The Underground Railroad

underground railroad quilt block

The Underground Railroad was a network of abolitionists who helped slaves escape during the early to mid-19th century in the US.  The abolitionists were free African Americans as well as some whites.  They created a secret escape route to help enslaved African Americans escape from slavery into a free state and then mostly on to Canada.  A “free” state was one in which slavery and the slave trade were illegal.  Stories of Underground Railroad quilt blocks abound from this sad part of American history.

What were Underground Railroad quilt blocks?

But what were the Underground Railroad quilt blocks?  Did they really exist or were they just an interesting fairy tale?  Most slaves could not read, and quilting was very popular at the time.  Consequently, the combination of these two facts makes for an interesting story.  As a result, tales of underground railroad quilts abound today.  These quilts consisted of a number of popular quilt blocks which contained “messages” in their layout or design.  For example, the quilt block above, the Bear Paw, advises the escaping slave to follow a bear’s trail to find food and water.  

Did Underground Railroad quilts really exist? 

However, there is no actual proof that these underground railroad quilts actually existed.  No one has ever found one from that era.  Also, most former slaves in the late 19th century and early 20th century said that they never saw these.  In brief, whether they existed or not, it’s still a nice bit of folklore.

Follow the link to read about some specific Underground Railroad quilt blocks.

Listen to this 3-minute narrative on “The Enduring Story for Underground Railroad Quilts”.

Listen also to “The History of Quilting”.

What do you think?

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