The Underground Railroad

Something else that I have read about since becoming interested in Civil War quilts and reproduction fabrics is the Underground Railroad.
Just like Red Rock Cider (It’s not red and there’s no rocks in it) the Underground Railroad is neither underground nor is it a railroad. That’s disappointing but nevertheless still interesting.

I understand that the Underground Railroad grew as a romantic myth describing a network of secret routes used by slaves trying to escape their confines and assisted by abolitionists and freed slaves along the way. I wouldn’t have heard about this unless I was reading about the history of quilting in the US and what initially caught my eye was the story that slaves and abolitionists made quilts which included secret codes and messages enabling escapees to seek out friendly homesteads and safe routes towards freedom. For me, this was a great idea and what a fantastic story. The more I read however, the more evidence I found to render this story invalid.

What a shame. I would much rather think of white abolitionists fighting against the regime to help the slaves gain their rightful freedom, than read about the harsh reality. Slaves were more likely to escape on their own, safe routes were often closed down quickly and those enslaved in the deep south were unlikely to survive the longer journey northwards to the free states.

Personally I can’t grasp the idea of having a slave employed to do my bidding. It is unthinkable. Slavery still exists in some countries and cultures which I find incomprehensible but thankfully it is much less widespread than 200 years ago.

So much for coded quilts.

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3 thoughts on “The Underground Railroad

  1. I’ve never heard of coded quilts. There are numerous fictionalized stories. There were coded songs. Railroad terms were used as codes, which gave it the nickname “Underground Railroad.” The Quakers were staunch abolitionists and did whatever they could to help any slave find freedom. It wasn’t so much specific trails as specific people who made it their mission to help as they could. Harriett Tubman is one of the most famous, and the Harriett Tubman Historical Society has a brief list of facts. http://www.harriet-tubman.org/interesting-facts-about-the-underground-railroad/

  2. Thanks for this- much appreciated 🙂 I have read about Harriet-Tubman; what a lady she was. The coded quilt theory came from a book published in 1998/9 and which created quite a stir!
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0205_040205_slavequilts.html
    The Quakers in the UK had a prominent role during the Industrial Revolution and subsequently and the two most well known companies they set up were Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s both confectionary manufacturers. These companies were famous for looking after their workers and built special villages/houses for them; Both my maternal grandparents worked at Cadbury’s in Bournville 🙂
    Cadbury village-Bournville, Birmingham
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bournville

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