Sampler Quilt

Quilt Code Patterns

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.4

Quilt Blocks and Codes

Monkey Wrench Block
Monkey Wrench
- Meant for them to gather tools needed for a long journey; both mental and physical, as in memory, food, knife, etc. For piecing instructions, Monkey Wrench.
Wagon Wheel Block
Wagon Wheel
- Meant for them to load the wagon, or prepare to board the wagon to begin the escape.
Carpenter Block
Carpenter Block
- Meaning help from "Jesus", would guide them.
Bear Paw Block
Bear Paw
- Meant for them to take a mountain trail, out of view and follow the path made by bear tracks. The tracks would lead them to water and food.
Basket Block
Basket
- Meant for them to bring enough food and supplies to get to the crossroads.
Crossroad Block
Crossroad Block
- Referred to Cleveland, Ohio, an area offering several routes to freedom. It also signifies reaching a point where a person's life will change, so one must be willing to go on.
Log Cabin Block
Log Cabin Block
- A secret symbol that could be drawn on the ground indicating that a person is safe to talk to. It also advises seeking shelter.
Shoo-fly Block
Shoo-fly Block
- It possibly identifies a friendly guide who is nearby and can help.
Bow Tie Block
Bow Tie Block
- Meant for them to dress in disguise, or put on a change of clothes.
Flying Geese Block
Flying Geese Block
- The points were meant to follow that direction, such as where geese would fly during spring migration.
Birds in the Air Block
Birds in the Air Block
- Meant for them to follow the birds in the air.
Drunkard's Path Block
Drunkard's Path Block
- Meant for them to create a zig-zag path and not to walk in a straight line so to avoid pursuers in this area.
Sailboat Block
Sailboat Block
- Meant for them to take the sailboat across the Great Lakes.
North Star Block
North Star
- Meant for them to follow the north star.

To see the Underground Railroad in quilt block codes, click Story.

Sampler Quilt
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Last updated May 6, 2004