Fact or Folklore?


It is said that if you don ‘t have facts and documentation then something is not true.  But what if records were not kept?  What if people didn’t or couldn’t write tings down?  Does that mean they did not exist?

On Thursday our retired teachers group held our Fall Luncheon.  As presidents, it was up to Kathy and me to find a speaker for the event.  When we took over the presidency last November I knew that there was one person I wanted to have as a speaker sometime during our term, Susan Paul.

Sue is a past president of the Schuylkill County Quilters Guild to which Kathy belongs.  She is a master quilter.  She is a former Home Ec teacher.  Sue also does a program on Quilts and the Underground Railroad.  Our group of retired teachers is big on history so I knew I wanted this presentation for them.



Sue brought a sampler quilt with her showing the different blocks used along the railroad.


She was quick to point out that a quilt used to help slaves navigate their way to freedom would consist entirely of the same block so that there would be no confusion.

Here are some examples of the quilt blocks Sue mentioned and their meaning:                          The Monkey Wrench –  c1 This meant the slaves were to gather all                 the tools they might need on their journey to freedom.

The Wagon Wheel –  ww  This was the second pattern to be
displayed, which signaled the slaves to pack all the things that would go in a wagon or
that would be used during their journey.

The Bear Paw – b2  It’s believed that this pattern was
sometimes used to help fugitives follow the path of the bear, and to identify landmarks
on the edge of the plantation.

The Flying Geese –Vintage white room with door and window in new home This pattern told the slaves to follow
migrating geese north towards Canada and to freedom.

The Drunkard’s Path – b4 was a clear warning for the slaves to
move in a staggering fashion so as to elude any following slave hunters.

The Bow Tie – bw Slaves’ clothes were often tattered and easy
to spot. This pattern meant that someone would bring the slave nice clothes to help
them blend in with the free blacks.

Sue also told us that during the Civil War quilts were cut in half to make cot quilts for the soldiers.  She was able to acquire one for $0.50 (that is not a misprint).  It is definitely cut in half.  Is this an example of one?



Did the underground railroad really exist?  Truthfully, no one knows.  There is no written documentation about it there are just stories.  Maybe is is just folklore. I guess it is up to each individual to decide for him/herself.


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8 responses to “Fact or Folklore?

  1. Did the underground railroad really exist?
    Great question

  2. Terje

    This was a fascinating read for me. Thank you.

  3. Fact or folklore… such a question… my grandad, a dirt farmer during the depression had little when it came to book knowledge or wealth, but was rich in folklore and stories. A lot has to be fact, there is so much wisdom in it!

  4. I had no idea that quilts might have been used in that way. I hope it is fact and not just folklore.

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