CWU News

A Stitch in Time: CWU Professor Tracks History of Embroidered Seed Sack to Slavery SC Plantation

Professor Mark Auslander traced the 150 year history of “Ashley’s Sack” which is on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. A photo reproduction of the item is on display near Auslander (pictured below) at the college’s museum in Ellensburg, Wash.


She bought the unbleached cotton sack at a flea market in a small Tennessee town in February 2007, another find among many. But the words stitched by hand on one side of the carefully patched fabric haunted her.

My great grandmother Rose

mother of Ashley gave her this sack when

she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina

it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of

pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her

It be filled with my Love always

she never saw her again

Ashley is my grandmother

Ruth Middleton


She saw a mother quickly gathering what little she could for the daughter she would lose forever, and the anguish of a daughter facing a life without her mother. She dreamed about Ashley and cried as their separation played over and over in her mind.

Mark Auslander, professor

The white woman who bought the sack for $20 in the town of Springfield decided she could not keep it. It didn’t feel right, owning something imbued with so much emotion.

After Googling “slaves” and “Middleton,” she found Middleton Place, an 18th century plantation on the Ashley River in South Carolina. She donated it to the historic site, and the provenance of this artifact, known as “Ashley’s Sack,” had mystified historians ever since.

In September, Ashley’s Sack was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened that month in Washington, D.C. And with its latest home come the stories of women named Rose, Ashley and Ruth Middleton after a year of research by Mark Auslander, a professor at Central Washington University.

Read the full article in the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Photo credit: Shawn Gust, Yakima Herald-Republic

--January 15, 2016