Harriet Tubman’s home built for her by her second husband. Her resting place. Please note the veteran star on the right by the flowers
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
When working on a reading project with a local Middle School a few years back I read Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry. Chapter 9 is called The Patchwork Quilt. As a quilter myself, I became fascinated with this chapter. Harriet was not good at sewing. As a child her mama and others had tried to teach her but she was all thumbs. For her marriage, though, she made herself a patchwork quilt. Ann Petry describes the colors of the quilt and Helen Woodruff Tatlock, who knew Harriet Tubman, describes what happened to it:
“It seemed as though she would never be able to master the art of sewing, to make the needle go through the material in the places where she wanted it to go. It was the hardest task she had ever undertaken.
Yet as the quilt pattern developed, she thought it was as beautiful as the wild flowers that grew in the woods and along the edge of the roads. The yellow was like the Jerusalem flower, and the purple suggested motherwort, and the white pieces were like water lily, and the varying shades of green represented the leaves of all the plants, and the eternal green of the pine tree.” 1
“The only person she told (that she planned to escape) was a white woman who lived nearby. This white woman must have been a Quaker, as it was the Quakers who then gave escaping Negroes the most aid. Harriet had a bed quilt which she highly prized, a quilt she had pieced together. She did not dare to give this to any of the slaves, for if this was found in their possession, they would be questioned and punished for having known about her plans. She gave this bed quilt to the white woman. I recall that Harriet even told me this woman’s name but what it was I do not remember. The white woman gave her a paper with two names upon it, and directions how she might get to the first house where she would receive aid.” 2
I called the Harriet Tubman Historical Society in Auburn, New York and asked the lady who answered if there was any information she knew about the quilt. She had never heard anything about it. Now, having lived in the Fingers Lake Region for two and a half months I was able to go to her home and resting place in Auburn. It was an honor.
In designing the quilt I used the colors described. The original was most likely done in random patches and perhaps tied together. I chose to do the border with Flying Geese representing the roads traveled to freedom, the Saw-Toothed Star represents the Northern Star, and the yellow, white and purple patches are Cube Lattice paired with Irish Chain representing the flowers and forest greens.
Couldn’t resist…my helper, Stella. She is not a lap cat but she can never resist a quilt!
- Petry, Ann. Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY. 1955. pp 79-80
- Humez, Jean M. Harriet Tubman: the Life and the Life Stories. The University Of Wisconsin Press. 2003. p 216