Maria Rodgers Martin and the Mississippi Oak Leaf Quilt

By Sam Sagastume

Maria Rodgers Martin, b. 1831, d. 1922

Maria Rodgers Martin was born into slavery in Tennessee, then brought to Cass County is 1842 at the age of 11. While enslaved, she worked as a children’s nurse and as a seamstress who also made quilts. Two of the quilts were a Mississippi Oak Leaf, which is featured at the bottom of the blog, and possibly a Feathered Star, pictured below.

Feathered Star quilt detail. Quilt attributed to Maria Rodgers Martin. Photo courtesy of Quilt History South.

Maria’s life

One version of her life story, which is told by the Quilt History South, is that Maria’s husband, Fred Martin, was taken to the Dallas, Texas area in 1861 in order to prevent him and other slaves (their owners’ greatest wealth) from being abducted by soldiers during repeated raids. Maria was freed by Kansas soldiers in 1862 under the command of Charles Jennison.

Afterward, she and her 3-year-old son, Benjamin P. Martin, went to Lawrence, KS, where she worked as a paid laundry worker for Jennison and possibly as a personal servant to Senator James Lane. It is possible that Fred and Maria were reunited, and that they survived a raid in Lawrence after the war, but the records are not clear. Maria stayed in Kansas after the war and is listed in the 1880 census as a pauper/washer woman. She returned to Harrisonville in the 1890s and is listed on the census in Missouri in 1900 living with her son, Ben. Benjamin later returned to Harrisonville at the age of 10 and later became an accomplished blacksmith. Maria died in 1922, outliving all of her children.

For a more in-depth view of Maria’s life, visit the Quilt History South blog here

Another version of Maria’s story is told by the National African American Quilt Convention. They tell that Maria and other enslaved contraband caravans were stolen by Union soldiers were forced to walk to Lawrence in the middle of the winter of 1861. During the 40-years that she lived in Lawrence, she was a paid servant in the home of Col. Jennison, and she also worked for city official Frank Brooks. Visit for more information.

Mississippi Oak Leaf Pattern

“The original quilt that this quilt was based on was made with 32 hand appliqued blocks and 4 half-blocks.”

Photo from Stories in Stitches


  • Dick, Jenifer, Carol Bohl, and Linda Hammontree with Janice Britz. Stories in Stitches. Foreword by Terry Clothier Thompson. Kansas City Star Books, Kansas City, Missouri, 2012.
  • “Our History.” National African American Quilt Convention. Accessed 9 November 2021.
  • “Tennessee to Missouri #2: Maria Rodgers Martin.” Quilt History South. Accessed 9 November 2021.