The fourth book in the popular Elm Creek Quilts series explores a question that has long captured the imagination of quilters and historians alike: Did stationmasters of the Underground Railroad use quilts to signal to fugitive slaves?
In her first novel, The Quilter's Apprentice, Jennifer Chiaverini wove quilting lore with tales from the World War II home front. Now, following Round Robin and The Cross-Country Quilters, Chiaverini revisits the legends of Elm Creek Manor, as Sylvia Compson discovers evidence of her ancestors' courageous involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Alerted to the possibility that her family had ties to the slaveholding South, Sylvia scours her attic and finds three quilts and a memoir written by Gerda, the spinster sister of clan patriarch Hans Bergstrom. The memoir describes the founding of Elm Creek Manor and how, using quilts as markers, Hans, his wife, Anneke, and Gerda came to beckon fugitive slaves to safety within its walls. When a runaway named Joanna arrives from a South Carolina plantation pregnant with her master's child, the Bergstroms shelter her through a long, dangerous winter -- imagining neither the impact of her presence nor the betrayal that awaits them.
The memoir raises new questions for every one it answers, leading Sylvia ever deeper into the tangle of the Bergstrom legacy. Aided by the Elm Creek Quilters, as well as by descendants of others named in Gerda's tale, Sylvia dares to face the demons of her family's past and at the same time reaffirm her own moral center. A spellbinding fugue on the mysteries of heritage, The Runaway Quilt unfolds with all the drama and suspense of a classic in the making.
Chiaverini's fourth offering in her Elm Creek Quilts series weaves a modern-day family mystery around a pre Civil War tale of bravery, deception and the Underground Railroad. Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, proprietress of Elm Creek Quilts and a quilter's retreat, is the sole heir and last descendant of Anneke and Hans Bergstrom, German immigrants who settled in Creek's Crossing, Pa., after Hans won Elm Creek Farm in a horse race. Or is Sylvia the only one left? After a speaking engagement at a quilter's guild in South Carolina, a woman named Margaret Alden shows Sylvia a family heirloom quilt with a map of Elm Creek Manor recreated in the stitches. Do Margaret and Sylvia share a distant relative (heretofore unknown to Sylvia) who moved to South Carolina? Or did a slave of one of Margaret's ancestors make it? This thought disturbs Sylvia deeply. She believes her forebears were staunch abolitionists who were active in the Underground Railroad, aiding escaping slaves in their journeys to Canada and freedom by using quilts as maps pointing the route to safe houses. A journal written by Hans's sister Gerda and discovered in an attic trunk reveals the family secrets and the story of Joanna, a pregnant runaway who is sheltered from slave catchers by the Bergstroms and who almost becomes their undoing. Readers unfamiliar with the series may be confused trying to keep the peripheral contemporary characters straight, but the story of Anneke, Hans and Gerda Bergstrom is compelling enough to warrant sticking with Sylvia as she ferrets out the true history of Elm Creek Farm. Chiaverini manages to impart a healthy dollop of history in a folksy style, while raising moral questions in a suspenseful narrative.