August 24, 2012

The Dilemma of Abolitionism: Quakers at Odds With One Another

Quakers are recognized as one of the moving forces in the abolition of slavery in America.  Since the 1770s, all Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends in North America agreed that slavery was a "national evil" and that holding slaves was in direct conflict to their values.  Although their ideals were clear, their actions were often less so.

In recalling her earlier involvement with the anti-slavery movement, Quaker abolitionist Elizabeth Buffum Chace wrote in 1891 about her family's renewed enthusiasm for the emancipation of the slaves--an enthusiasm sparked by William Lloyd Garrison's call for immediate emancipation during the 1840s in his publication The Liberator.  "I remember well how eager we were [ . . .] to present the cause of the slave to everybody we met; not doubting that, when their attention was called to it, they would be ready, as we were, to demand his immediate emancipation."

Elizabeth was profoundly disappointed when this turned out not to be the case.  "[ . . .] from the Friends, surely, we expected sympathy and understanding.  But as we met them, individually and in groups, and made our appeal for the slave, we were shocked to find out even they [ . . .], with rare exceptions, shut their eyes to the great inequity.  They objected to the strong, denunciatory language of The Liberator, they disapproved of Friends uniting with other people in public meetings [ . . . ]; they did not think the slaves should be set free all at once, and they did not want their daughters to marry Negroes."  (Salitan and Perera, 95-96.)  These were the reactions of New England Quakers, long at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and long engaged in open condemnation of the practice.  The reactions of Quakers farther west, who were settling the states of the Northwest Territory, were even more disappointing.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace's grace marker, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI.
Born in 1806,she was the daughter of abolitionist Arnold Buffum.  After marrying
Sanuel Buffington Chace in 1828, she helped found the Fall River Anti-Slavery Society
in Fall River, MA.  She died in 1899 at the age of 93.  Photograph courtesy of
Jen Snoots,
The Indiana Yearly Meeting, representing the states of Indiana, Illinois, and the western part of Ohio, held its first meeting in 1821.  According to Errol T. Elliott, the meeting consisted of no fewer than 20,000 members, approximately one quarter of whom previously belonged to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the rest representing Quaker migration from the southern states.  By 1841, the growing activism of its abolitionist members was causing tension in the Meeting.  All were united in their belief that slavery was evil, but they differed greatly on how it should be abolished.  The more radical in their numbers favored the Garrisonian approach of immediate emancipation and, until then, active participation in the Underground Railroad; others favored "colonization" of the blacks, sending them back to Africa where they could thrive in their own country; and yet others believed in the gradual emancipation of slaves as an inevitable outcome of man's sense of humanity and justice.
These differences of opinion eventually caused the Indiana Yearly Meeting to advise all members to cease joining anti-slavery societies and to wait for "divine direction" on the issue.  Active abolitionists were also banned from holding positions of responsibility within the Yearly Meeting and, at local Monthly Meetings, many were disowned or condemned for their views.  The result was the founding of Anti-Slavery Meetings by those who wished to continue their pursuit of emancipation, including an Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends founded by Levi Coffin.  Many who were disowned or condemned by their Meetings for their anti-slavery activism joined these new Meetings, resulting in what came to be known as the Separation of 1843.
The Clinton County Historical Society in Wilmington, Ohio, possesses a quilt that gives testimony to the separation that took place over the anti-slavery issue.  Called The Abolitionist Quilt, it hangs for public viewing in the Rombach Place Museum in Wilmington.
The Abolitionist Quilt, Rombach Place Museum, Wilmington, Ohio.  Photograph
courtesy of the Clinton County Historical Society.  For more information about the
The Abolitionist Quilt was researched extensively by Ricky Clark who published her findings about it in the July/August 1995 issue of Piecework.  The quilt was signed by women from the Hadley, Coate, Bailey, McCracken, Coggeshall, and Bangham families.  These Quaker women, as it turned out, were close relatives and abolitionists.  On the quilt, most had inscribed Clinton County, Ohio.  The other location noted on the quilt was Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana.  Newport was situated ten miles north of Richmond, the seat of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Close-up of  The Abolitionist Quilt, circa 1842, comprised of 11 inch blocks
and measuring 72 X 72 inches.  Photograph courtesy of the Clinton County
Historical Society.
Ricky discovered through Hinshaw's records and other sources that the women listed as living in Clinton Colunty on the quilt relocated to Newport where they joined their fellow-quilters and relatives as members of the New Garden Monthly Meeting.  The Separation of 1843 began in this Meeting and several of the women named on the quilt were disowned.  They subsequently participated in the establishment of the New Garden Monthly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends.
In her article, Ricky Clark speculates that the women who made The Abolitionist Quilt may have done so to strengthen their bonds as Quakers, relatives, and abolitionists.  She says:  "They may have made the qult [ . . .] during a time of crisis, the abolition Separation of 1843, when Quakers were so divided over the question of abolition that members left or were excluded from the particular Quaker meetings to which they belonged."  (Clark, 68.)
Clark, Ricky.  "Making a Case for the Abolitionist Quilt" in  Piecework (July/August 1995): 66-70.
Elliott, Errol T.  Quakers on the American Frontier.  Elgin, IL: The Friends United Press, 1969.
Salitan, Lucille and Eve Lewis Perera, Eds.  Virtuous Lives, Four Quaker Sisters Remember Family Life, Abolitionism, and Women's Suffrage.  New York: Continuum, 1994.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012

August 4, 2012

Autograph Books and 19th Century Signature Quilts

American signature quilts began to appear in the early 1840s and peaked in popularity at mid-century.  After the 1850s, their popularity declined but quilt makers continued to produce signature quilts into the 1870s and beyond.

The appearance of signature quilts is generally attributed to the influence of the autograph book which became popular in this country in the 1820s as a means of recording sentiments, artistic sketches and, most importantly, relationships with friends and family members.  By the 1840s, the concept of the autograph book was applied to quilts when their makers began signing quilt blocks, often adding a sentiment reflective of the quilt's purpose.  This new trend was especially appealing to Quaker quilt makers who, through this means, documented community and family relationships to be carried away by members leaving their Meetings to move elsewhere, to acknowledge a marriage, or to be passed down to later generations as a reminder of those who came before.

Modified Bear Paw signature quilt dated 1869.  Made in Belmont County,
Ohio; maker unknown.  This quilt was made for a family or person departing
the area as evidenced by the sentiment "Remember Me" inscribed on the
quilt.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.  Photograph by Peter Macchia,
Oakland, CA.

The history of autograph books goes back at least to the mid-sixteenth century when students at universities in Germany began to keep albums containing the signatures of friends and acquaintances, including their professors.  Since most students in those days attended more than one institution of higher learning, the books served to record the names of those a student wanted to remember as he traveled from one university to another.  These books were called Album amicorum in Latin and often included wise statements inscribed by faculty acquaintances--statements that provided guidance and encouragement to the students as they pursued their academic studies.

A page from the autograph book of Simon Haendel featuring a personal
greeting written in Latin.  The album was compiled in the 1590s. 
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Three centuries later the autograph book appeared in America.  The popularity of this "new" means of expression prompted the composition and publication of sentimental verses that could be used by book inscribers to express their feelings, give advice, and demonstrate their friendship.  Such verses appeared in the 1830s and 1840s in The Lady's Book, later known as Godey's Ladies Book and Magazine.  This publication, with a circulation of 150,000 by the time of the Civil War, also provided women with patterns and ideas for making quilts, clothing, and decorative accessories for the home.  Many of the autograph book verses that appeared in Godey's and elsewhere were also adopted for inscriptions on quilts.

Photograph of the cover and an interior page of a 19th century autograph
book.  The verse reads: "Live for those that love you, For those whose
hearts are true, For the heaven that smiles above you, And the good that you may do."
Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, author Playingwithbrushes.

If you have a signature quilt inscribed with a verse, it is fun to research the early publications of verse to try to find the dates and evidence of its usage.  One useful source is provided by W.K. McNeil who published "From Advice to Lament: New York Autograph Album Verse, 1820-1850." New York Folklore Quarterly 25, no. 3 (September 1969): 175-94.  Our copy of this article was obtained from the Internet. You can download a PDF file of the article for $3.00.  Search on New York Folklore Quarterly, click on the contents notation for xxv, September 1969, click on the article name, and follow the instructions for receiving a PDF file.


Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.

Nickson, M.A.E.  Early Autograph Albums in the British Museum.  London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1970.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012