Crash Course: Little Known History – From Slavery to Windsor Castle

Martha Ricks

Martha Ann Ricks (born 1817) was a slave in Tennessee until her father purchased her freedom and took the family to Liberia.

Martha Ricks was married to Zion Harris with whom she had traveled from Tennessee. In 1848, she and her husband traveled with the family of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia’s first president, from the Harris home in Clay Ashland, Liberia to the United States and then to England, where the Liberians were well-received.

Deeply committed to Liberia and proud of her family’s prosperity there, she also admired Queen Victoria of England, perhaps based on her visit to that country. For some twenty-five years, she worked on an intricate cotton silk quilt depicting a Liberian coffee tree in bloom that she hoped to present to the Queen.

In 1892, the elderly Martha Erskine Ricks embarked from Liberia to England and, in London, joined forces with Jane Rose Roberts, widow of Joseph Roberts. Through the aid of Liberian ambassador Edward Blyden, Martha Ricks gained an audience with Queen Victoria and presented her with the quilt at Windsor Castle.

The Queen was so taken by Martha Ann Ricks that she sent a Royal Escort to see her safely back in Liberia. Many of the people who laughed at Martha’s dream were waiting at the dock to cheer her when she returned.

They were no longer laughing.

It was surely a personal triumph for the elderly black women, born in Virginia and Tennessee, who had advanced so conspicuously in Liberia.



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