Maria’s story and her journey to Kansas being in 1861. Union troops brought a number of “contraband” caravans to Kansas from Missouri. In 1862, Maria and her children were among the Brown enslaved families who were stolen from the Wayside Rest Plantation and forced to walk in the middle of winter to Lawrence, KS.

The story of Maria’s forced march and her experiences as a skilled needlewoman and quilt maker are the focus of exhibitions and student work in the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy. The bedcovers Maria made were not ordinary scrap quilts, but traditional quilts made for her owner’s beds. The workmanship on the two existing quilts believed to be created by Maria is extraordinary. One shows a “Feathered Star” pattern and the other a “Mississippi Oak Leaf” pattern.

Once in Lawrence, Maria worked as a paid servant in the home of Colonel Jennison. Maria and her family survived Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863. Maria lived and worked in Lawrence for over 40 years. While living in Lawrence at 1400 Haskell Avenue, Maria continued her needlework and quilt making as a paid servant working for Frank D. Brooks, a city official. Maria’s work for Frank Brooks is documented by Frank’s sister Jeannie.

Maria left Lawrence in 1907 to return to Cass County, MO, where her son Benjamin and other family members lived. She lived more than 10 years there and was buried in the old Brown family cemetery at the Wayside Rest Plantation.

Maria’s remarkable story and artistry has inspired the work of Marla A. Jackson and the students at the African American Textile Academy.

Despite the racism still prevalent in this “free” state, Maria knew in her core that she was equal, and she refused to allow any person or institution to treat her otherwise. In addition to being a quilter (with the oldest known preserved quilts created by an enslaved person), Maria was the first African American to bring a lawsuit against the city of Lawrence for their negligence in repairing city sidewalks. Maria did not win the suit, but at the time it was unheard of for African Americans to challenge authority in this way, and this action serves as just one example of her bravery and conviction. 

During this panel discussion we will examine newfound research on Maria’s life and experience of freedom.

Grants were awarded for the research from the Kansas Humanities Council.

Research and documentation contributed by: