CWU News

Slavery-era Embroidery Excites Historians, Evokes Heartbreak of its Time

CWU professor Mark Auslander's year-long research is featured in USA Today.

It is a cotton sack with a story so poignant it is drawing in followers from across the country.

Ashley's SackA yard-long piece of material known as "Ashley's Sack" has been getting attention since its national debut in Washington in September at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ashley is believed to be a 9-year-old slave girl who received the sack as a goodbye gift from her mother, Rose, in the mid 1800s, when Ashley was being sold away from the South Carolina planter who owned them. The sack's history was embroidered in 1921 by Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth Jones Middleton, a member of black society in Philadelphia.

The sack reads: “My great grandmother Rose mother of Ashley gave her this sack when she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina.” The embroidery continues to explain that the sack held "a tattered dress 3 handfulls of pecans a braid of Roses hair." The artwork says Ruth told Ashley that the sack "be filled with my Love always.” It closes by offering that Rose never saw Ashley again. "Ashley is my grandmother," the embroidery reads. "Ruth Middleton 1921."

An historian who has traced the journey of the sack for years believes it can enlighten the country.

“With the terrible things we have done to one another as members of the American family, this kind of object is not the kind of thing you can turn your eyes away from,” said Mark Auslander, an anthropologist and director of the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University. “I think that’s what makes it so important as a common meeting ground, which is what the whole museum is about," Auslander said.

Read the entire article in USA Today.

(Photo: Courtesy Middleton Place)

Published February 16, 2017