In this documentary, Beryl Dennis from Virginia, USA, goes in search of a long-lost quilt her relative, Martha Ann Erskine Ricks, made for the British Queen Victoria. It uncovers the remarkable tale of how, 125 years ago, a former slave came to meet the most powerful woman in the world.

Martha was born into slavery in Tennessee, USA, in 1817, but aged 13, after her father secured the family’s freedom, they migrated to Liberia as part of the American Colonization Society’s initiative which believed newly freed slaves would face a better future in Africa.

In Liberia, Martha established a reputation as an accomplished needlewoman especially as a maker of quilts, a tradition brought over by the settlers. And ever since Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838, Martha was fascinated by her and determined to meet her.  Finally, aged 76, Martha was able to travel to London to meet the Queen. She took with her a hand-stitched quilt in the design of a coffee tree as a thank you for her role in the abolition of slavery.

Newspapers of the time followed the story of their meeting, and Aunt Martha – as she is respectfully known – made an impression on Queen Victoria, who noted in her diary that she had a ‘kind face’.  There’s even a photograph of Martha in London’s National Portrait Gallery, but the Coffee Tree Quilt seems to have disappeared.

In the US – now the home of the Dennis family – we hear tales of Aunt Martha’s charm and determination and of the letters she wrote describing life in Liberia, which are now kept in the Library of Congress.

We also hear from the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who revived the tradition of giving quilts as diplomatic gifts. She tells us why it was so important for her to help preserve this uniquely Liberian tradition.  And we meet contemporary quilters in Liberia who are recreating the quilt and talk of Martha Ricks with great affection as their inspirational Coffee Tree Queen.

 

Source: BBC