Slave Quilt

February 27th, 2009

Bible Quilt 1898

Bible Quilt 1898

Bible Quilt 1886
Bible Quilt 1886


Harriet Powers, known as the “mother of African-American quilting,” was born into slavery in Athens, Georgia. Southern African American women slaves were often trained as expert seamstresses and Harriet was most likely was taught the craft of quilt making by her mother. There are two remaining quilts by Harriet Powers that were made after she was freed from slavery following the civil war. Her quilts are considered among the finest examples of nineteenth century Southern quilting. Her work is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. The quilts were constructed through appliqué and piecework and were hand and machine stitched. In 1886, Powers began exhibiting her quilts. Her first quilt was shown at a cotton fair in Athens. An artist and teacher by the name of Jennie Smith offered to purchase the quilt but Harriet refused to sell. Harriet however fell into financial trouble and sold the quilt to Smith for five dollars. This quilt has eleven rectangular blocks of various sizes, portraying scenes from the Old and New Testaments. There is not much known about the second quilt. This quilt was presented to the Reverend Charles Cuthbert Hall of New York City, who was the chairman of Atlanta University’s board of trustees at the time. The quilt was then sold to collector Maxim Karolik, who donated it to the museum in Boston. Both quilts have numerous pictorial squares depicting biblical scenes. The quilts were maybe used as a form of storytelling and visual teaching tools since Harriet was most likely illiterate. The use of appliqué designs to tell stories is closely related to artistic practices in the republic of Benin, West Africa. Her use technique and design demonstrates African and African American influences. These quilts show the importance of religion to Harriet and African Americans. Only one image of Harriet Powers herself survives. The photograph was taken in about 1897, and it shows her wearing an apron with appliquéd images of a moon, cross, and sun or shooting star. These same celestial bodies appeared repeatedly in her quilts and often carefully stitched in complex ways, indicating their importance to her.

Auction Block

February 27th, 2009

This sandstone auction block stands on the corner of William Street and Charles Street in downtown Fredericksburg, Va. The inscription below reads:

Auction Block; Fredericksburg’s principal auction site in pre-civil war days for slaves and property. Dedicated by the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation in 1984.

There is no record for an exact date of the stone’s construction. The block likely served many purposes in the town’s history, including use as a stepping stone for passengers coming in and out of their carriages at the corner which once was the site of the Planters Hotel. More importantly the stone was used to present individual slaves to the local crowd while they were auctioned off either for sale, or for annual hire. The block would have been primarily used in the traditions of the interstate slave trade after the closing of the Atlantic slave trade to America in 1808. The auctions would have been a regular event of community life. Newspaper advertisements in the Fredericksburg News indicate the site’s regular use in the sale of Negro slaves as late as February 1862. Later that year Fredericksburg became a center of military action in the civil war with the city itself under Union occupation. As a result evidence of slave auctions, and the use of the block for that purpose, cease after 1862.

While the venue at the corner of William and Charles would have been one of greatly varying emotions and endeavors for the many local population. White entrepreneurs would have waged their fortunes at the expense of black families. By the mid 19th century, with the aforementioned abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, nearly all of the slaves that were auctioned off while standing on this stone would have been born in America and thousands were exported from Virginia to growing plantations further south or the ever expanding western territories. This meant many families being split as properties sold individually to the highest bidder, newlywed couples were forced apart, and children were seen as great commodities to be sold from their mother as soon as they were old enough and strong enough to work. While the outdoor auctions were public affairs, which allowed anyone with enough cash to take part in the bidding, the state government was not uninvolved in the business that took place there. In one specific case, in 1857, a female slave and her five children were scheduled to be sold at auction after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against their manumission by their late owner. In other instances individual owners would auction their slaves off for seasonal or yearly hire. In John Washington’s Civil War: A Slave Narrative he describes the sight of a slave sale and the subsequent breakup of families as the “first great sorrow” of his life. What would have been a horrific and dehumanizing experience for the thousands of blacks that were auctioned off from that block would have constituted economic opportunity for the white traders selling, plantation owners buying, and other financiers who had a financial stake in this human commerce.

The 20th century plaque which describes the stone as a place for the “sale of slaves and property” reverberates a perspective which was unvoiced during the decades in which those auctions took place, and met great conflict to bring them to an end. From the perspective of those Fredericksburgers who participated in the auctions personally, with the exception of the slaves themselves and only a few others, the plaque would read simply for the “sale of property.”Other stones of similar characteristics remain as a testament to the history the country has traversed as a nation, including in Virginia, Green Hill Plantation and Luray. Though the stone itself was vandalized in 2005 it remains in its original spot as a vivid reminder of America’s entire history.

Levi Strauss

February 27th, 2009

Levi Strauss and Co. factory, 1882.

Levi Strauss was a German-Jewish immigrant who, in 1853, founded Levi Strauss and Company, the first manufacturer of blue jeans. This picture of his workers was taken outside of his California factory in 1882. Strauss originally moved to San Francisco during the gold rush, where he imported and sold dry goods to miners and settlers in San Francisco.

From spending much time around miners, he eventually learned that their cotton pants were breaking easily. Jacob Davis, a tailor, came to Strauss with an idea to strengthen pants by producing them with copper rivets. Davis needed money to get this project started, and since Strauss and already become somewhat successful in the business of dry goods, he decided to help out Davis, and go into business with him. The product they created were called jeans and they have been extremely popular ever since.

         In addition to finding fortune, Strauss remained connected to his Jewish roots. He helped to found the congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and remained an active member of the Jewish community. He always used his wealth to enrich Jewish life. He actively contributed to such groups as the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home and the Hebrew Board of Relief. Strauss’s family, who inherited the company after his death, continued to do so as well. Levi Strauss is seen as a hero in the Jewish community for his achievements in entrepreneurship and philanthropy. 

John Brown is my Homeboy!

February 27th, 2009

Taken by Augustus Washington circa 1846, this is the first known photograph of John Brown. The photograph is being housed in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.  Augustus Washington was an African American photographer. The photograph of John Brown was intended to capture his true identity.

Taken more than a decade before the Harper’s Ferry incident, the photograph reveals a determined man taking an oath.  Brown was an American abolitionist.  He fiercely opposed slavery and took up arms to oppose it.  In 1856, Brown led the Pottawatomie Massacre in “Bleeding Kansas.”  His unsuccessful raid at Harper’s Ferry resulted in the ultimate price with his execution.

Ten years after this photograph was taken, Brown led an attack on a settlement along the Pottawatomie River.  During the attack, Brown retaliated for the recent murders of five antislavery men by proslavery settlers.  In revenge of their murders, he led the brutal seizure and murder of five unarmed, southern settlers.  Brown actually could have killed nine men; however, he only wanted to avenge the five murders.  He said he wanted to create “a restraining fear” in the southern proslavery settlers. 

A fierce abolitionist, Brown made a name for himself, as a result of “Bleeding Kansas.”  In October 1859 at Harper’s Ferry, Brown led a raid on the United States Armory and Arsenal.  His noble and brave aim was to establish a colony for freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland.  On December 2, 1859, Brown was captured and hanged for treason in Charles Town.

Uncle Remus

February 26th, 2009

This is an image of the Title Page of Uncle Remus, his songs and sayings: The folklore of the Old Plantation. The book was written by Chandler Harris and the illustrations were from Frederick S. Church and James Moser. This image is from the original edition published in 1881.

In this image Uncle Remus is depicted as an old but happy slave.  This plays in to the archetype of the happy slave.  The image also depicts Uncle Remus as a sage like old man, who possess much wisdom, which is the way he is depicted in his stories.  Another interesting point about the image is he appears to be wearing a suit and tie.  This may be a form of showing respect and affection for the aging black man.  Or how he is a respectable character.

The title of uncle given Remus, is seen as a derogatory term given to old black by southern whites. Harris said he got the idea for Uncle Remus from hearing stories from slaves as a child, on plantations in Georgia. Uncle Remus is always seen speaking in a deeply southern black dialect.

Uncle Remus has survived very much in to the 20th and 21st century, mostly thanks to Disney. One is Songs of the South, released in 1946, but hasn’t been re-released since 1986. Also the ride Splash Mountain at Disney World has stories originating from Uncle Remus’s characters.

Museum Exhibit #2

February 26th, 2009

The picture above is a picture of an African American Unit that fought in the Civil War. These Union soldiers pictured were from Company E, 4th United States Colored Infantry. Theirs was one of the detachments assigned to guard the nation’s capital. The image is currently held in the Library of Congress. There is no specific date provided for the image, however, it has been narrowed down to 1865. Black soldiers began fighting for the Union after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The image is loaded with meaning, given it was taken shortly after African-American soldiers were allowed into the Union Army, because of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In the 19th century, anyone seeing this image would think that it was incredibly rare to see a group of African-American’s in uniform, but it would not be shocking to them to see that there were no white members to the unit. While most of these all African-American units were headed by white officers because the Army remained segregated and black sodiers were not generally allowed to be in positions of authority, unless their white commanding officer was killed or injured in action. An African-American seeing this image in the 19th century would feel a great deal of emotion toward this photo, it was a symbol of advancement and acceptance, that they were finally able to do things that whites could do. Images of this nature are a reminder of what was in the past, as well as a symbol of hope for the future.The image illustrates the emotions of the time, and the racial differences in the United States. Blacks and whites were almost never seen in the same place by choice due to the segregation laws, and the same is said for the military. Despite the fact that these soldiers were fighting to protect the Union, they were still treated like they were inferior and separated from their fellow soldiers.

I was able to uncover a location at which it was taken, at Fort Lincoln, shortly after the unit was assembled. The Fort Lincoln location was difficult to pinpoint because, as I found out there are various parks and a foundation with that name, however this particular Fort Lincoln was located in Washington D.C. It was this unit’s job to protect the Nation’s Capital if the South was able to make it there and threaten it. As for the image itself, it is similar to all of the period in that it is in black and white and grainy, because of the quality of camera equipment. Most images of black soldiers from the Civil War show how small the units are and show them in a way that it is obvious that they are subordinate to the white officers serving as their leaders.


Swearing in Native American Recruits Civil War

Swearing in Native American Recruits Civil War, 1861

The black and white image displayed is a photograph that was taken in 1861 during the Civil War. The photograph is titled “Swearing in Native American Civil War Recruits.” The photo was most likely taken in Wisconsin based upon information about two of the four men in the picture, but the photographer is unknown. The image marked a historical moment in history; Native Americans were going to war side by side with white and African American men, and appeared to be going to fight for their country. In reality, however, the Native Americans signed up for the war in an effort to preserve their freedom, maintain their unique cultures, and protect their ancestral lands. It is estimated that around 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

In the photograph, the white man on the left wearing the cap was Thomas Bigford. Bigford was a farmer from Taycheedah, Wisconsin who served as a local recruiting officer during the war. The other recruiter sitting down was Adam Scherf from Stockbridge, Wisconsin. Scherf was known to have served in the same regiment with Bigford’s son, Royal. The two Native Americans in the picture stick out because of their appearance. The Native Americans’ hair is cut short and one of them has facial hair; their style is similar to the way a typical white man would look during the late 1800’s. Normally, Native Americans had long straight hair usually worn in braids and had no facial hair. In the photo, they are wearing long pants and a jacket. The jacket looks very worn, which could represent the social class the Native Americans were perceived to be in. Native American attire was typically made out of animal hide or wool. Some examples of common Native American clothing are featherhead dresses, beaded jackets and shirts, woolen sweaters, and jingle dresses. The Native Americans in the photo are from the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.

The “Swearing in Native American Civil War Recruits” photograph is now displayed in the Wisconsin Historical Society. The image is in Album 13 (The Civil War-Portraits, Military Camps, and Military Training). The photograph is the only Native American picture the historical society has of Indians from the Civil War. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a large number of Native American photographs from the Wisconsin Region in other years.

Link Source

Friedrich Graetz Cartoon

February 26th, 2009


This is a copy of a Friedrich Graetz cartoon that was published in Puck magazine on March 29, 1882.  The image is titled “The anti-Chinese wall.  The American wall goes up as the Chinese original goes down.  It depicts many different American immigrants and minorities taking bricks from the Great Wall of China and creating a new wall with them in America.  Most of the bricks are labeled with captions like “Jealousy”, “Anti-Low Wages”, and “Non-Reciprocity” among others. 

            Puck magazine was one of America’s first humor magazines.  It consisted of political cartoons, editorials, and ads.  It tended to be very Bourbon Democratic, pro German immigrant, and anti Irish immigrant. 

            This cartoon was a social commentary of the anti-Chinese immigrant feeling of the times.  Unlike many of the other cartoons that dealt with this issue, this cartoon does not portray any Chinese.  Instead, it portrays other immigrants and minorities, such as the Blacks and the Irish trying to keep them out.  The portrayal of the groups is very similar to other cartoons, which also depict them as very un-human like.  This comic was probably most appealing to Puck’s heavy predominately German population who had prejudices against all of the “lower races”.

Irish “Tiffany” Flag

February 26th, 2009

(found here)

Boston, like New York and Philadelphia, had a large Irish immigrant population in the nineteenth century. The region’s ethnic makeup is reflected in the regiments that formed in response to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The 28th Massachusetts, officially designated the Second Irish Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, formed in Boston on September 24, 1861. As a sign of their heritage, the group also went by the unofficial name of the “Faugh-a-ballagh” Regiment, which is Irish Gaelic for “clear the way.” The 28th saw combat in many of the most significant battles of the war, including Antietam, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. They eventually joined with three predominantly Irish regiments from New York to form the Irish Brigade.

Throughout the war, the 28th Massachusetts continued to display pride in their Irish ancestry. While most regiments in the Civil War carried a state flag and a national flag, the 28th Massachusetts took pride in their Irish flags as well. One of these flags has become known as the Tiffany flag. Made by Tiffany’s of New York in 1862, the hand-stitched silk flag is green with a harp in the center below a grouping of clouds. Clover dot the bottom of the image. Because the commanding general did not know which regiment would be chosen to round out his brigade at the time he commissioned the flag, The scroll at the top of the flag reads simply, “ 4th Reg’t., Irish Brigade.” At one time a second scroll at the bottom of the flag bore the Gaelic motto, “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Sbairn Lann” which means “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.” The line is taken from a poem by the ancient Irish poet Oisin.

Green has long been a color used as a symbol of Ireland. It represents not only the lush landscape, but also revolution and Irish nationalism. The harp first appeared on an Irish flag in 1642, when a man by the name of Owen O’Neill flew such a flag from his ship upon bringing arms to the Irish to assist them in a conflict with the English. The harp, symbolizing Ireland’s long history of music and its connection to Irish mythology, has remained a relevant Irish icon, today appearing on the back of the Irish Euro coins.

Interestingly, the Battle of Fredericksburg was the first conflict for the Tiffany flag. The three New York regiments of the Irish Brigade had sent for replacement flags, and so the 28th Massachusetts was the only regiment to carry a green flag that day. The sight of the flag being continuously marched up Marye’s Heights would become deeply symbolic of the Irish-American relationship with their new country. Perhaps inevitably, however, most of the Tiffany flag did not survive the war. The remaining pieces have been set against a replacement green backdrop; the difference in color can be seen upon close viewing. The regiment presented the flag to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts upon the end of the war, and it currently resides in the Massachusetts State House (information gleaned from this e-mail), though an active group of reenactors continues to use a replica flag throughout the year, including here in Fredericksburg.

A second Irish flag carried by the 28th Massachusetts.

Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour

February 26th, 2009


This is an advertisement dating from around 1893 for Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix. This product was created in 1889 by Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood, but was later sold in 1890 to R.T. Davis Milling Company. The idea for the name came from a black face minstrel show which Rutt attended. A performer sang “Aunt Jemima” with an apron, headscarf and black face on. Rutt decided to use the name due to the song’s popularity and the reflection of the southern mammy it brought up. 1893 was also the year R.T. Davis hired Nancy Green, a former slave, to be the icon for the mix in an effort to launch a campaign.

 The woman in the image reflects the sterotypical ideal for an African American cook or “mammy.” She has a bandana on her head, over pronounced lips and nose, and a wide grin on her face. This image is a throw back to the “happy slave” ideal in which the cook made delicious breakfasts along with warm and jolly smile. This would largely appeal to whites in the upper and middle classes. It reflected the common thought that slave women were typically fat, loyal and contantly laughing “mammy” types whose sole purpose was to provide their white family with hearty meals and adoration. This is the image the Aunt Jemima ads achieved.

The actual product was a quick mix, self-rising flour meant to make women’s lives easier and would have been used in the kitchens of the lower, middle and probably upper classes. The mix was made of wheat, corn and rice and only required the addition of water. It is now under the trademark of Quaker Oats.

This is another ad put out by the Milling Company. You can see the copious amounts of Aunt Jemima images along with her famous “I’se in town, Honey!” quote. On many advertisements, even through the 1950s, Aunt Jemima would be portrayed as speaking in “slave dialect” while the white woman she was bringing her cooking skills to, of course, spoke in perfect English.

The evolutionof Aunt Jemima has only been modernized only since 1989 for her 100th anniversary. As we can see, 50 years after her creation in the late 1940s, Aunt Jemima’s happy mammy image had not changed much: