Pleasant Hill Quilters Trace "Flight"
of the Underground Railroad, in Fabric
by: Bobby McDonald
One of the most interesting programs to come to Sulphur Springs was hosted on Saturday morning by the Hopkins County Genealogical Society, as a group of African American ladies from Linden, Texas, came to town, with their portrayal of the Civil War Era Underground Railroad in Fabric. The ladies traced the signals and signs that were common indicators to runaway slaves as they made their quest for freedom, in Canada, as they traveled along the path of the Underground Railroad.
Having done a story a few years ago in Kentucky, where the 175 year old home on the farm was once a "station" on the Underground Railroad, with a "secret passageway" in the middle of the house, I was particularly interested in the program and identified with a number of the highlights in the story.
Ronny Glossup, President of the Hopkins County Genealogical Society, welcomes guest to
Saturday morning's interesting program.
The women from Linden are members of the Pleasant Hill Quilters, that travel as a group, around the state of Texas, giving the program, to raise funds for the preservation of their own Rosenwald School, that served the African American community in Cass County from the 1920's to 1964, when the students were integrated into the white schools, in the area.
They told the large crowd of attendees in Hopkins County that there were ten major quilt patterns that constituted the "signals" on quilts, used to move runaway slaves along the path of the Underground Railroad. "To the untrained eyes of the general public, the women of the family were just conducting house cleaning, when they hung the quilts on the line or the fence of their home, but to the traveling runaway, it was a life and death situation," acknowledged the ladies. "The runaway would wait in the cover of undergrowth of the woods or many times hidden behind a tombstone in a cemetery on the edge of town, until a 'safe' sign was displayed, on the quilts hanging in public view!"
A large crowd of local residents came to hear the interesting program on the influence of quilts in
the travels along the Underground Railroad.
The major pattern that was the symbol of the Underground Railroad was the Jacob's Ladder, that was known far and wide.
Jacob's Ladder pattern
Other major patterns told directions to the runaway slave, as they moved through the journey.....
The Monkey Wrench Pattern signified it was time to leave and the
weather was good. Spring thunderstorms were a desired time to
leave, as the rain would cover tracks and the scent from the
The Wagon Wheel Pattern was used to denote the packing for
the journey and that the community Blacksmith was a friend
that would "pound out" information in a code on his anvil
in his shop, as he knew what was happening in the community.
The Bear Path Pattern was a road map for the runaway, as they
were shown the desired path along the way.
The Cross Roads Pattern meant that the journey was at
approximately 1/2 way complete, Cleveland, Ohio, was that
point on the journey and men were referred to in code as
"Hardware" and women were referred to as "Dry Goods."
The Log Cabin Pattern used colors in the center of
the square, in red, yellow, and black, to indicate
places to rest and receive food, as well as supplies.
The Shoo Fly Pattern indicated to the runaway that
it was time to "scatter and meet up at another place,"
along the journey.
The Bow Tie Pattern indicated to the runaway that it was time
to discard their ragged and tattered clothes for a new outfit
so that they could integrate into society and pass as a free
African American person.
The Flying Geese Pattern indicated that it was signal of flight.
Many runaway's followed the "honking" of geese to make
their way north, using the sound to make certain they
were traveling in the right direction, North.
The Drunken Path symbol on the quilts indicated the need
for "bending back" and checking that someone was following
the runaway, and they needed to be careful of getting caught,
or that danger was ahead and they needed to go around
The Ship Pattern indicated that the runaway had arrived at
the waters for crossing into Canada. Sailors on the Great
Lakes were a vital source of information for the slaves to
reunite with their loved ones in Canada.
The North Star Pattern offered direction all along the journey
to Canada, keeping the runaway on the path to freedom.
As you can see, the program was a very interesting program on the path to freedom for so many African Americans, as they escaped the institution of slavery, on the Underground Railroad.
Thank You, Pleasant Hill Quilters,
For a Very Interesting Program!!!