The Sugar Camp Quilt: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel

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9781594131356: The Sugar Camp Quilt: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel
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A New York Times Bestseller

Told with Jennifer Chiaverini's trademark historical suspense, The Sugar Camp Quilt blends danger, moral courage, romance, and hope into a novel of antebellum America whose lessons resonate with timeless honesty.

A dutiful daughter and niece, Dorothea Granger finds her dreams of furthering her education thwarted by the needs of home. A gifted quilter, she tragically loses her hope chest in a flood. A superior student, she is promoted from pupil to teacher - only to lose her position to the privileged son of a town benefactor. But the ultimate test of her courage and convictions comes with the death of her stern uncle Jacob, who inexplicably had asked Dorothea to stitch him a quilt with four unusual patterns of his own design. After he meets with a violent end, Dorothea discovers that the quilt contains hidden clues to guide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad - and resolves to continue his dangerous work.

Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of the popular Elm Creek Quilts novels. Her most recent release is The Master Quilter. She also designs Elm Creek fabric for Red Rooster Fabrics. Jennifer Chiaverini lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, five collections of quilt projects, and several historical fiction novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more, visit

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: 1849

"Abel Wright intends to purchase his wife's freedom before the month is out," Dorothea's father said to Uncle Jacob.

"At long last," Dorothea's mother declared. "If Abel has raised the money he must do it quickly, before her owner can change his mind again. You will go with him, of course?"

Robert Granger nodded. They had spoken of this occasion often and had agreed that Robert ought to accompany Mr. Wright south to Virginia, both to share the work of driving the horses and to discourage unscrupulous interlopers. The abolitionist newspapers told of proslavery men who became so incensed at the sight of a newly freed slave that they would seize him and sell him back into slavery. Not even Mr. Wright was safe from their ilk, for all that he had never been a slave. If anything, enslaving him would bring them even greater pleasure.

Uncle Jacob's face bore the grim expression that Dorothea likened to a block of limestone. "You can't think of leaving in the middle of harvest."

"Abel needs to leave at sunup," Robert explained apologetically, as if humility would protect him from Uncle Jacob's wrath.

"Surely he can wait a few weeks until the crops are in."

"He said he can't. He'll go alone rather than wait for me."

"Then let him go alone," glowered Uncle Jacob. "Hasn't he done so often enough to sell that cheese of his?"

"This time is different," said Robert. "He will be exchanging a considerable amount of money for the person of his wife."

"Wright raises goats. He likely has more goats than corn on his place. He can afford to leave his farm during the harvest. We can't."

Dorothea waited for her uncle to announce yet another visit to his lawyer. The implication was, of course, that he intended to change his will, and not in favor of his only living relatives. Dorothea waited, but Uncle Jacob said nothing more until mealtime gave way to evening chores. As they cleared the table, Dorothea's mother remarked that Uncle Jacob had not expressly forbidden Robert to go, which in his case was almost the same as giving his blessing.

"According to that logic," Dorothea replied, "if I tell my pupils not to put a bent pin on my chair, what I really mean is that I would prefer a nail."

"Your pupils have far too much affection for you to do either," said Lorena, deliberately missing the point. They both knew she was putting her brother's obvious disapproval in a better light than it deserved. Dorothea knew her uncle would have expressly forbidden the journey for anyone but Abel Wright. Uncle Jacob had no friends, but he respected Mr. Wright for his independence, thrift, and industriousness, qualities he would have admired in himself if doing so would not have occasioned the sin of vanity.

Uncle Jacob had never declared whether he was for or against slavery, at least not in Dorothea's presence. According to Lorena, Uncle Jacob's long-deceased wife had been a Quaker and a passionate abolitionist, but he never spoke of her and Dorothea had no idea whether he shared her views. Still, she suspected her uncle's objections to the journey had nothing to do with his moral position on the subject of slavery and everything to do with the pragmatics of farming. Despite Mr. Wright's reasonable urgency to free his wife from bondage, Uncle Jacob likely could not comprehend how a sensible farmer could take off on any errand when the most important work of the year needed to be done. Of course, Uncle Jacob knew all too well that his sister's husband was not a sensible farmer. If he had been, Uncle Jacob would not have been obligated by the ties of family and Christian charity to take in his sister's family after they lost their own farm.

Later that night, Dorothea asked her father if she might accompany them, but her father said this particular errand was too dangerous for a girl of nineteen.

"But Mr. Wright has made the trip so many times," protested Dorothea.

"You are needed at home," said Uncle Jacob. "Already I will have to hire hands to make up for your father's absence. I will not hire kitchen help, too."

Even without Lorena's look of warning, Dorothea knew better than to protest. Her uncle had not even looked up from his Bible as he spoke, but any interruption of his nightly devotion was unusual enough to reveal the strength of his feeling on the subject.

Robert left for the Wright farm as soon as the sky had lightened enough for safe travel. Though the sun had not yet risen, Uncle Jacob was already at work in the barn, but he did not break away from his chores to wish his brother-in-law a safe journey. Lorena had packed the horse's rucksacks with so much food that they strained at the seams, and Robert thanked his wife for providing enough to eat for a month of sightseeing. Mother and daughter smiled at his joke, for they knew he intended to make the journey as swiftly as possible. They kissed him and made him promise to take care, then followed him down to the Creek's Crossing road, where they stood and watched until horse and rider disappeared into the cool, graying mists that clung to the hills south of the farm.

When they could no longer see him, Lorena glared at the barn and said, "See how little he cares for us. He might never see my husband again, and yet he cannot even stir from the barn to bid him farewell."

Dorothea's heart quaked at her mother's ominous words, but said, "Likely Uncle Jacob knows how little we care for him and feels no need to make any pretense of fondness. Likely, too, he knows Father will certainly return."

Immediately Lorena was all reassurance. "Of course, my dear. Of course your father will return. Perhaps earlier than we expect him. Mr. Wright will not want to linger in the hostile South." She frowned at the barn. "If I would not miss him so, I would ask your father to take his time just to spite your uncle."

Dorothea smiled, knowing her mother would never wish for anything that would part her from her husband. Dorothea knew, too, that her mother often spoke wistfully of small acts of disobedience none of them dared commit. They were beholden to Uncle Jacob and must not commit any transgression that might tempt him to send them away. Uncle Jacob had no wife and no children, and therefore, no heir save his nephew, Dorothea's younger brother. If they served Uncle Jacob well and bided their time, one day Uncle Jacob's 120 acres, house, and worldly goods would belong to Jonathan.

For five years her parents had clung to these hopes with almost as much fervor as they pursued the abolition of slavery. They rarely seemed troubled by the doubts that plagued Dorothea. Uncle Jacob might marry again. He was older than her mother but even older men had taken young brides, although Dorothea could name no young woman of Creek's Crossing whose prospects were so poor she should settle on a stern, gray-haired, humorless man who had ample property but eschewed anything that hinted of romance. If he had once had a heart, he had buried it in the maple grove with his young bride and twin sons long before Dorothea was born.

Sometimes Dorothea suspected her parents were not entirely certain Jonathan would succeed in inheriting his uncle's farm. From an early age they had fostered his interest in medicine, and for the past two years he had served as an apprentice to an old family friend, a physician in far-off Baltimore. Jonathan had learned enough about farming to earn Uncle Jacob's grudging acceptance during his infrequent visits home, but he made no overt attempts to win his potential benefactor's affection. Dorothea wondered if his assured success in the vocation of his choosing had made him indifferent to the inheritance the rest of his family relied upon.

Either way, Jonathan surely would have been permitted to accompany their father and Mr. Wright south to Virginia. Though he was three years younger than Dorothea, he was a boy. Dorothea felt herself restricted and confined every minute she spent beneath Uncle Jacob's roof, even when he himself was not in the house. Her only moments of ease came as she walked to and from the schoolhouse on Third Street where she taught twenty youngsters reading, arithmetic, natural sciences, and history. When she felt the wind against her face as she crossed Elm Creek on the ferry, she feared that this was as close as she would ever come to knowing the freedom Jonathan took for granted.

At noon, Uncle Jacob and the hired hands came inside to...

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