July 31, 2013

Levi Coffin and Free-Labor Cotton Goods (the last)

For Quakers, such as quilt maker Elizabeth Margaret Chandler (1807-1834) who was homesteading in the Midwest, it was difficult if not impossible to obtain fabrics that were made without slave labor.  These materials were more readily --  if not widely -- available in cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York.  Elizabeth's letters to her family in Philadelphia include several requests to be sent free-labor fabrics from shops in Philadelphia, especially from the shop owned and operated by Lydia White.

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler. Frontispiece to Elizabeth M. Chandler, the Poetical
Works (1836) published posthumously by her friend abolitionist Benjamin Lundy.
 Source: Wikimedia Commons.  (For more about Elizabeth, refer to our posting
of April 15, 2013 titled "Elizabeth Margaret Chandler and the Free Produce Movement".)
 When Elizabeth was finishing a quilt in 1833, the closest free-labor store to her Michigan home was probably the one run by O. Fairfield & Company in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This store opened in 1831 but there is no evidence that it continued operation beyond that year.  Levi Coffin opened his Cincinnati warehouse of free-labor goods in 1847 but, by that time, Elizabeth had passed away and her unfinished quilt may or may not have been sent to Philadelphia to be completed by another.
Between 1817 and 1862, Free Produce (or free-labor) stores speckled the country.  Levi Coffin, alone, operated several free-labor stores in Indiana and Ohio between 1841 and 1857.  Unfortunately, the idea of boycotting anything other than free-labor goods never really took hold due to the complications of obtaining goods, their high prices, and the often inferior quality of their merchandise.
Still, the passion of those who eschewed using cotton derived from slave labor echoes in this excerpt of a poem titled "Slave Produce" by Elizabeth Margaret Chandler.
"Look! They are robes from a foreign loom,
Delicate, light, as the rose leaf's bloom;
Stainless and pure in their snowy tint,
As the drift unmarked by a footstep's print.
Surely such garment should fitting be
For woman's softness and purity.
Yet fling them off from thy shrinking limb,
For sighs have render'd their brightness dim;
And many a mother's shriek and groan,
And many a daughter's burning moan,
And many a sob of wild despair,
From woman's heart, is lingering there."
Levi Coffin.  Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad; Being a Brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave, with the Stories of Numerous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom Through His Instrumentality and Many Other Incidents.  Electronic Edition, Academic Affairs Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2001.  Find it at http://www.docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html.
Benjamin Lundy.  The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler with a Memoir of Her Life and Character.  Philadelphia: Lemuel Howell, 1836.
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.
Ruth Ketring Nuermberger.  "The Free Produce Movement: A Quaker Protest Against Slavery".  In Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society, Series XXV.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1942.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


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