From the Mouths of Slave Quilters

My trip to Savannah caused me to pull Civil War Women by Barbara Brackman off the shelf and read it. Chapter 2 is entitled “Remembering Susie King Taylor and Other Freedwomen.” Through diaries and other recorded history, the author conveys a sense of how quilting fit into a life of slavery.

As mentioned in my previous posting, there seems to be constant debate about whether slaves liked being slaves if they had nice masters. (Absurd, in my view)! I think the reason some people think slaves were happy being slaves is because of their love of music. No matter how bad things are, put on some music and we will dance. In Civil War Women, she quotes from the diary of Martha Watkins, a slave woman, as follows:

“We had a fine time last night with just our own people and Payton to play the violin and banjo, and Simon played on the tambourine. Susan had a quilting and after we got the quilt out they had to dance instead of a supper…”

We love a party don’t we? But the following quote from the diary of Grace Brown Elmore is a sobering statement of how most slaves felt when the party was over.

“I asked Philis if she liked the thought of being free. She said yes, though she had always being treated with perfect kindness and could complain of nothing in her lot, but she had heard a woman who had bought her freedom from kind indulgent owners, say it was a very sweet thing to be able to do as she chose, to sit an do nothing, to work if she desired, or to go out as she liked and ask nobody’s permission.”

Grace Brown Elmore
May 24, 1865

That statement certainly captures how I feel about life.

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