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At 11:40 p.m. on Saturday, March 3. I can now rejoin the book discussions.

In a way, the quilt is a piece of a larger story. For a quick back note, I joined a historical research project mapping out exact routes of the Underground Railroad in New England. One of the side research projects was how an escape was advertised to an illiterate population. It was against the law to teach slaves to read, and in any event, carrying a letter with written escape details was suicidal. Verbal communication was difficult to arrange and not always accurate. The only way to spread the word was by public symbols, but they had to be arranged in a way that would not only pass on information, but also escape detection.

The way this was done was by quilts. Everybody had quilts in those days, and airing a quilt was such a common occurance no body gave it a second thought. Slaves taught their children how to read certain patterns and count knots as messages. The first message quilt usually displayed was a pattern called Wagon Wheel, which told those who were interested that an escape was being planned. After a few days, another quilt, usually Shoo Fly, would be aired, instructing those who knew that someone was coming, followed by a third pattern indicating the meeting place. There would be a lull, and then more a informative pattern, Flying Geese, might be displayed. Flying Geese is the quilt I made for this project, but I have a feeling it's only the first one they have planned for me. It is a common pattern of rows of dark triangles on a light background. If the arrows pointed up, it meant the escape would be to the north. If they pointed down, it was south to Florida.

Once the slaves were off their masters' property, they needed safe houses to stay along the way. Two common quilt patterns were Monkey Wrench and Log Cabin. Log Cabin is probably one of the most popular patterns around, with stripes of dark and light fabric around a red center square -- however, a safe house would display the Log Cabin quilt with at least one yellow center square.

This is a quick, superficial version of the full quilt story, which is more complicated than that. I am learning more and more about it as I go along. I just thought it would be interesting to pass on this information, since it does have to do with reading.

On another note, my husband and I decided to have our house researched instead of buying each other anniversary gifts last summer. We got the results today. Our house was built in 1851 as a two-family tenement by Susanna Ingersoll. Her name may not be familiar, but I guarantee you've heard about her. Miss Ingersol, an unmarried gentlewoman (she wasn't a spinster for the same reason crazy people over a certain income bracket are eccentric) owned a larger house down the street from us, a waterfront property with seven gables. Her nephew, Nathaniel Hawthorne, immortalized it, but the murder he described actually took place a little less than a mile away, to Captain Joseph White.

I had to share that with you. Now I'm going to bed.

Uhura :o)
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