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Underground Railroad Quilt Block Meanings

The Underground Railroad has always been an interest. When I started finding the codes for quilt blocks I couldn't contain my excitement.

Quilt showing many of the Underground Railroad Quilt squares.

Quilt showing many of the Underground Railroad Quilt squares.

A Little Bit of Background Information

Back in the days when slavery was prevalent, and the Civil War was quickly approaching there were people who were bound and determined to help slaves reach their goal of freedom. Thank Goodness for these people.

So, how did the Underground Railroad begin? It is believed that it might have been started by Quakers. Two Quakers in particular were thought to have saved 3,000 slaves themselves. The home of Levi and Catherine Coffin's home was used for years as a station, or stop along the way to freedom.

These were indeed courageous people that made up the Underground railroad. The punishments were stiff for helping a slave escape. For the white people helping the slaves the punishment could be whipping, prison time, or hanging. The punishment for the black person was even worse...whipping, hanging, or burning.

Beautiful example of a Wagon Wheel pattern quilt.

Beautiful example of a Wagon Wheel pattern quilt.

Wagon Wheel

This particular quilt square sends the message for the slaves to pack their wagon, or to prepare to leave on a wagon to begin their trip on the Underground Railroad to freedom. It could also mean that there were compartments built into the wagon to hide slaves.

Excellent example of a bear claw or bear paw design.

Excellent example of a bear claw or bear paw design.

Bear Paw

This pattern tells them to take a mountain trail out of view of the area. They need to follow the trail of bear tracks to the food and water that has been left for them.

Beautifully sewn vintage log cabin quilt.

Beautifully sewn vintage log cabin quilt.

Log Cabin

The log cabin quilt square represents the message that the person in that spot is safe to speak to. It can also represent that they need to seek shelter. In many cases it indicated that this was a safe house.

Impressive north star pattern quilt/

Impressive north star pattern quilt/

North Star

The North Star quilt block tells them to follow the North Star to safety

Impressive example of a flying geese quilt.

Impressive example of a flying geese quilt.

Flying Geese

This quilt means to follow the flying geese to safety. The slaves could follow the geese to water, food, and a place to rest.

Adorable example of a sailboat pattern quilt.  How cute is this?

Adorable example of a sailboat pattern quilt. How cute is this?

Sailboat

The Sailboat quilt block tells the slaves to take a sailboat across the Great Lakes to safety.

This is a quilt from early 1900's/  What a pretty pattern.

This is a quilt from early 1900's/ What a pretty pattern.

Drunkard's Path

This square mean that they need to walk a zig-zag path. They need to avoid walking in a straight line to avoid the people hunting them. The zig-zaging walk and doubling back would help conceal the fact that the slave was trying to escape. If I slave was walking south no one would bother them.

Beautiful colorful bowtie quilt pattern.

Beautiful colorful bowtie quilt pattern.

Bow Tie

The Bow Tie block means to dress in disguise. The slaves need to change clothes.

This antique quilt is a Rose Wreath hand appliqued quilt by Jeffie Beaver (Mrs. A. W. Smith 1894-1985).

This antique quilt is a Rose Wreath hand appliqued quilt by Jeffie Beaver (Mrs. A. W. Smith 1894-1985).

Rose Wreath

The Rose Wreath quilt square sadly was informing the slaves that someone had died on the journey. It was traditional for slaves to leave handmade flower wreaths on the graves.

This interesting quilt is made with the tumbling blocks pattern.

This interesting quilt is made with the tumbling blocks pattern.

Tumbling Blocks

This code tells the slaves to box up their belonging that they want to take with them on their trip on the Underground Railroad.

This is a double monkey wrench quilt square pattern.

This is a double monkey wrench quilt square pattern.

Monkey Wrench Quilt Pattern

Historians believe the first quilt the seamstress would display had a money wrench pattern. It meant gather your tools and get physically and mentally prepared to escape the plantation.

Underground Railroad Quilt Squares

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Susan Hazelton

Comments

Susan Hazelton (author) from Sunny Florida on July 20, 2019:

Thank you Pam Oglesby I am glad you enjoyed t. It combined two of my favorite interest- the Civil War and quilting. I had a great time researching this.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 18, 2019:

This is a fascinating article about the underground railroad. I really like all the quilts, but I liked the rose wreath the best. I really enjoyed the article and the historical information.

Susan Hazelton (author) from Sunny Florida on November 27, 2018:

SweetiePie I like them all in varying degrees. I think my favorite would be the tumbling blocks

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on November 23, 2018:

I love the sea boat pattern quilt.

Susan Hazelton (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2018:

I love to quilt myself, it's true that it does give beautiful historic stories. I love all the quilt square designs, especially the tumbling blocks, I am not sure why.

Susan Hazelton (author) from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2018:

I am fascinated by the symbols and how they displayed them It was a labor of love.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 14, 2018:

What an interesting article. The title drew me in right away. My family's roots have been in Massachusetts for many generations; they were originally Quakers, and a few participated in the Underground Railway to help runaway slaves. Quilt making is a beautiful, traditional art form, and tells stories rich in history. You have given us beautiful examples of the meanings of quilt designs...The Bow Tie is among my favorites.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2018:

There were many such signs and meanings behind these quilts which were used to point escaping slaves in the right direction towards safety. It was an ingenious way to impart meanings important to this effort. Sometimes these quilts would be casually thrown over a porch banister or hung out on a clothesline. Thanks for assembling this interesting post.

Susan Hazelton (author) from Sunny Florida on July 13, 2018:

I am glad you enjoyed this article. I was amazed to find out the different codes used to help the slaves escape.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 12, 2018:

First of all yes thank goodness for those who established the Underground railroad. And thank you for this interesting story about quilting...my sister is an avid quilter so will email this to her. Angels are on the way ps pinned