Underground Railroad Code Quilt Patterns
Location: Fort Wayne History Center, Fort Wayne, IN
The quilt codes were created to help slaves around the time of the Civil War. As it was illegal for slaves to taught to read or write, the codes were a way to communicate to the slaves.
“According to Ozella Williams, an African American woman who lives in South Carolina, tells the story that her mother told her about the Underground Railroad Quilt Code. Apparently, there were ten quilts used to direct slaves to take particular actions.
Each quilt featured one of the ten patterns. The ten quilts were placed one at time on a fence. Since it was common for quilts to be aired out frequently, the master or mistress would not be suspicious when seeing quilts displayed in this fashion.
This way, the slaves could nonverbally alert those who were escaping. Only one quilt would appear at any one time. Each quilt signaled a specific action for a slave to take at the particular time that the quilt was on view. The code had dual meaning: first to signal slaves to prepare to escape and second to give clues and indicate directions on the journey”