Part Seven of the PP forum Block of the Month - Underground Railroad
“Which Way Do I Go?”
The story tells us that there was a sign for the beginning of the journey with the ‘Jacobs Ladder’ quilt block. Then the trustworthy blacksmith of the ‘Monkey Wrench’. Our fugitives have braved danger after understanding and following the signs of the ‘Wagon Wheel’, and then the journey over the mountain path with help from the ‘Bears Paw’, having gathered and stored their provisions in the ‘Basket’
They had travelled through the Appalachian Mountains and were on the lookout for a signal to indicate the necessary travel to a crossroad. According to legend, this quilt indicated the existence of a major city up ahead. The quilt pattern was aptly named the ‘Crossroads Quilt’. It’s signal is said to have conveyed the message that they had to travel to a crossroad where they could find further protection and refuge.
Fugitive slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.
There were code words for these crossroads. Cleveland, Ohio was “Hope”, Detroit, Michigan was “Midnight”. Once reaching the crossroads, ‘Conductors’ would have been informed that there was cargo to be shipped. Using words such as ‘hardware’ which meant there were men fugitive slaves ready to be transferred or transported further north on their journey while the nickname of ‘drygoods’ referred to the women.
Cleveland, Ohio was one of the main crossroads with several routes to freedom. To a fugitive slave the term “crossroads” also meant reaching a turning point in one’s life, where a choice must be made. To reach this point and remember the legacy of bondage and degradation that lay behind them, the choice was not a hard one.
So, once again, each participant must find a block pattern with the name ‘Crossroads’. The size of your finished block is completely up to you. If you have any trouble drafting a block to your required size, email Katy with your original block diagram, and the finished size that you want, and she will redraft it for you. When you have finished your block, post a picture on the forum for everyone to enjoy or email a photo to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Underground Railroad Sampler quilts grew from the belief that quilts made with specific block patterns were used as signals to communicate a message to the African American people escaping from slavery in the US by travelling in secret to Canada. In recent years quilt historians and academics have debated over whether quilts really did feature as a widespread method of communication, and you can read about this in Xenia Cord's article, The Underground Railroad