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Historians search for name of enslaved woman who made Christiansburg coverlet 150 years ago

The coverlet is on display in the Montgomery County Museum

Giving a voice to the past and a name to the enslaved woman who created a rare handwoven coverlet.
Giving a voice to the past and a name to the enslaved woman who created a rare handwoven coverlet.

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Passed down through generations, a family story and a blue handwoven coverlet are all that remains of the woman who made it more than 150 years ago.

Just as slavery then erased her freedom, it continues today in erasing her past.

“Those public records that you can usually find for white families were not kept for African Americans,” said Montgomery County Museum Curator Sherry Wyatt.

The coverlet, donated by the descendants of the Trigg family who owned a large plantation in what is today’s downtown Christiansburg, is now on display at the Montgomery County Museum. It’s a rare pre-civil war piece that’s been surprisingly well preserved.

“To have a piece from the times of slavery is huge in any way,” Wyatt said.

She hopes they can eventually uncover the name of the enslaved woman who made it and spent hours weaving it together on a loom just like this. For now, the search continues.

“We feel that it’s really important to be able to tell those stories because they are so frequently lost to us,” Wyatt said. “To know that this piece came from Montgomery county is a huge document from a historical perspective.”

Where written records have failed, hidden clues within the fibers could fill in more gaps.

“This was dyed with indigo which would have been grown on the Trigg plantation. The color quality was really consistent. We understand that is the mark of a really skilled dyer and a really skilled weaver. It could have been two people, it could have been one. There’s no way to know,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt has combed records looking for clues, including records of slaves owned and sold by the Trigg family.

“We know some names, and any one of them could be the woman who made it. Or, it may not be any of these women at all. It may have been another slave that continued to be held by the member of the family. We may never know her name, but we are going to keep working,” Wyatt said.

One day they hope to have the name of its creator sitting beside it, with her rightful place in history.

Anyone who may have any information about the Trigg family or the coverlet is asked to contact the Montgomery County Museum.

The coverlet is on display now.

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