Uh oh! More Underground Railroad Controversy

Dr Allen with Antique quilt

There’s a dentist that claims he has uncovered secret Underground Railroad codes on this old antique quilt. The quilt was made in 1887 by former slaves. These same folks were intercepted during the Civil war (1861) on the Underground Railroad trail and documented by then colonel  Rutherford B. Hayes who later became President Hayes. The quilt has been evaluated by museum curators and found to be authentic. It is in good shape despite 130 years of use. There are symbols that can be systematically interpreted using methods outlined in the book  Hidden in Plain View written by Raymond Dobard and Jacqueline Tobin. Extensive research has been done in this matter but there are many who are in disbelief regarding the existence of Underground Railroad code. This is not another fictional Dan Brown story,  this is real.

The question that lingers is this:

“Was there a real code for Underground Quilts or is that just a folk tale fantasy? “

What’s your opinion?

For those interested in more information the links below will take you to additional reference sources.

http://www.thebaynet.com/news/index.cfm/fa/viewstory/story_ID/15120 Raymond Dobard et al Hidden In Plain View

http://www.trafford.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000162903 John Allen: The Content of Their Character

http://www.samallenfoundation.com The Samuel C Allen Memorial Scholarship Foundation website


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18 Responses to “Uh oh! More Underground Railroad Controversy”

  1. Leigh Fellner Says:

    This book should not come as a surprise to this blogger, since HE is the dentist who wrote it!

    In the blog world, talking about yourself in the third person is known as “sockpuppeting.” It’s a method of self-promotion which immediately raises red flags about the credibility of the person resorting to it.

    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hello Leigh,
      Sockpuppets are for kids to play with! This blog approaches a much wider issue than just this book. It opens discussion about the quilt code, which at present is a rather controversial issue with historians. All I intend to do is expose the controversy to the public and let them research this for themselves. If my book is a part of that research, then so be it. I have many more other references for you if you would like. Its about time somebody raised some red flags about this quilt code. If you are not yet aware of this then let me inform you: My book is being chosen by libraries as reference material for this study. Perhaps you should read it before you make attempts at attacking my credibility.

  2. Eva Laporte Says:

    Hi Dr. Allen-

    What a beautiful quilt! I voted that I think there is was a code in the quilts — I am not sure but I don’t see why not! The quilts would have been a perfect channel for information. Will we ever know? Has there been research on this?

    Is that you in the picture?


    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hello Eva,
      That’s me in the picture, I hate to put my mug on there but there needs to be some credibility. This is a very real quilt. It is available for museum exhibits!
      Much thanks to Leo Laporte for his radio show that turned me onto the world of blogging!

  3. S. Martinez Says:

    I truly believe a code did exsist. I intend on owning the book and learning about a way of life that must of been a daily nightmare. Oh People….wake-up the author decided to choose dentistry for his vocation. That DOES NOT HAVE A THING TO DO WITH the facts of the past that he is sharing.    Focus on the topic !!!! I say a “Big Thanks” ! This could of been information that would of been lost forever! Shar

  4. Emmanuel Lee Says:

    I have met and discussed the “freedom” quilts with Dr. Allen. It is a compelling idea that slaves stiched the routes of their escape in plain site…and they are beautifully made pieces of art of an all too often forgotten period in American history – the Slave Era. Remarkable!

  5. Polly Mello Says:

    I have collected and studied quilts for 40 years. Crazy quilts did not exist in the time of slavery they were an innovation of the 1880’s. The quilt code is a beguiling myth. People want to believe a great story. It is hard to let go of such a power story, but I think that telling the stories of the real heros of slavery is more powerful than clinging to fictinal stories.


    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Here is a major part of the issue here. This book documents PEOPLE who made this quilt. THEY are well-documented as being around prior to, during and after the Civil War. They were runaway slaves, or contraband as they were called. THEY WERE THE QUILT-MAKERS during the later crazy quilt era. Crazy quilts did not exist prior to the Civil war. SO WHAT? These PEOPLE existed at the time. The quilt contains remnants of their pre-Civil war intellectual, material culture. I hate to say this but you really should read this book!

  6. Candace Perry Says:

    I suppose we do need to read the book, because I would be interested in knowing what differentiates this very typical late 19th century crazy quilt from other late 19th century crazy quilts, including other crazy quilts that may have been made by former slaves.
    Purchase by a library does not a fact make. Recommendations by librarians are not adequate endorsements…they are not material culture experts, historians, or curators…but highly skilled individuals in library science.
    I am not trying to be a hater. This is simply a highly charged topic.
    Best wishes.

  7. Sharron Evans Says:

    Extensive and exhaustive research has been done on this subject. It would be wonderful if VERIFIABLE facts could be found. In lieu of those facts, the subject is just worn out. I’m tired of hearing about it.

    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hi Sharon,
      Welcome to the blog. The debate will grind onward for quite some time. This book provides some evidence from historical documents that could lead to a conclusion about this matter depending on one’s prerogative in studying this subject. The one problem is THE SUBJECT REQUIRES QUITE A BIT OF STUDY! some are very selective about what they use as references. This book is a reference point, whether we like it or not. There a few museum curators who are going to be very upset with the turning over of a pile of theories that has been sitting there for years like a compost heap. I am one who could find a way to put that compost heap in a proper perspective the way a gardener looks a that compost- it supports growth and development. Our understanding of this phenomenon is about to undergo some growth and development.

  8. Kathy Says:

    Looks like a good way to sell the book.

    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hi Kathy,
      Good point, but the book will sell itself. The debate will heat up as time goes by….

  9. Laura Says:

    Dear Dr. Allen et al,
    The reason that quilt historians consider a “quilt code” to be a myth is because, so far, the ideas put forth have been annachronistic and implausible. Not to mention unsubstantiated.
    I don’t yet know what codes are documented in this book but here are problems with codes that some people have already suggested.
    For instance, the block names suggested are names than did not exist in the first half of the 1800’s. Also, some of the blocks themselves (regardless of name) have never been found in any quilts before the Civil War. Most are from the 20th century.Some are from the 20th century. (examples are Dresden Plate, Drunkards Path and Monkey Wrench.)
    Another question is how helpful could these very non-specific codes be. Some have suggested that the blocks tell slaves to follow the north star, follow bear tracks, take a zig-zag path, gather your tools, etc — how can these vague directions be at all helpful?
    And think how long it takes to make a quilt. Would slaves really have time to whip up a quilt just in time for an escape? And how would they know the details of the route to be able to stitch it? If this book is purporting one quilt with a route stitched in it, one time, maybe ok. But to suggest that it happened often enough to validate the whole quilt code story, that seems unreasonable.
    Before the book “Hidden in Plain View” (1996 ?), there were no stories about a quilt code. Not even in the extensive interviews from former slaves carried out the 1930’s. Former slaves have written books. But nothing anywhere about a quilt code. Many oral traditions have some basis in fact or recorded history – why not this one?
    I wonder if people later memorialized the escape of slaves, with blocks and names contemporary to their own times, and that is the basis of the myth. Perhaps the author’s family quilt did just that – commemorated their slave ancestors, rather than actually replicating real quilts?
    If this book is about one quilt, one time, ok. But the advance message seems to validate the entire slave quilt code concept, and that would be a mistake.
    I too am looking for more reasonable discussion, but so far the believers don’t seem to want to comment on the facts that contradict their beliefs. I am willing to believe, if someone can give me more than a pretty story!

    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hello Laura,
      Thanks for your comments. The purpose of the blog is to open the debate about this whole issue. I am hoping this debate will be open to the public not just academia. Some of your questions are answerable some are not. This book clearly explains the method of analysis of ONE quilt the was made by DOCUMENTED runaway slaves. This is about as close as one will ever get to a genuine article in regards to anything close to a quilt code. I hate to say it but It would be a good idea simply to just read the book!

  10. Samuel C. Allen, Jr. Says:

    Brother John,
    I have examined this quilt for a lot of years and there is one gating item that I have not been able to decipher. The leaf directly in the center of the quilt appears to be floating on water and pointing to a certain section of the fan. Being centered on the quilt, it appears to have some significant attributes, possibly providing direction to the observer. From the precision placement of this leaf, it is clearly obivious that whoever designed this quilt was providing some sort of guidance to the observer.

    • 2jazzy4u Says:

      Hi Sam,
      There is one aspect about the leaf that is very important. It amounts to an ecologic fingerprint for a physical location. It is a Sycamore leaf. The image is good enough for a botanist to identify the species. Sycamores are common to certain locations. They are distinct. They stand out. The quilt is thereby identifying a city or village with a predominance of Sycamore trees.
      If you were to relate this information to the map location in Ohio that the quilt references, Rendville, you will indeed encounter quite a number of Sycamore trees.

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