Speaker tells of hidden history behind slave quilts
by Hawkins Teague
Oct 24, 2006 | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Clarice Boswell, an expert on pre-Civil War quilts and author of “Lizzie’s Story: A Slave Family’s Journey to Freedom,” spoke to a nearly packed Little Theater at the high school Monday night. The following morning, she gave another presentation to fifth and eighth grade students. J. D. Stencils, Trigg County Schools and the Trigg County Quilters Guild sponsored her appearance.

Mary Ann Lander, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, gave Boswell a glowing introduction, saying that they had been waiting a long time to hear Boswell speak.

“It’s been much like a Christmas present having her here,” she said. “We’ve been trying to get this unwrapped for a year.”

Lander also praised Kathleen Ort, who arranged for Boswell to come to Cadiz, for being persistent and never giving up in her efforts to get Boswell to come.

As Boswell stood up and took the microphone, she wasted no time in launching into a stirring spiritual. Throughout her presentation, she peppered her stories with passages from spirituals, which she sang in a loud, powerful voice.

Boswell started her story in 1850 in the slave stockades in Maryland. She told of Eli and Leah, who were bought and brought to Virginia. Leah was scared for her children and even more scared once she arrived on the plantation because she didn’t understand the language the other slaves spoke. Another slave, Pearly, was purchased and Leah befriended her. Unlike most slaves, Pearly could read and write, although her master didn’t know it.

Because of this rare talent, Pearly noticed the changes that were taking place in the South between 1850 and 1861. She knew that slaves were escaping and heading north and that the economy was suffering because of it. Pearly eventually gave birth to a girl named Elsie. In 1863, Leah and Eli were sold to buy tobacco seed and Elsie and Pearly were left behind.

One night the master told Elsie to fetch him some buttermilk. When she brought it to him, the buttermilk was spoiled and he was furious. He beat and raped her.

“Nine months later, a mulatto baby was born and she named her Lizzie,” Boswell said. “I am Lizzie’s granddaughter and I’m telling you her story.

As Boswell grew up, she and her grandmother, whom she called “Mama,” shared a room. She remembers looking at old photographs of her ancestors and commenting that looked so mean and unhappy. Lizzie told her that they never had anything to be happy about. Lizzie owned quilts that were made by slaves and explained to Boswell how they were used as codes to communicate with runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.
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