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Stitches in Time: Family and Slavery in Mercantile America

Beginning with the surprise discovery of an unfinished quilt, this groundbreaking history 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 work, and of cruel and inhumane treatment on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of urban and domestic/house slaves.

Rachel May’s remarkable book sheds new light on the far reach of slavery, from New England to the Caribbean, and the role it played in the growth of mercantile America—all through the discovery of a remarkable quilt. While working in a textile archive, May opened an old box and discovered a literal treasure-trove: along with a carefully folded unfinished quilt there was a disarray of 1830s-era fabrics, crumbling 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.” And then there were hundreds of letters between the Crouch-Cushman families of Charleston, South Carolina and Providence, Rhode Island.

Stitches in Time is a beautifully written and resonant history that takes this tactile connection to the past and stitches together a forgotten legacy of slavery with the rich lives of Minerva, Juda, and Eliza—urban slaves—and their owner, Susan Crouch.

Rachel May is the author of Quilting with a Modern Slant, a 2014 Library Journal and Amazon.com 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.