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Embroidery "Contraband 1862"


Decorative Arts

On View: Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
An abolitionist made this small, unfinished embroidery during the Civil War (1861–65), the year before the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal in the rebellious Southern states. The composition is most likely derived from a political print of the era. At the outset of the Civil War, the North’s goal was not the abolition of slavery, but rather the preservation of the Union. It was a law in the North that runaway slaves, called “contraband,” were to be returned, although some Northern generals refused to do so. At first Lincoln himself wavered on this issue, but the fate of runaways became a political issue after the Union army occupied the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina in November 1861 and discovered ten thousand abandoned slaves. An outpouring of support for these abandoned slaves and other slaves who had escaped persuaded Lincoln to add emancipation as a goal of the Civil War and led directly to his Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.
ARTIST Unknown
MEDIUM Paper, wool
  • Possible Place Made: New York, United States
  • DATES 1862
    DIMENSIONS 9 1/2 x 7 3/8 in. (24.1 x 18.7 cm) Frame: 16 x 13 7/8 in. (40.6 x 35.2 cm)
    MARKINGS Unmarked
    SIGNATURE Unsigned
    COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Luce Visible Storage and Study Center, 5th Floor
    CREDIT LINE Lent anonymously in loving memory of Florence and Bernard Lewis
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION A partially finished embroidery on a paper support depicting a black female figure in a red costume kneeling in a landscape in supplication at the proper left, a palm tree with a monkey at proper right. Below is embroidered: "Contraband 1862."
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