Format Hardcover
Publication Date 05/03/18
ISBN 9781681774176
Trim Size / Pages 9 x 6 in / 384

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An American Quilt

Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rachel May

Following the trail left by an unfinished quilt, this illuminating story examines slavery along the Atlantic seaboard, following the cotton that fueled New England's textile mills—and the humanity behind it.

When we think of slavery, most of us think of the American South. We think of chattel slavery, of back-breaking fieldwork, and of cruel and inhumane treatment on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of the grueling labor of urban and domestic/house slaves. Rachel May’s remarkable 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 unbreakable 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 box that held a 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 a story from archives that include hundreds of letters between the Crouch-Cushman families of Charleston, South Carolina and Providence, Rhode Island, as well as contracts, receipts, logbooks, and other pieces of textile art made by enslaved women that give us better insight into who these women were and what their lives might have been like.  An American Quilt is a beautifully written and resonant historical examination blended with personal narrative that takes this tactile connection to the past and stitches together an often silenced legacy of slavery by revealing the lives of Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba—urban enslaved women—and their owner, Susan Crouch.

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.

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