The story of Martha Ricks is an extraordinary one. The daughter of a freed slave, her father moved the family from Tennessee to Liberia in 1830. Her family prospered in Liberia, and along with her husband, travelled with Joseph Jenkin Roberts, Liberia’s first president on his tour of Europe and the United States in 1848.
As the Anyone Can Fly Foundation documents, Martha Ricks also became a great admirer of Queen Victoria, who she saw as a good Christian and a “friend of the slave”. Following Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837, she decided that:
“I want to go to London and see the Queen. I know that I cannot speak to her, but I hope to see her passing along, and then I will return to my farm in Liberia and die contented. The Lord told me I should see the Queen, and I know I will.” (Times of London, July 13, 1892)
The Anyone Can Fly Foundation tell the rest of the story:
For decades Mrs. Ricks held fast to her dream to see the woman she believed actively worked for the freedom of black people in America and Africa. She saved her pennies for the future voyage to England and she continued to hand-stitch her quilt. Sometime in the early 1890s, when Mrs. Ricks was in her 70s and widowed, Mrs. Jane Roberts (1819-1911), the widow of the first President of Liberia, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, called on her at the farm in Clay-Ashland. Mrs. Roberts wanted to see the quilt Mrs. Ricks had made for the queen. Upon seeing the Coffee Tree Quilt, Mrs. Roberts agreed to help Mrs. Ricks travel to England.
Mrs. Ricks used her pennies saved over decades to purchase passage on a ship leaving Monrovia, Liberia to England. Friends in England, including Liberian Ambassador Edward W. Blyden (1832-1912), whom Mrs. Jane Roberts contacted, interceded with Palace officials on behalf of Martha Ricks.
Palace officials telegraphed an invitation to Mrs. Ricks to visit Windsor Castle. Mrs. Ricks, Ambassador Blyden, Mrs. Roberts and others took a train from London to Windsor Saturday morning July 16.
Mrs. Ricks and her company were given a tour of Windsor Castle and refreshments. She was presented to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Also present were Edward, the Prince of Wales, his wife Alexandra, and their three daughters, Louise, Victoria, and Maude. Queen Victoria and Mrs. Ricks spent moments together talking quietly. The bundle Mrs. Ricks wrapped in brown paper and neatly tied with string was given to a lady-in-waiting. The package was untied. Two nearby pages unfurled the bundled Coffee Tree Quilt for the Royal Family to admire.