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An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

by Rachel May
An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

by Rachel May


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Following the trail left by an unfinished quilt, this illuminating saga examines slavery from the cotton fields of the South to the textile mills of New England—and the humanity behind it.

When we think of slavery, most of us think of the American South. We think of back-breaking fieldwork on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of the grueling labor of urban and domestic slaves. Rachel May’s rich new book explores the far reach of slavery, from New England to the Caribbean, the role it played in the growth of mercantile America, and the bonds between the agrarian south and the industrial north in the antebellum era—all through the discovery of a remarkable quilt.

While studying objects in a textile collection, May opened a veritable treasure-trove: a carefully folded, unfinished quilt made of 1830s-era fabrics, its backing containing fragile, aged papers with the dates 1798, 1808, and 1813, the words “shuger,” “rum,” “casks,” and “West Indies,” repeated over and over, along with “friendship,” “kindness,” “government,” and “incident.” The quilt top sent her on a journey to piece together the story of Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba—the enslaved women behind the quilt—and their owner, Susan Crouch.

May brilliantly stitches together the often-silenced legacy of slavery by revealing the lives of these urban enslaved women and their world. Beautifully written and richly imagined, An American Quilt is a luminous historical examination and an appreciation of a craft that provides such a tactile connection to the past.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781681774176
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Rachel May is the author of Quilting with a Modern Slant, a 2014 Library Journal and Best Book of the Year. Her writing has received multiple awards, and she's been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony and The Vermont Studio Center. She's an Assistant Professor at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.

Table of Contents

A Note from the Author ix

1 Piecing the Quilt 1

2 Eliza, Minerva, & Juba 31

3 Warf & Weft: Agriculture & Industry 55

4 Mosaic 89

5 Medicine & Its Failures 131

6 Hickory Root 169

7 The Leonids: A Sermon in Patchwork 207

8 Even There 225

9 Canufo Matanew 251

10 An Abomination 291

11 Living History 339

12 Portraits 373

Sources 403

Additional Image Credits 445

Acknowledgments 449

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