere (I didn't copy the link) that is debunking the myth with historical evidence.

    http://www.ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/
    Last edited by Teeler; 04-24-2013 at 12:39 PM.

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    Senior Member alisonquilts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghostrider View Post
    I think Underground Railroad Quilts and Amish Humility Blocks are the two most entrenched myths in the quilting world. No factual basis to either one, but people sure do want to believe them.
    What are Amish humility blocks? (Sounds like a psychological conditioning technique... *chuckle*)

    Alison

  15. #15
    Super Member ptquilts's Avatar
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    From what I have heard about the Underground RR, escaping slaves were transported by whites, like in the back of a wagon, at night. I never heard about them wandering around looking for quilts on a line.

    I don't mind people telling stories, but when they present them as history it bothers me.

  16. #16
    Super Member feline fanatic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alisonquilts View Post
    What are Amish humility blocks? (Sounds like a psychological conditioning technique... *chuckle*)

    Alison
    The legend is that the Amish say only God is perfect so they purposely put a mistake in a quilt somewhere to show humility. It is not true but as GR said it perpetuates. Go to Amish country and look at amish made quilts. Quite the opposite they take great care to not make mistakes in their quilts. In that respect they are like the Shakers whose motto was to create your craft as though you were creating it for the Almighty himself. Make it as though you were going to die tomorrow and as though you were going to live forever.

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    Super Member Peckish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ptquilts View Post
    I don't mind people telling stories, but when they present them as history it bothers me.
    I quite agree. One of the things I've always wondered about was how certain quilt patterns were chosen to represent the UR, how this information was disseminated, and (assuming for a minute that there is an element of truth to this story) what happened if an unaware and unwilling quilter happened to hang out a signal quilt.

  18. #18
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    Maybe those who were running figured that anyone who was a quilter had a kind heart and would help them in their time of need.

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    The following is interesting reading
    http://historiccamdencounty.com/ccnews11.shtml

    I would be upset if the schools taught myth as hstory.

    I once visited the Underground RR Quilt Museum in Atlanta and saw the sampler quilt the grand daughter of the original story teller showed and lectured about. It was especially interesting that two blocks that were not "invented" until the 1930's were part of the quilt especially Sun Bonnet Sue.

  20. #20
    Super Member coopah's Avatar
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    This also reminds me of the stories about the "signs" hoboes (during the Great Depression) were supposed to paint/draw on fences so others would know that they could get a meal at certain homes.
    Last edited by coopah; 04-24-2013 at 05:00 PM.
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    Super Member Cybrarian's Avatar
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    Most "station masters" and "conductors" - the people involved in the UGRR- only knew the next station and sometimes the one before them. The less one person knew about others the more protected everyone was. Obviously signals were worked out to allow conductors to know if it was safe to bring their passengers into the "station". It might have been something hanging in a certain spot, or a specific color etc. quilts, as well as other items might have been used. This may be where the story began, and the myth grew over time.

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    Well, I don't know about the authenticity of the stories, EXCEPT, I remember as a little girl a hobo sitting on our back porch more than once eating, because my Mother had fixed them a plate. We lived a block from the railroad and my Dad worked on the railroad. PS. This was in Indiana
    Last edited by barny; 04-24-2013 at 05:23 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by barny View Post
    Well, I don't know about the authenticity of the stories, EXCEPT, I remember as a little girl a hobo sitting on our back porch more than once eating, because my Mother had fixed them a plate. We lived a block from the railroad and my Dad worked on the railroad. PS. This was in Indiana
    When I was growing up in the 40's the hoboes who came around always went to the same houses. They went to a few houses in town but stayed away from the rest.

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    Super Member dglvr's Avatar
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    I love history. I hope they come this way. I'd go. Sounds interesting.
    Kim

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    I have the book 'Hidden in Plain View" by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D. but have not finished it.
    Perhaps someone is interested in finding out more of the mystery of myth/or true history.

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