Quilt Quotes

picture of quilter
Quilter Lou Turner

During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ Project conducted interviews with African Americans who were former slaves. Out of over 2,300 interviews, which were digitized for the American Memory site Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, 156 (6.78%) mention quilting (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division). These brief mentions of specific patterns, methods, and hanging out at a ‘quilting’ late into the night, show that the craft was economically, socially, and politically essential to the community. These 156 primary sources are presented in this online forum in the hopes that oral tradition will translate, and that African American and quilt scholars and enthusiasts will engage in a discussion that clears misconceptions, is accessible to all interested parties, and introduces new information to the community.

Narratives are prioritized by state, then first name (since ex-slaves often took the surnames of their former owners). To contribute to the discussion, visit http://runawayquiltproject.digress.it/.


Charity Grigsby: In the words of the interviewer, “She was sewing on a quilt when I arrived; humming an old plantation song… A broad smile flowed across her black face as I entered the cabin. She placed her needle aside…”. “I was in de house weavin’ an’ spinnin’ lak mistus showed me; an’ I didn’t never get in no trouble wid nobody.”

Dellie Lewis: “Durin’ de Christmas celebration, us all had gif’s. Us had quilting bee’s wid de white folks, an’ iffen a white gent’man thowed a quilt ober a white lady he was ‘titled to a kiss an’ a hug fum her. Atter the celebratin’ we all had a big supper.”

Hattie Clayton (“Aunt Hattie”): “[The Yankees] drap right outen de sky… all ter once, dey was swarmin’ all ober de place wid deir blue coats a shinin’… Us chilluns run en hid in de fence corners en’ behin’ quilts dat was hangin’ on de line.”

Martha Bradley: “In de winter time us’d quilt; jes go from one house to anudder in de quarter.” (pictured below)

Roxy Pitts: “Yassum, I kin see plenty good enough to sew, cep’n’ I can’t tread de needle, en I has to keep atter dese triflin’ chilluns to hep me. You see dis quilt I’se piecin! Miss Lucy gwine gib me tree dollars fer it, coz she say it be made right, en dat’s de way I makes em. Miss Lucy know she got er a good quilt, when I gits t’ru wid it.”

Uncle Mose: To nephew, “Mus’ be some er ole master’s gran’dahters come on er visit. Whyn’t yer come an’ sit some cheers out an’ dus’ em’ and straighten dis quilt ‘stead er settin’ dar lak er black patch on de sunshine? Don’t yer know how ter ack when de quality is comin’?”


Allen Johnson: “As to amusements… They’d have little dances about like they do now. And they’d give quiltings and they’d have a ring play.”

Annie Parks: “They had quiltings and corn shuckings. I don’t know what other amusements they had, but I know everything was pleasant on the Offard plantation.”

Betty Curlett: “Grandma was walking long wid the hack and somewhere she cut through and climbed over a railin’ fence. She lost her baby outer her quilts and went on a mile fore she knowed bout it. She say, ‘Lawd, Master Daniel, if I ain’t lost my baby.’ They stopped the hack and she went back to see where her baby could be. She knowed where she gout out the hack and she went back to see where her baby could be. She knowed where she got out the hack and she knowed she had the baby then. Fore she got to the fence she clum over, she seed her baby on the snow… that was John, my papa… We had plenty to eat and plenty flannel and cotton check dresses. Regular women done our quiltin’ and made our dresses… I took up crocheting. Miss Cornelia cut me some quilt pieces. She say ‘Betty that’s her talent’ bout me. Miss Betty say, ‘If she goin’ to be mine I want her to be smart.’… Aunt Joe is a fine cook. Miss Cornelia learnt her how. I could learned to played too but I didn’t want to. I wanted to knit and crochet and sew.”

Columbus Williams: “Didn’t have no quiltin’s. Women might quilt some at night. Didn’t have nothin’ to make no quilts out of.”

Dora Jerman: “Grandma lived with us till she died. She used to have us sit around handy to thread her needles. She was a great hand to piece quilts. Her and Aunt Polly both. Aunt Polly was a friend that was sold with her every time. They was like sisters and the most pleasure to each other in old age.”

Eliza Washington: “I heard mother say she went to a lot of quiltings. I suppose they had them much the same as they do now. Everybody took a part of the quilt to finish. They talked and sang and had a good time. And they had somethin’ to eat at the close just as they did in the corn shucking. I never went to a quilting.”

Ellen Cragin: “I’ve always sewed for a living. See that sign up there?” The sign read: ALL KINDS OF BUTTONS SEWED ON – MENDING TOO. “I can’t cut out no dress and make it, but I can use a needle on patching and quilting. Can’t nobody beat me doin’ that. I can knit, too. I can make stockings, gloves, and all such things.”

Fannie Sims: “In mah days ah’ve done plenty uv work but ah don’t do nothing now but piece quilts. Dat’s what ah’ve been doing fuh mah white fokes since ah been heah. Ah jes finished piecing and quiltin two uv em. De Glove and de Begger.”

G.W. Hawkins: “The women made all the quilts. What I mean, they carded the rolls, spun the thread – spun it on an old hand-turned wheel – and then they would reel it off of the broach onto the reel and make hanks out of it. Then they would run it off on what they called quills. Then it would go ’round a big pin and come out with the threads separated. Then they would run through something like a comb and that would make the cloth.”

Gracie Mitchell: “They said the reason I had such a good gift makin’ quilts was cause my mother was a seamstress. I cooked ‘fore I married and I could make my own dresses, piece quilts and quilt. That’s mostly what I done… I had a quilt book with a lot o’ different patterns but I loaned it to a woman and she carried it to Oklahoma. Mighty few people you can put confidence in nowdays.” The list of quilts shown to the interviewer by Gracie Mitchell consists of the following “designs”: Breakfast Dish, Sawtooth, Tulip Design, “Prickle” Pear, Little Boy’s Breeches, Birds All Over the Elements, Drunkard’s Path, Railroad Crossing, Cocoanut Leaf, Cotton Leaf, Half an Orange, Tree of Paradise, Sunflower, Ocean Wave, Double Star, Swan’s Nest, Log Cabin in the Lane, Reel, Lily in de Valley, Feathered Star, Fish Tail, and Whirligig.

H.B. Holloway: “Dancing, candy pulling, quilting, – that was about the only fun they would have. Corn shucking, too… At the quilting, they’d get down and quilt. The boys and the young men would be there too and they would thread the needles and laugh and talk with the girls, and the women would gossip. The masters would go there too and look at them and see what they’d do and how they’d do and make them do. They would do that at the candy pullin’ too, and anything else.”

Hattie Thompson: “[Mama] would spin and weave and the larger children did too. They made bed spreads in colors and solid white. They called the colored ones coverlets. They was pretty. Mama helped quilt. She was a good hand at that. They made awful close stitches and backstitched every now and then to make it hold. They would wax the thread to keep it from rolling up and tangling… Mama was a nice hand at cooking and hand sewing. She said Miss Sallie learnt her. She never could read.”

Henry Fitzhugh: “My father was killed during the war. Went off to help and never came back. My mother, she died when I was a baby. She was lying down in her cabin before the fire – lying on the hearth, letting me nurse. The door was open and a gust of wind blew her dress in the fire. She dropped me and she screamed and run out into the yard. Old Miss saw her from the house. She grabbed a quilt and started out. She got to my mother and she wrapped her in the quilt to smother out the fire. But my mother done swallowed fire. She died. That’s the story they tell me. I was too little to know.”

Ida Rigley: “When the white folks had a wedding it lasted a week. They had a second day dress and a third day dress and had suppers and dinner receptions about among the kin folks. They had big chests full of quilts and coverlets and counterpanes they been packing back. Some of them would have big dances. A wedding would last a week, night and day… One morning before we was all out of bed the Yankees come… They didn’t burn any houses and they didn’t hesitate but they took everything… They took all Miss Betty’s nice silverware. They took fine quilts and feather beds.”

Isabella Duke: “My mother never saw her mother after she was sold. She heard from her mother in 1910. She was the one hundred and one years old and could thread her needles to piece quilts.”

J.T.Tims:”Before the war, we lived in a old log house. It had one window, one door, and one room. Colored people didn’t have no two or three-room houses before the war. I’ll tell you that right now. All the furniture we had was bed stools and quilts.”

Kittie Stanford: Interviewee addresses her daughter, “Show her the las’ quilt I made.” “Yes’m I made this all by myself. I threads my own needle, too, and cuts out the pieces. I has worked hard all my life.”

Laura Thornton: “Folks would give quiltings. They don’t think about quilting now. THey would quilt out a quilt and dance the rest of the night. They would have a big supper at the quilting. Nice time too. They would kill a hog and barbecue it. They would cook chicken. Have plenty of whiskey too. Some folks would get drunk.”

Lillie Williams: “When I was a child I picked up pine knots for torches to quilt and knit by.”

Lou Fergusson: In the words of her daughter, “She never did have glasses – and today she can thread the finest needle. She can as pretty a quilt as you’d hope to see. Makes fine stitches too. Seems like they made them stronger in her day.”

Lula Jackson: “Wasn’t no such things as lamps in them days. Jus’ used pine knots. When we quilted, we jus’ got a good knot and lighted it. And when that one was nearly burnt out, we would light another one from it.”

Omelia Thomas: “My mother was a motherless girl. My daddy said he looked at her struggling along. All the other girls were trying to have a good time. But she would be settin’ down trying to make a quilt or something else useful, and he said to a friend of his, ‘That woman would make a good wife; I am going to marry her.’ And he did.”

Pauline Howell: “[My ma] come out here and stay and piece quilts. She sewed so nice. Made pretty little stitches. She’d take the most time and pains fixing the pieces together to look pretty. She’d set there and sew and me over there and tell me bout how she was raised and I’d cry. Cry cause she had so hard a time when she was a girl.”

Maggie Broyles: “He found a crack at the side of the stick and dirt chimney, put the muzzle of the gun in there and shot [Mama] through her heart. The man flew. She struggled to the edge of the bed and fall. The children was asleep and I was afraid to move. The moon come up. I couldn’t get her on the bed. I put a pillow under her head and a quilt over her, but I didn’t think she was dead.”

Maggie Weamoland: “Miss Betty made the calico dress for me and made a body out of some of [her husband’s] pants legs and quilted the skirt part, bound it at the bottom with red flannel. She made my things nice – put my underskirt in a little frame and quilted it so it would be warm.”

Margret Hulm: In the words of the interviewer, “While Margret was giving this information she was busily sewing together what looked like little square pads. When examined they proved to be tobacco sacks stuffed with cotton and then sewed together which would make a quilt already quilted when she got enough of them sewed together to cover a bed.”

Mary Island: “We lived in a log house with a dirt floor and the cracks was chinked with mud and our bed was some poles mailed against the wall with two legs out o the dirt floor, and we pulled grass and put in a lowel bed tick. My aunty would get old dresses, old coats, and old pants and make quilts.”

Mary Tabon: “Mr. Ash give me a lot of scraps from his garment factory. I made them up in quilts. He give me enough to make three dresses. I needed dresses so bad.” In the words of the interviewer, “One dress has sixty-six pieces in it but it didn’t look like that. They sent it to Little Rock and St. Louis for the county fairs. Her dresses looked fairly well.”

Mary Williams: “There was an old empty house up on the hill. So they went up there and put their quilts down for pallets by the fire place. They heard hants outside…”

Mattie Brown: “Mother quilted for people and washed and ironed to raise us.”

Molly Brown: “What I been doin’ from 1864-1937? What ain’t I done! Farmin’, I told you. Building’ fences was common. Feedin’ hogs, milkin’ cows, churnin’. We raised hogs and cows and kept some-thin’ to eat at home. I knit sox. I spin. I never weaved. Folks wore clothes then. They don’t wear none now. Pieced quilts. Could I sew? Course I did! Got a machine there now” [pointed to an old one].

Molly Hardy Scott: “I’ve had a hard time not able to work. There ain’t no hard time if yous able to get bout. I pieces quilts an sells em now. Sells em if I can. For $150. Some women promissed to come git ’em but they ain’t come yet.”

Mose Banks: “The womens’ job was to cook, attend to the cows, knit all the socks for the men and boys, spin thread, card bats, weave cloth, quilt, sew, scrub and things like that.”

Nelly Gray: “I’m weak in my limbs but I believe in stirrin’. Welfare helps me but I quilts for people.”

Sally Anderson: “I was six years old when [Mama] give me to [the Springers]. They learnt me to sweep, knit, crochet, piece quilts.”

Sam Word: “Now I’ll tell you another incident. This was in slave times. My mother was a great hand for nice quilts. There was a white lady had died and they were goin’ to have a sale. Now this is true stuff. They had the sale and mother went and bought two quilts. And let me tell you, we couldn’t sleep under ’em. What happened? Well, they’d pinch your toes till you couldn’t stand it. I was just a boy and I was sleeping with my mother when it happened. Now that’s straight stuff. What do I think was the cause? Well, I think that white lady didn’t want no nigger to have them quilts. I don’t know what mother did with ’em, but that white lady just wouldn’t let her have ’em. Now I’m puttin’ the oil out of the can – I mean that what I say is true. People now will say they ain’t nothing to that story. I’ll tell you something that may be amusing. Mother had lots of nice things, quilts and things, and kept em in a chest in her little old shack. One day a Yankee soldier climbed in the back window and took some of the quilts. He rolled em up and was walking out of the yard when mother saw him and said, ‘Why you nasty, stinkin’ rascal. You say you come down here to fight for the niggers, and now you’re stealin’ from em.’ He said, “You’re a G–D— liar, I’m fightin’ for $14 a month and the union.'”

Sarah Jane Patterson: “I used to quilt until my fingers got too stiff. I got some patterns in there now if you want to see them.” In the words of the interviewer, “The old lady took me in the house and showed me about a dozen quilts, beautifully patterned and made. She also had some unfinished tops. She says that she does not have much of a sale for them now because the “quality of folks” who liked such things well enough to buy them “is just about gone.”

Seyna Singfield: ” I ain’t never been to school. When I got big enough, my mother was a widow and I had to start out and make a living… I’ve washed and ironed, sewed a right smart and quilted quilts.”


Charlotte Mitchell Martin: In the words of the interviewer, “She came to Live Oak to care for an old colored woman and upon whose death she was given the woman’s house and property. For many years she has resided in the old shack, farming, making quilts, and practicing her herb doctoring.”

Harriet Gresham: “Mrs. Bellinger was dearly loved by all her slaves because she was very thoughtful of them. Whenever there was a wedding, frolic, or holiday or quilting bee, she was sure to provide some extra “goody” and so dear to the hearts of the women were the cast off clothes she so often bestowed upon them on these occasions. The slaves were free to invite those from the neighboring plantations to join in their social gatherings.” In the words of the interviewer, “She embroiders, crochets, knits and quilts without the aid of glasses. She likes to show her handiwork to passerby who will find themselves listening to some of her reminiscences if they linger long enough to engage her in conversation – for she loves to talk of the past.”

Mack Mullen: “The slaves were sometimes given special holidays and on those days they would give “quilting” parties (quilt making) and dances. These parties were sometimes held on their own plantation and sometimes on a neighboring one. Slaves who ordinarily wanted to visit another plantation had to get a permit from the master.”

Margrett Nickerson: In the words of the interviewer, “She spends her time sitting in a wheel chair sewing on quilts. She has several quilts that she has pieced, some from very small scraps which she has cut without the use of any particular pattern.”

Riviana Boynton: :I used to help ’em tear rags and sew ’em an’ make big balls and then they’d weave those rugs, – rag rugs, you know. That’s what we had to cover ourselves with. We didn’t had no quilts nor sheets not nothing like that.”

Salena Taswell: “[Ole Doctor] didn’t charge the poor folks when he doctored them, but they would be so glad that he made them well that they kep’ a givin’ him things, bed quilts, chickens, just ever’ thing… My bed was a two-storey bed. There was another gunnysack bed above me with poles fastened to the same post. We tore old rags and made rag rugs for quilts to cover us with.”

Shack Thomas: In the words of the interviewer, “The ex-slave doesn’t remember any feathers in the covering for his pallet in the corner of his cabin, but says that Mr. Campbell always provided the slaves with blankets and the women with quilts.”


Addie Vinson: “Pillows? What you talkin’ bout? You know Niggers never had no pillows dem days, leaseways us never had none. Us did have plenty of kivver dough. Folkses was all time a-piecin’ quilts and having quiltin’s. All dat sort of wuk was done at night… Under our heavy winter clothes was good and warm. Under our heavy winter dresses us wore quilted underskirts dat was sho nice and warm… in the winter [boys] had warmer shirts and quilted pants. Dey would put two pair of britches togedder and quilt ’em up so you couldn’t tell what sort of cloth dey was made out of. Dem pants was called suggins.”

Alec Bostwick: “Bout the beds, Nigger boys didn’t pay no ‘tention to sich as dat ’cause all dey keered ’bout wuz a place to sleep but ‘peers lak to me dey wuz corded beds, made wid four high posties, put together wid iron pegs, an’ holes what you run de cords thoo’, bored in de sides. De cords wuz made out of b’ar grass woun’ tight together. Dey put straw an’ old quilts on ’em, an’ called ’em beds.”

Alice Green: “Christmas warn’t much different from other times. Us chillun had a heap of fun a-lookin’ for Santa Claus. De old folks danced, quilted, and pulled candy durin’ de Christmastime. Come New Year’s Day, dey all had to go back to wuk.”

Alice Hutcheson: “All de neighbors comed to de quiltin’s, and when de quilts was finished, dey throwed it over de head of de house. Dat brung good luck.”

Anderson Furr: “Christmas was de time when old Marster let us do pretty much as us pleased. Us had all kinds of good things t’eat, and atter us drunk a lot of liquor it warn’t long ‘fore dere was a Nigger fight goin’ on. Yessum, us had cornshuckin’s, cotton pickin’s, quiltin’s, logg rollin’s, and all sich as dat. Wid plenty t’eat and good liquor to drink on hand, Niggers would shuck corn or pick cotton all night. It was de big eats and lots of liquor dat made slaves lak dem things.”

Annie Huff: “Frolics were mostly given at corn shuckings, cane grindings, hog killings, or quiltings.”

Annie Price: “For bedding, homespun sheets were used. The quilts and blankets were made from pieced cotton material along with garments that were unfit for further wear. Whenever it was necessary to dye any of these articles a type of dye made by boiling the bark from trees was used.”

Arrie Binns: In the words of the interviewer, “In slavery days the negroes had quiltings, dances, picnics and everybody had a good time.”

Benjamin Johnson: “De clothes den wusn’t but ol’ plain white cloth. Most of em’ wus patched fum de legs to de waist. Some wus patched so till dey looked like a quilt.”

Callie Elder: “Our beds was held together by cords what was twisted evvy which way. You had to be mighty careful tightenin’ dem cords or de beds was liable to fall down. Us slept on what straw mattresses and had plenty of good warm quilts for kiver.

Camilla Jackson: “One of the most enjoyable affairs in those days was the quilting party. Every night they would assemble at some particular house and help that person to finish her quilts. The next night, a visit would be made to some one else’s home and so on, until everyone had a sufficient amount of bed-clothing made for the winter. Besides, this was an excellent chance to get together for a pleasant time and discuss the latest gossip.”

Carrie Hudson: “De Marsters, dey planned de cornshuckin’s, and cotton pickin’s, and logrollin’s and pervided de eats and liquor, but de quiltin’ parties b’longed to de slaves. Dey ‘ranged ’em deir own selfs and done deir own ‘vitin’ and fixed up their own eats, but most of de Marsters would let ’em have a little somepin’ extra lak brown sugar or ‘lasses and some liquor. De quiltin’ was in de cabins, and dey allus had ’em in winter when ders warn’t no field wuk. Dey would quilt a while and stop and eat apple pies, peach pies, and other good things and drink a little liquor.

Celestia Avery: “Another form of entertainment was the quilting party. Every onew would go together to different person’s home on each separate night of the week and finish that person’s quilts. Each night this was repeated until every one had a sufficient amount of covering for the winter. Any slave from another plantation, desiring to attend these frolics, couls do so after securing a pass from their master.”

Charlie Hudson: “De course cloth bed ticks was filled wid ‘Georgy feathers.’ Don’t you know what Georgy feathers was? Wheat straw was Georgy feathers. Our kivver was sheets and plenty of good warm quilts. Now dat was at our own quarters on Marse David Bells’s plantation… Dey put a quilt on de seat for a cushion and hitched a pair of oxen to de sleigh… Dey went f’um one plantation to another to quiltin’s. Atter de ‘omans got thoo’ quiltin’ and et a big dinner, den dey axed de mens to come in and dance wid ’em.”

Dosia Harris: “Us had plenty of good quilts for kivver. Some of the slave chillun slept on de flo’, but me, I slept wid my grandma.”

Elisha Doc Garey: “Dem Yankees stole evvything in sight when dey come along atter de surrender. Dey was bad ’bout takin’ our good hosses and corn, what was $16 a bushel den. Dey even stole our beehives and tuk ’em off wropt up in quilts.”

Estella Jones: “At quiltin’ bees, four folks wuz put at every quilt, one at every corner. Deses quilts had been pieced up by old slaves who warn’t able to work in de field. Quiltin’s always tuk place durin’ de winter when dere warn’t much to do. A prize wuz always give to de four which finished dere quilt fust. ‘Freshments went ‘long wid dis too.”

Fanny Fulcher: “I year my mother and father say de slaves made baskets and quilts and things to sell ’em for they-selves.”

Georgia Baker: “No Mam, dere warn’t no special cornshuckin’s and cotton pickin’s on Marse Alec’s place, but of course dey did quilt in de winter ’cause dere had to be lots of quiltin’ done for all dem slaves to have plenty of warm kivver, and you knows, Ladyl ‘omens can quilt btter if dey gits a passel of ’em together to do it.” In the words of the interviewer, “Georgia’s reeking pipe had been laid aside for the watermelon and not long after that was consumed the restless black fingers sought occupation sewing gay pieces for a quilt.”

Henry Rogers: “There were Fourth of July celebrations, log rollings, corn shuckings, house coverings and quilting parties. In all of these except the Fourth of July celebration it was a share-the-work idea. Uncle Henry grew a bit sad when he recalled how “peoples use ter be so good ’bout hep’in’ one ‘nother, an’ now dey don’t do nothin’ fer nobody lessen’ dey pays ’em.”

Henry Wright: In the words of the interviewer, “As Mr. House did not give blankets, the slaves were required to make the necessary cover by piecing together left over goods. After this process was completed, it was padded with cotton and then dyed in much the same way as homespun. After the dyeing was completed the slace was the owner of a new quilt.”

James Bolton: “We stayed in a one room log cabin with a dirt floor. A frame made out outen pine poles was fastened to the wall to hold up the mattresses. Our mattresses was made outen cotton bagging stuffed with wheat straw. Our kivers was quilts made outen old clothes. Slave ‘omens too old to work in the fields made the quilts.”

Lewis Favor: “Old Aunt Martha what nussed de chillun while deir Mammies wukked in de field was de quiltin’ manager. It warn’t nothin’ for ‘omans to quilt three quilts in one night. Dem quilts had to be finished ‘fore dey stopped t’eat a bit of de quiltin’ feast. Marse Billy ‘vided dem quilts out ‘mongst de Niggers what needed ’em most.”

Lina Hunter: “Honey, dem old balmoral petticoats was some sight, but dey was sho warm as hell. I seed a piece of one of mine not long ago whar I had done used it to patch up a old quilt.”

Mariah Calloway: “Frolics were common occurrences on the Willis plantation, also quilting parties. Good foods consisting of pies, cakes, chicken, brandied peaches, etc. Dancing was always to be expected by anyone attending them.”

Martha Colquitt: “Grandma brought her feather bed wid her from Virginny, and she used to piece up a heap of quilts outen our ole clo’es and any kind of scraps she could get a holt of.”

Martha Everette: “Old Aunt Martha what nussed de chillun while deir Mammies wukked in de field was de quiltin’ manager. It warn’t nothin’ for ‘omans’ to quilt three quilts in one night. Dem quilts had to be finished ‘fore dey stopped t’eat a bit of de quiltin’ feast. Marse Billy ‘vided dem quilts out ‘mongst de Niggers what needed ’em most.”

Mary Colbert: “Mother said they had cornshuckings, quiltings, and cotton pickings on the plantation… I can remember the quiltings myself. The women went from one house to another and quilted as many as 12 quilts in one night sometimes. After the quilts were finished they had a big spread of good food too. Now it takes a whole month to quilt one quilt and nothing to eat.”

Mary Smith: In the words of the interviewer, “As we entered the room one of the old women got up, took a badly clipped and handleless teacup from the hearth and offered it to a girl lying in the single bed, in a smother of dirty quilts.”

Molly Malone: In the words of the interviewer, “[The smaller children] were fed cornbread and milk for breakfast and supper, and “pot licker” with cornbread for dinner. They slept in a large room on quilts or pallets.”

Mose Davis: “My mother went to cornshuckings, cotton pickings, and quiltings. They must have had wonderful times, to hear her tell it. She said that after the corn was shucked, cotton picked, or quilts quilted, they always gave them plenty of good things to eat and drink and let them aloose to enjoy themselves for the balance of the night. Those things took place at harvest time, and everyone looked forward to having a good time at that season. Mother said that Marse John was particular with his slaves, and wouldn’t let them go just anywhere to these things.”

Nicey Kinney: In the words of the interviewer, “Nicey was propped up in bed and, although the heat of the September day was oppressive, the sick woman wore a black shoulder cape over her thick flannel nightgown; heavy quilts and blankets were piled about her thin form, and the window at the side of her bed was tightly closed.”

Susan McIntosh: “On dark nights, the women mended and quilted sometimes.”

Tom Hawkins: “Mens had good times at de quiltin’s too. Deir white folkses allus give ’em a little somepin’ extra t’eat at dem special times… De mens kept de fire goin’ and if dey got hold of a tallow candle dey lit dat to help de ‘omans see how to quilt. Most of the quiltin’s was at night and nearly all of ’em was in winter time… I never will forgit how bad dem yankees treated Old Miss. Dey stole all her good hosses, and her chickens and dey broke in de smokehouse and tuk her meat. Dey went in de big house and tuk her nice quilts and blankets.”

Tom Singleton: “Us had good kivver ’cause our Marster wuz a rich man and he believed in takin’ keer of his Niggers. Some put sheets dat wuz white as snow over de straw. Dem sheets wuz biled wid home-made soap what kept’em white lak dat. Udder folkes put quilts over de straw.”

Unidentified woman: “You got your groceries and washed and ironed on Saturday evenin’ and on Saturday night everybody would use that for frolicing’. Us would have quiltin’s, candy pullin’s, play, or dance. Us done whatever us wanted to. On these nights our mist’ess would give us chickens or somethin’ else so us could have somethin’ extra. Well, us would dance, quilt, or do whatever us had made up to do for ’bout three hours then us would all stop and eat. When us finished eatin’ us would tell tales or somethin’ for awhile, then everybody would go home. Course us have stayed there ’til almost day when us was havin’ a good time.”


George W. Arnold: “Mother had a great many pretty quilts and a lot of bedding. After the negroes were set free, Mars. Arnols told us we could all go and make ourselves homes, so we started out, each of the grown persons headed with great bundles of bedding, clothing and personal belongings.”

Harriet Cheatam: “When I was a child, I didn’t have it as hard as some of the children in the quarters. I always stayed in the “big house,” slept on the floor, right near the fireplace, with one quilt for my bed and one quilt to cover me. Then when I growed up, I was in the quarters.” In the words of the interviewer, “Her eyes, as she said, “have gotten very dim,” and she can’t piece her quilts anymore. That was the way she spent her spare time.”


Belle Robinson (“Aunt Belle”): In the words of the interviewer, “She was working on a quilt and close investigation found that the work was well done.”

Bert Mayfield: “We slept on straw ticks covered with Lindsey quilts, which were made from the cast-off clothes, cut into squares and strips.”

Mary Wright: “I remember wen we uster hav big time quilting on dem days we sho had a big time fore we start in de morning wid a qater melon feast, den weums quilt erwhile den a big dinner war spread out den after dinner we’d quilt in the evening den supper and a big dance dat night, wid de banjo a hummin en us niggers a dancing, “Oh, Lawdy wat good days dem war.”

Peter Bruner: In the words of the interviewer, “Once Peter, was taken to his master’s house and was made to sleep on the floor with only a ragged quilt to lie on and one thin one over him.”


James V. Deane: “We slept on a home-made bedstead, on which was a straw mattress and upon that was a feather mattress, on which we used quilts made by my mother to cover.”


Charlie Davenport:”I growed up in de quarters. De houses was clean an’ snug. Us was better fed den den I is now, an’ warmer, too. Us had blankets an’ quilts filled wid home raised wool an’ I just loved layin’ in de big fat feather bed a-hearing’ de rain patter on de roof.”

Fanny Smith Hodges: “When the Yankees come, dey carried off all de meat in de smokehouse, an’ de blanket an’ quilts, an’ everything dey wanted, dey he’ped deyse’ves.”

Isaac Stier: “Ever’body what had any standin’ went [to camp-meetin’]. Dey cooked up whole trunks full o’ good things t’eat an’ drive over to de camp groun’s. De preacher had a big pavilion covered wid sweet-gum branches en’ carpeted wid sawdust. Folks had wagons wid hay an’ quilts whar de men-folks slep’. De ladies slep’ in little log houses an’ dey took dey feather beds wid ’em. I always driv’ de carraiage for my white folks.”

Mollie Williams: “One day mammy come afte’ me an’ I run an’ hid under a pile of quilts an’ laked to smothered to death waitin’ fer her to go on off.”


Emily Camster Green: “We had good times fore we lef’ de ole place, fore Ole Massa died. We usta git together in de ebenin’s… Den some er de women ud put in a quilt en’ some ud git to cookin’ an’ bakin M mm! de lassus cakes we used to have! An’ wen de quilt wuz finished an de eatin done dey’d clean out de room an dance. Dem sho wuz good times.”

Hannah Allen (“Aunt Hannah”): “We set by de fireside and picked a shoe full of cotton and den we could go to bed. But you did alot before you got dat shoe full of cotton when it was pressed down, Dis was almost enough to pad a quilt with.”

Jane Simpson: “I never can forget, I was sitting upstairs in old miss house quilting when de first Yankee army boat went to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Old miss made me git right up and go git her children out of school and bring ’em right home.”

Minty Gilbert Wood: “I liked to sew, knit and make quilts fore I was blind.”

Robert Bryant: “We took old gunny sacks and put leaves in dem to make a bed and we slept on de floor and had a old spread and de white folks give us some old quilts.”

Sarah Waggoner (“Aunt Sarah”): “I washed and cooked for all of us. And ironed too. I hot de irons, great big old irons, in de fireplace. I ironed on a quilt spread out on de floor, an’ I ironed jes’ as nice as anybody.

Sim Younger: “?”

Susan Davis Rhodes: “My sister rolled up 3 of our baby sisters like a bundle in a quilt and told ’em don’t move or cry and as soon as she could unroll ’em and let ’em have some air she would. So she got on the train with them three little niggers in a bundle and toted ’em up under her arms like dey was her clothes and belongings, and put ’em under her seat on de train. De bundle was so big every time de conductor passed it was in de way and he would kick it out of his way. Sister protected dem de best she could. Soon as he pass, she opened it and let ’em have some air. When she see him coming back she wrap ’em up again. Dey was all sure glad to git off dat train.”


Betty Cofer (“Aunt Betty”): I used to wait on the girl who did the weavin’ When she took the cloth off the looms she done give me the “thrums” (ends of thread left on the loom.) I tied’em all together with teensy little knots an’ got me some scraps from the sewwin room and I made me some quilt tops. Some of ’em was real pretty to!”

Charity McAllister: “De slaves slep’ a lot on pallets durin’ slavery days. A pallet wus a quilt or tow carpet spread on de floor. We used a cotton pillow sometimes.”

Clara Cotton McCoy: “Mis’ laughter went in an’ kneel down by de bed. “Mammy, Mammy,’ she say soft jus’ like dat. Mis’ ‘Riah’s hands caught hold of de quilt tight, but she ain’t opened her eyes.”

Fannie Moore: “My mammy she work in de fiel’ all day and quilt all night. Den she hab to spin enough thread to make four cuts for de white fo’ks ebber night. Why sometime I nebber go to bed. Hab to hold de light for her to see by. She hab to piece quilts for the white folk too. Why dey is a scar on my arm yet where my brother done let de pine drip on me… My brother was a holdin’ de pine so’s I can help mammy tack de quilt and he go to sleep and let it drop.”

Hannah Crasson: “We had corn shuckin’s at night, and candy pullin’s. Sometimes we had quiltings and dances.”

Mary Barbour: “I reckons dat I will always ‘member dat walk, wid de bushes slappin’ my laigs, de win’ sighin’ in de trees, an’ de hoot owls an’ whippoorwhills hollerin’ at each other frum de big trees. I wuz half asleep an’ skeered stiff, but in a little while we pass de plum’ thicket an’ dar am de mules an’ wagin. Dar am er quilt in de bottom o’ de wagin, an’ on dis dey lays we youngins. An pappy an’ mammy gits on de board cross de front an’ drives off down de road. I was sleepy but I wuz skeered too, so as we rides ‘long I lis’ens ter Pappy an’ Mammy talk. Pappy wuz tellin’ Mammy ’bout de Yankees comin’ ter dere plantation, burnin’ de c’on cribs, de smokehouses an’ ‘stroyin’ eber’thing. He says right low dat dey done took marster Jordan ter de Rip Raps down nigh Norfolk, an’ dat he stole de mules an’ wagin an’ ‘scaped.”

Rena Raines: “De sleepin’ places wus bunks fer de grown niggers an de chillun slept on de floor on pallets. A pallet wus made by spreadin’ a quilt made of towbaggin’ or rags on de floor, dat’s where de chillun slept in our neighborhood before de surrender.”

Ria Sorrell: “It wus rainin’ an our folks wus goin’ through de mud an’ slush. Dey had wagins an’ some would say, ‘Drive up, drive up, Goddamn it, drive up, de damn Yankees right behind us.’ Dey had turkeys an’ chickens on de wagins an’ on dere hosses. Dey got things out of de houses an’ took de stock. Dey searched de houses an’ took de quilts an’ sheets an’ things. De Yankees wus soon dere an’ dey done de same thing. Dat wus a time.”


Fleming Clark: “De house where I lived wid de white Massa Lewis Northsinge and his Missus, wuz a log house wid just two rooms. I had just a little straw tick and a cot dat de massa made himself and I had a common quilt dat de missus made to cover me.”

Nan Stewart: “I lurned to sew, piece quilts, clean de brass an’ irons an’ dog irons.”

Perry Sid Jemison: “Our bed wuz a wooden frame wid slats nailed on it. We jus had a common hay mattress to sleep on. We had very respectable quilts, because my mudder made them. I believe we had better bed covers dem days den we hab des days.”

Richard Toler: In the words of the interviewer, “In one corner a wooden bed was pile dhigh with feather ticks, and bedecked with a crazy quilt and a number of small, brightly-colored pillows…”


Amanda Oliver: “Sometime de men would shuck corn all night long. Whenever dey was going to shuck all night the women would piece quilts while de men shuck de corn and you could hear ’em singing and shucking corn. After de cornshucking, de cullud folks would have big dances… I slept on de floor up at de “Big House” in de white woman’s room on a quilt.”

Della Fountain: “De grown folks used to have big times at log-rollings, corn-shuckings and quiltings. Dey’d have a big supper and a big dance at night. Us children would play ring plays, play with home-made rag dolls, or we’d take big leaves and pin ’em together wid thorns and make hats and dresses. We’d ride saplings, too.”

Martha Cunningham: “Why I remember when they’d have those big corn shuckings, flax pullings, and quilting parties… I remember they’d have all kinds of good eats – pies, cakes, chicken, fish, fresh pork, beef, – just plenty good eats.”

Red Richardson: “We slept on the flo’ on pallets on one quilt.”

Sarah Wilson: “When old Mistress die I done all the sewing for the family almost. I could sew good enough to go out before I was eight years old, and when I got to be about ten I was better than any other girl in the place for sewing. I can still quilt without my glasses, and I have sewed all night long many a time while I was watching Young Mater’s baby after old Mistress died.


Andy Marion: “Our plantation had seventy-two slaves living about here and yon in log houses wid dirt floors. They bored auger holes in de sides of de room, stuck end of poles in dese holes. De pole reach’ out into de room and rested on wooden blocks sort of hollowed out on top; then some slats of pine finish up de contraption bed. Quilts was spread on dis which was all de bed we had.”

Anne Bell: “Us had good wheat straw mattresses to sleep on; cotton quilts, spreads, and cotton pillows.”

Charlie Grant: “One time dey give my daddy a quilting en ax several women to come dere. Dey had a lot of chillun to cover en give a quilting so dey can cover dem up. Mistress tell dem to give so en so dis much en dat much scraps from de loom house… Dey was just a pattin en dancin en gwine on. I was sittin up in de corner en look up en patrol was standin in de door en call patrol. When dey hear dat, dey know something gwine to do. Dey took Uncle Mac Gibson en whip him en den dey take one by one out en whip dem. When dey got house pretty thin en was bout to get old man Gibson, he take hoe like you work wid en put it in de hot ashes… Old man Gibson went to de door en throwed de hot ashes in de patrol face. Dey try to whip us, be de old man Gibson tell dem dey got no right to whip his niggers. We run from whe’ we at to our home.”

Charlie Meadow: “We slept on straw ticks in summer, made from de wheat, and on feather beds in winter. De quilts was warm and made from many pretty home-made patterns.”

Charlie Robinson: “Glad you come out here but sorry of de day, ’cause it is a Friday and all de jay-birds go to see de devil dat day of de week. It’s a bad day to begin a garment, or quilt or start de lye hopper or ‘simmon beer keg or just anything important to yourself on dat day.”

Ellen Godfrey (“Aunt Ellen”): “Left Marlboro Mond’. Come Conway Friday sun down! Hit Bucksville, hit a friend. Say ‘People hungry!’ Middle night. Snow on ground. Get up. Cook. Cook all night! Rice. Bake tater. Collard. Cook. Give a quilt over your head. I sleep. I sleep in the cotton. I roost up in the cotton gone in there.”

Gilliam Lowden: “Dey cooked lots of bread on Sad’day atternoon to last several days. Den we had corn-shuckings, de women had quiltings.”

Jessie Sparrow (“Mom”): “My mammy hadder stay ’bout my ole Missus aw de day en help she out en sew de plantation clothes en wash en iron. Den she hadder help make quilts outer aw de scrap dat been left o’er a’ter de garment wus cut out.”

Lucinda Miller (“Aunt Lucinda”): In the words of the interviewer, “She said her mother was a good weaver and used to make lots of good clothes and quilts; but all this was put into a hole and covered up with dirt to keep the soldiers from taking it.”

Mamie Riley: “When de Yankees come… Dey went to my daddy’s house an’ take all. My daddy ran. My mother an’ my older sister wuz dere. My ma grab a quilt off de bed an’ cover herself all over wid it – head an’ all. And set in a chair dere by de fire. She tell us to git in de bed- but I ain’t get in. And she yell out when she hear ’em comin’: ‘Dere’s de fever in heah!’ Six of ’em come to de door; but dey say dey ain’t goin’ in – dey’ll catch de fever.”

Peggy Grigsby: ” The old folks had corn-shuckings, frolics, pender pullings, and quiltings. They had quiltings on Sautrday nights, with eats and frolics.”

Richard Mack: “I loved dem days, I loved dem people. We lived better- we had no money – we had nothing to worry about – just do your task. Spin wheel and reel and reel for the yarn. I filled my arms full of quilt – hand made.”

Robert Toatley: “Beds was homemade. Mattresses made of wheat straw. Bed covers was quilts and counterpanes, all made by slave women.”

Sallie Paul: “Oh, I here to tell you, dey had de finest kind of enjoyments in dem days. It was sho a time, to speak about, when dey had one of dem quiltings on de plantation. Didn’ do nothin but quilt quilts en dance en play some sort of somethin after dey would get done. Colored people would have quiltings to one of dey own house, up in de quarter, heap of de nights en dey would frolic en play en dance dere till late up in de night. Would enjoy demselves better den de peoples do dese days cause when dey would get together den, dey would be glad to get together. Oh, my Lord, dey would dance en carry on all kind of fuss. Yes, mam, blow quilts en knock bones together dat would make a good music as anybody would want to dance by.”

Sarah Brown: “All sleep in de same room en cook en eat in de other room. My bed on one side en Sue bed on de other side. Put chillun on quilts on de floor in de other end of de room.”

Susie Riser: “De white folks had cotton-pickings, corn-shuckings and quiltings. Dey allus had something to eat at the frolics and I had to help wid ’em.”

Thomas Harper (Reverend): “After the days work was over, we frolicked, and Saturday afternoons we had off to do what we wanted… Corn shuckings, cotton picking and carding and quilting, the old folks had when dey had big times and big eats.”


Laura Ramsey Parker: “Hab wuk’d all mah life seem ter me. At one time I wuz a chambermaid at de Nicholson House now de Tulane en later ‘kum a sick nuss, a seamstress, dressmaker but now I pieces en sells bed quilts.”

Milly Simpkins (“Black Mamie”): “De only fun de young folks had wuz w’en de ole folks had a quiltin’. W’ile de ole folks wuz wukin’ on de quilt de young ones would git in ‘nuther room, dance en hab a good time. Dey’d hab a pot turned down at de do’er ter keep de white folks fum ‘yearin’ dem.”


Allen Price: “My pappy helped at de hospital after [the Battle of Sabine Pass], and dey has it in a hotel and makes bandages out of sheets and pillow cases and underwear, and uses de rugs and carpets for quilts.”

Ellen Butler: “They jus’ have a old frame with planks to sleep on and no mattress or nothin’. In the winter they have to keep the fire goin’ all night to keep from freezin’. They out a old quilt down on the floor for the li’l folks. They have a li’l trough us used to eat out of with a li’l wooden paddle. Us didn’t know nothin’ bout knives and forks.”

Elvira Boles: “Log cabins had dirt floor, sometimes plankin’ down. I worked late and made pretty quilts. Sometimes dey’d let us have a party.”

Emma Taylor: “De men chops wood and hauls poles to build fences and make wood, and de women folks has to spin four cuts of thread every night and make all de clothes. Some has to card cotton to make quilts and some weave and knits stockin’s.”

Francis Black: “Us kids played in the big road there in Mississippi, and on eday me and ‘nother gal is playin’ up and down the road and three white men come ‘long in a wagon. They grabs us up and puts us in the wagon and covers us with quilts. I hollers and yells and one the men say, ‘Shet up, you nigger, or I’ll kill you.'”

Harrison Beckett: “In ginnin’ time [Massa] ‘low de women to pick up cotton from de ground and make mattresses and quilts.”

Irella Battle Walker: “Us have beds de men make and take wore out clothes and piece dem and stuff with cotton for quilts.”

Lou Turner: “Bout the only work I ever done was help watch the geese and turkeys and fill the quilts. I larn to card too.”

Lucinda Elder: “While [the wood gang] is haulin’, de women make quilts and dey is wool quilts. Course, dey ain’t made out of shearin’ wool, but jes’ as good. Marse John have lots of sheep and when dey go through de briar patch de wool cotch on dem briars and in de fall de women folks goes out and picks de wool off de briers jes’ like you picks cotton. Law me, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout makin’ quilts out of cotton till I comes to Texas.

Nap McQueen: “Dey has Georgia hosses in de quarters. Dey was dem bed places what de niggers slep’ on. Dey bores holes in de wall of de house and makes de frame of de bed and puts cotton mattress and quilt on dem. De white folks have house make bedsteads, too. De first bought bed I see was a plumb ‘stonishment to me.

Rosa Washington: “We had a big quiltin’ Christmas day. We’d piece de quilts outta scraps. Some couldn’ quilt. Dey’d dance in de yard all day.”

Walter Rimm: “One old fellow name John been a run-awayer for four years and de patterrollers tries all dey tricks, but dey can’t cotch him. Dey wants him bad, ’cause it ‘spire other slaves to run away if he stays a-loose. Dey sots de trap for him. Dey knows he like good eats, so dey ‘ranges for a quiltin’ and gives chitlin’s and lye hominey. John comes and am inside when de patterrollers rides up to de door. Everybody gits quiet and John stands near de door, and when dey starts to come in he grabs de shovel full of hot ashes and thorws dem into de patterrollers faces. He gits through and runs off, hollerin’, ‘Bird in de air!'”

William Stone: Describing his parents experience in Alabama, “Old Man River was sho’ purty in the fall, when dem wild geeses come in droves and de blossoms red and yeller. De fogs come hang over and chills and fever gets started. De women sot by de fire piecin’ quilts and spinnin’ thread, and de old men weave cotton baskets and chair bottoms, and de young men work on de levees, so dey hold Old Man River back when he start prowlin’ roun”gain.”


Marriah Hines: “Evenings we would spin on the old spinning wheel, quilt, make clothes, talk, tell jokes and a few had learned to weave a little bit from Missus.”

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