April 15, 2013

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler and the Free Produce Movement

"I should like to have sent you thy patchwork by this opportunity, but have not yet got it finished, as sewing cotton run[s] low with us, and I felt unwilling unless compelled by actual necessity to purchase any of the slave manufacture."

These words were written by Elizabeth Margaret Chandler to her aunt, Jane Howell of Philadelphia, in a postscript to a letter dated 10th month 28th, 1833.  The letter was written in Lenawee County, Michigan, from an eighty-acre homestead called Hazelbank.  Elizabeth, one of her brothers, and an aunt had migrated to Michigan from Philadelphia three years earlier.

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler.  Frontispiece to Elizabeth M Chandler, The
Poetical Works (1836) published posthumously by abolitionist Benjamin Lundy.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.
Elizabeth was raised in Philadelphia and attended a Quaker school where she developed strong anti-slavery sentiments.  She began writing at an early age, first publishing verses about nature at age sixteen.  At eighteen her poem "The Slave Ship" drew national attention and, thereafter, she wrote mainly about the institution of slavery and its human toll.  She is credited with introducing to America a popular abolitionist image, based on a medallion of a male slave originally created by Josiah Wedgwood in England.  The image was that of a female slave kneeling in chains bearing the words "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?"  By the time of her death in 1834, at age twenty-seven, she was a well-known author and abolitionist.
A medallion image similar to the one Chandler popularized in America by publishing it in 1830
 in Benjamin Lundy's abolitionist paper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation, in the
"Ladies' Repository" section which she wrote and edited.  The image was used on ceramics,
cloth, silk purses, medallions, pin cushions, and other objects that were sold at fairs organized by women
in the early 19th century to raise money for the abolitionist cause.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While living in Philadelphia, Elizabeth belonged to the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and actively supported a boycott of goods produced by slave labor.  This boycott, initiated by Quakers in Delaware in 1826, became an official movement in 1827 when Thomas McClintock and others formed The Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  The boycott, practiced by many Quakers as well as other abolitionists, included not only that of cane sugar and other edible agricultural crops, but also that of fabric made from cotton planted and harvested by slaves.

Cover page of the Constitution of the Free Produce Society created in 1827.  Its first officers were
William Rawle (President), Thomas McClintock (Secretary), Benjamin Tucker (Vice
President), and H. M. Zollickoffer (Treasurer).  James Mott, husband of Lucretia Mott, was a
member of the Committee of Correspondence.

The lack of "sewing cotton" Elizabeth referred to in her letter to her aunt was largely due to the fact that Elizabeth now lived in Michigan rather than Philadelphia.  In other letters written to relatives in Philadelphia, Elizabeth requested that they buy and send to her fabric and cotton thread purchased from Lydia White, a dry goods merchant who ran a store that sold only free produce goods.  Lydia's was not the only Philadelphia store carrying such goods.  Another merchant selling free produce items was Sydney Ann Lewis who, like Lydia White, was a member of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.
 According to Margaret Hope Bacon (278), "Altogether fifty-three such stores existed between 1817 and 1862, of which at least five were run by women.  Most were in Philadelphia, but there were stores also in Boston, Wilmington, and New York City, as well as scattered in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maine."  The cotton fabrics sold in these stores came from cotton bought by free produce associations from farmers who did not own slaves, mainly in North Carolina.  The associations then had the cotton woven into bolts that could be sold by retail merchants. The fabrics thus produced were generally more expensive and were known to be of inferior quality, but those supporting the cause continued to buy them for quilt making, lining bonnets, aprons, bed ticking, underclothes, mending, and other purposes.  When it came to dressmaking and outer clothing, Quaker women who supported the boycott turned to the quality of silk and wool.
We do not know if Elizabeth ever finished the patchwork she was making for her Aunt Jane.  It seems likely that it was sent on unfinished to Philadelphia where free produce cotton could be had more readily.  Elizabeth stated at the end of the postscript quoted earlier:  "I shall not be able to make it the full size as I shall not have pieces enough.  It will I expect require a border, perhaps the width or a breadth of furniture calico." (Mason, 210.)  These statements at least imply that Elizabeth expected someone else to complete the quilt.
Margaret Hope Bacon, "By Moral Force Alone, The Antislavery Women and Nonresistance" and Phillip Lapsansky, "Graphic Discord, Abolitionist and Antiabolitionist Images."  In The Abolitionist Sisterhood, Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America, 274-297 and 201-230.  Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne, eds.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Marsha J. Heringa Mason.  Remember the Distance that Divides Us, The Family Letters of Philadelphia Quaker Abolitionist and Michigan Pioneer Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, 1830-1842.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


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