Sunday, September 25, 2011

Civil War Sunday - Hoax or Truth?

Last Sunday I decided to step out of my U.S. Civil War comfort zone and post something on quilt patterns, prompted by a blanket I bought on sale in Brunswick, ME that featured something called the Lee's Surrender pattern.  (I haven't started the fringe project, by the way.)  In so doing, I made mention of something I found in researching the Lee's Surrender pattern. This was a statement that there was an Underground Railroad "code" connection with quilts.  It sounded logical, and was found in several different sources - so it must be right.

Not so fast.

I have a very faithful reader, someone I know, perhaps my very first follower.  She read last Sunday's post and immediately tried to comment.  I have been having commenting issues on my blog (someone helped me, but now people are having problems again.)  So she emailed me, saying "Your blog post on the Civil War quilts reminded me of something I read on the Daily Kos site last month. There's a woman named Ellid who posts a weekly feature there called Books So Bad They're Good which has become a must-read for me. (She writes incredibly well and her taste in books lean toward the SF/Fantasy genres, but basically, she reads everything!) She also happens to be a quilt historian, and she devoted one of her columns to debunking the myth of the Underground Railroad "quilt code." Thought you'd be interested - here's the link:".

I followed the link and found a most fascinating article, which took me back years to the late 1960's and the Erica Wilson crewelwork craze...a story for another time.   Anyway, the "Underground Railroad Quilt Code' Ellid states, is a myth.  A myth that has fooled a lot of people.  Including me.

This is far from the only myth that has made it into history, and yes, that includes Civil War history. 

So, I did a little backtracking.  I am not knowledgeable of quilts, and I do not have the time or training to try to do really in-depth research. (getting that training is a dream of mine, by the way.)  With a simple Google search, I would have easily seen (if I had bypassed the top hits) that the theory has been quite controversial.  A couple of examples of online resources discussing if this is a myth or not: 
National Geographic Examiner.
U.S. News and World Report

This even extends past our borders into Canada, as this official Canadian website shows. 
Therefore I should not have presented this code as a fact but rather as a controversy.


So, this simple blanket out of a Maine Woolens store has proved to be quite educational.  Besides introducing me to this controversy, it also shows how careful (since I do not use source material as much as I should) I am going to have to be in bringing the usual and lesser know stories of the Civil War to you.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. A quilt collector myself I had heard of this and believed it. The one quilt I have purchased that I was told was African-American is utilitarian type fabrics, consistant of what poorer folks (it is post slavery) would have had. Enjoyed reading your post and the link to KOS.

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