Good evening all,
I know there has been much discussion on
this, but I was hoping to clarify a
point based on a book reference I found today.
My understanding is that a lot of the
debate here is over the notion of
quilts being specifically made with coded blocks to assist the
in leading slaves to freedom. And then of course the logical
that the time required to make a quilt back then (or even now!) was such
it is an impossible stretch of logic that there would have been time to
coded quilts in a timely manner to facilitate escape for slaves- a
point that would seem to end the debate right there.
Well, today I purchased a book called
Shortcut to Drunkard's Path Easy
Applique Curves". I am having a blast with it already seeing how
much fun I can
have with this, my favorite pieced pattern.
On page 5, the following text appears in
a chapter titled "Drunkard's Path:
The History of a Quilt Block";
"Fortunately, the history of the
Drunkard's Path (or whatever moniker
you choose to give it) is well documented. The Drunkard's Path played an
important part in two historical events- the Underground Railroad and
The Drunkard's Path block played a
significant role in the journey of
slaves to freedom. The Underground Railroad could not openly broadcast
information about where, when, and how runaway slaves could arrive
safely at their
destination. A system was therefore devised by which quilts were
whether on a clothesline or over a porch railing, that contained hidden
The particular type of blocks in the quilt would tell the person making
journey what to do. When the Drunkard's Path block was displayed, the
would know to zigzag their path to make capture difficult."
On the surface this sounds more
reasonable than the idea of a quilt being
crafted with hidden directions and messages- the notion that a given
that someone in town would possibly have on hand could be used to subtly
more general signals.
Or is it that simple? I do get the gut
feeling that "zigsagging" your path to
make capture difficult would ALWAYS have been a good idea.
Forgive me if I have raised a point
already addressed that I did not see in
earlier postings, but this particular book reference comes off as very
plausible- which could make it a more accurate representation of what
might have played in the Underground Railroad, or a more dangerous
it is not supportable in any way or has been disproven.
On a final note, I have seen many known
names posting on this group- so if
the writers of this book are here let me say up front I intend no
am I trying to challenge your writings. I merely mean to have a
published words and understand their context in this debate at large.
Response from Kathy Moore:
About Drunkard's Path and the UGGR, Tom posted:
"When the Drunkard's Path block was displayed, the runaways would know
to zigzag their path to make capture difficult."
On the surface this sounds more reasonable than
the idea of a quilt being crafted with hidden directions and messages-
the notion that a given quilt type that someone in town would possibly
have on hand could be used to subtly send more general signals.
Or is it that simple? I do get the gut feeling
that "zigsagging" your path to make capture difficult would ALWAYS have
been a good idea."
Tom, I think you've answered your own question
Please pardon my presumption, but you seem to have
bought the premise that quilts were used to convey information to
My advice to you is to take two aspirin, put your
feet up and just THINK ABOUT IT!!!! Logic will surely intervene and you
will realize the impractibility of this premise.
1. If you are escaping from a plantation, you
would be traveling at night. You wouldn't be able to read quilt patterns
in the dark.
2. If you try to get close enough to see a quilt
pattern in the dark, the farm animals, especially dogs, will make noise
or bark and chase you and they might event catch up with you and attack
you. At the very least they will alarm their owners and anyone else
nearby and you'll get caught! Pretty risky, don't you think?
3. In all the research done by really good
academic historians there has not been one word of evidence or
suggestion that quilt patterns were used to instruct escaping slaves.
4. Furthermore, there have been no eyewitness
accounts found by slaves and former slaves (reference the WPA oral
interviews of former slaves).
5. Furthermore, some of the patterns designated as
having been used in these quilts aren't known to have existed before the
Civil War. If they did exist then, there is no documentation to that
effect and a lot of people have been looking for this information for a
It sounds like you want to embrace this romantic
story about the Underground Railroad and quilts and that you would like
to accept it as true. Unfortunately, it is more likely that it is a
mixture of misreading the historical evidence and a strong need to
believe in a romantic notion of the nobility and kindness of a small
group of people dealing with difficult times.
I, and many others, just want people to stop and
think it through and realize the illogic of the whole premise. Let's not
impose any more myths on the historical record about that whole ugly
era. Let's let truth and reason prevail and can we all please stop
fighting that ugly war????