How a former slave gave a quilt to Queen Victoria

Quageh quilting group in Caldwell, Liberia, recreate Martha Ricks' Coffee Tree quiltImage copyright
Penny Dale

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The quilt has been recreated by Martha Ricks’ family

The two women, of a similar age, greeted each additional warmly, shaking hands along with smiling. One was the most powerful woman inside the earth – the additional had been born into slavery.

the item had taken more than 50 years for Martha Ann Erskine Ricks of Liberia to finally fulfil her life-long dream. along with her encounter with Great Britain’s Queen Victoria was extraordinary in many ways.

Extraordinary because the item made such an impression on the queen in which she wrote about the item in her daily journal; because the item was so warm; along with because the item happened at all.

The queen along with the farmer met in Windsor Castle on Saturday, 16 July 1892. Martha Ricks took with her a present of a satin quilt, embroidered which has a coffee tree in full bloom, complete with red along with green berries.

“At home, when a poor man comes to visit us on our farm, he never comes without some little present,” Martha Ricks explained to the London-based newspaper, the Pall Mall Gazette, a few days after the meeting.

“How could I come to Queen Victoria, along with bring her no present?

“I made the item all myself, every stitch of the item.”

Surrounded by courtiers, her children along with grandchildren, Queen Victoria told Martha in which she “felt greatly honoured by the trouble you have taken to come to see me,” according to a report inside the Daily Graphic, a leading illustrated newspaper of the time, which also carried a sketch of the meeting on its front page.

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National Portrait Gallery

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Martha, a former slave, had spent 50 years determined to meet the Queen

In her diary the Queen described Martha as “very loyal… which has a kind face. I shook hands with her along with she kept holding along with shaking mine”.

The hand-shaking also stayed with Martha, as she told the Pall Mall Gazette:

“She did not stay long inside the golden room along with I forgot what she said, yet I shall never forget how she smiled along with how she shook hands with me.”

Martha had travelled a long distance to meet Queen Victoria – physically along with metaphorically.

She had been born into slavery in 1817 in Tennessee, inside the southern United States. Her father George Erskine bought the family’s freedom along with, in 1830, when Martha was 13, the family of nine moved to Liberia, a West African country founded by former American along with Caribbean slaves.

Tragically, within a year, all yet Martha along with two brothers had died coming from fever.

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Media captionMartha Ricks’ story, narrated by her descendent Florence Dennis-Huskin

Martha settled on a farm in Clay Ashland, which is actually today a quiet village located on the lush green banks of the St Paul River, about 10 or so miles (16km) east of the capital Monrovia.

Clay Ashland was one of the first places settled by former slaves coming from the US who, with the help of the American Colonisation Society, had made West Africa their home coming from 1820 onwards.

Martha became a farmer, growing her own vegetables along with crops like ginger, cocoa, along with coffee.

She also gained quite a reputation as a gifted needlewoman, winning prizes at national fairs for her silk stockings. along with she was skilled inside the art of quilting – a tradition brought over coming from the south of America by the settlers.

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Penny Dale

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The quilt is actually very special for Martha Ricks’ family

“Aunt Martha genuinely did inspire the women of Liberia to do quilting,” Evangeline Morris Dennis says of her ancestor. Martha Ricks was the great-aunt of Mrs Dennis’ mother.

“When the idea came to Aunt Martha to make This kind of present, the first thing in which came to her was to give her a quilt of a coffee tree.”

The reason why, says Mrs Dennis who is actually 83, is actually in which coffee trees flourished on Martha’s farm – along with were, she says, a symbol of the potential of Liberia, which in 1847 had declared itself Africa’s first republic.

Mrs Dennis talks as if she had met Aunt Martha, although she did not.

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National Portrait Gallery

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Newspapers at the time followed the story with great interest

Martha died in 1901, by coincidence the same year as Queen Victoria. yet Martha’s stories have been handed down the generations along with the stories of in which event 125 years ago – along with the quilt – are often spoken about.

Martha Ricks’s Coffee Tree quilt remains special to the family.

along with also to the history of Liberia, argues Kyra Hicks, a quilter, quilt historian along with the author of the children’s book Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria.

“Here was a former slave who had spent 50 years wanting to give This kind of gift,” she says.

“The sheer audacity of the faith she had to do in which – along with her faith in which she could, one day, see the Queen of England – in which was just marvellous.”

Ms Hicks says Martha’s quilt was the first Liberian quilt to be given as a diplomatic gift.

The tradition was revived in 2005 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first elected female president. She often gives quilts as presents to visiting dignitaries.

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Liberian presidency

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (L) recently gave This kind of quilt of a cocoa tree to US Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

So why did Martha Ricks feel so compelled to make a quilt for Queen Victoria?

One reason is actually in which the UK was the first country to recognise Liberia’s independence – even before the US.

along with, in July 1892 when speaking to the Pall Mall Gazette, Martha herself tells us in which the item was because of Queen Victoria’s support for the anti-slavery movement.

“I had heard the item often, coming from the time I was a child, how Great the Queen had been to my people – to slaves – along with how she wanted us to be free.”

Sadly, the quilt is actually right now missing.

yet the family along with Ms Hicks, who has spent more than seven years looking for the item, trust in which someday, someone could open a cupboard along with find the item.

Looking for Aunt Martha’s Quilt will be broadcast on the BBC World Service’s The Documentary on 8 July 2017

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