August 15, 2014

A Detour Through Amish Country

Once in a while we like to share current quilt-related experiences with our readers.  Just last week Mary found herself traveling in upstate New York.  Seeing signs for a "Martha's Quilt Barn", she convinced her mother, daughter, and cousin to scoot off their planned route to check it out.

The trip involved passing by many Amish farms populated with dozens of amazingly picturesque children.  They were not photographed out of respect for Amish preference to avoid biblical injunction against graven images, but Mary did snap some pictures of the countryside.

Being a blog about Quaker quilt history, at this point we might explain the differences between the Amish and the Quakers. Instead, we refer you to Youtube for an interview with Quaker scholar Max Carter entitled, "Are Quakers Amish?".  (See source notes.)
The journey continued past more Amish farms until arrival at Martha's Quilt Barn (also known as Sister's Quilt Barn) in Dewittville, New York, displaying signs advertising a large variety of "Fabric, Amish Furniture and Quilts."
Visitors to the Barn are officially greeted by Ranger, a lab-corgi mix, and his beautiful companion, a cat named Toby.
A warm welcome was also offered by the proprietor, John Slater. He is not Amish but he routinely does business with them.  A former cattle and crop farmer, he explained that he initially built the barn for his wife.  Although she passed away twelve years ago, he continues to run his business with his daughters.  Mr. Slater is devoted to quality in his merchandise, his quilting (he serves quilters by finishing tops on his long-arm quilter), and customer service, offering free scissor sharpening along with some wonderful storytelling.  His quilting work has been sent to nineteen countries and thirty-nine states.
At the age of eighty-one, John Slater has no plans to retire.  That is good news since we hope to return to this quilter's haven on future trips to upstate New York.
Quilt made by one of John Slater's daughters.
All photographs courtesy of Helen Robare Mandalinic.
Martha's Quilt Barn is located at 7145 Beech Hill/Walker Road, Dewittville, NY.  Phone: (716) 753-3786.  E-mail:  Web site:
Sweeny, Steven M.  "Lone Star" in The Post Journal, January 25, 2004.
See: "Are Quakers Amish?" on QuakerSpeak@ Accessed August 8, 2014.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.



August 1, 2014

"Repurposed" Silk in the Westtown School Archives

The third Westtown School quilt we would like to share with you was made by Alice Comfort Haverstick (1813-1888).  Alice attended Westtown School at age seventeen and was there for six months beginning in October 1830.

View from the South Porch of Westtown School.  Source: Centennial History of
Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.

Alice was the sixth of nine children born to Ezra and Margaret Shoemaker Comfort after their marriage in 1800.  She married George M. Haverstick March 4, 1847 in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania..  Alice and her husband had two children: Rebecca born in 1847, and Alice born in 1850.  Alice died February 24, 1888 and is buried in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt is comprised of pieces of Margaret Shoemaker Comfort's silk dresses and shawls that Alice "repurposed" by piecing and quilting them together.  She bound the quilt with a cotton edging on three sides, producing a quilt that measures 81.5 inches by 89.5 inches.  The quilt's date is unknown.

Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Full length and detail
photographs courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Aesthetically, the quilt's muted shades and plain pattern are what many think of as "typically Quaker."  Although evidence of the complexity and variations of colors and patterns found in Quaker quilts often contradicts this plain aesthetic, there were apparently stricter expectations regarding their dress, which was translated effectively from Margaret's clothing into this quilt.
Margaret Shoemaker was born in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, in 1782, the daughter of David and Jane Roberts Shoemaker.  On October 28, 1800, she was married to Ezra Fell Comfort in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting.  Ezra was from an old and distinguished Quaker family and was an eminent and outspoken minister of the Religious Society of Friends.
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort.  Source: Public Member
Ezra was one of several Quaker ministers who found themselves embroiled in the conflict and debates surrounding the religious schism that took place in Philadelphia in 1827 and split the Religious Society of Friends into two factions, the Orthodox and the Hicksite.  The dispute originated when some Orthodox Friends broke away from the original teachings of the founder of Quakerism, George Fox.  Fox preached that one needed no intermediaries for communion with the Divine; that every individual could be guided by nothing more than the Inner Light.  At the time of the schism, many Orthodox Friends had been called to a more evangelical, Bible-centered approach to their religion - an approach opposed by the followers of Elias Hicks (Hicksites) who believed Friends should remain true to the original precepts of the religion as preached by Fox.
Ezra Comfort was firmly on the Orthodox side of the disputes that took place and was one of the ministers who personally confronted and debated with Elias Hicks about the direction of the church and its beliefs.  Differing views on a variety of doctrinal issues surrounding the turmoil were experienced by all members of the Religious Society of Friends at this time.  Margaret, as Ezra's wife and a devoted Quaker, must have found the times unsettling and unpleasant as they brought even close friends and family members into conflict over doctrine.
Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Detail.  Photograph
courtesy of the Westtown School Archives, West Chester,
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort died on March 31, 1873 at the age of ninety-two.  The quilt made by her daughter, Alice, provides a fascinating document of the fabrics she wore in her lifetime, as well as a loving tribute to her life.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania. census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting records, accessed 7/10/2014.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Ingle, H. Larry.  Quakers in Conflict, The Hicksite Reformation.  Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1998.
Note:  The authors apologize to the Westtown School Archives for the depictions of the two detailed quilt photos.  For some unknown reason, the Blogger software "flipped" the images and we could not adjust them. 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.



July 14, 2014

Another Silk Quilt in the Archives of Westtown School

Last time we introduced you to a silk and cotton quilt completed by  Westtown student Elizabeth Dunn in 1867.  She began her quilt in 1860 while she was a student at Westtown School but this project was unrelated to the School's curriculum.  Needlework, taught to girls in many early Quaker schools, was removed from the Westtown curriculum in 1843.  Elizabeth seems to have initiated her quilt project on her own.

This time we would like to share another quilt in the archival collections of Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Susanna Forsythe Sharpless Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School
Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This quilt was made by Susanna Forsythe Sharpless and exemplifies the muted color tones favored by 19th century Quaker women in both their silk clothing and their silk quilts.  Newly purchased silk often was used by families and congregations to make wedding quilts for newly married couples.  Silk for quilts also was taken from clothing, such as wedding dresses, or from remnants left over from dress making.
Susanna's quilt is comprised of silk and cotton fabrics and measures 93 inches by 93.5 inches.  It has a solid fabric edging in cotton.  We do not know when Susanna made this quilt or if it is associated, in any way, with her marriage to Aaron Sharpless in 1847.
Susanna Forsythe was born on May 1, 1815 in East Bradford, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James and Ann Truman Forsythe.  At the age of thirty-two, she became the second wife of Aaron Sharpless at Abington Monthly Meeting nine miles north of Philadelphia near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.  The date was October 6, 1847.
Aaron was six years older than Susanna when they married.  He was born February 13, 1809 to Isaac and Sarah Sharpless, also in East Bradford.  He had been previously married to Susanna Kite, whom he wed in 1835 and who passed away in 1844.
Both Aaron and Susanna had long and close ties to Westtown School.  Aaron became a pupil there in 1823 and became a member of the School's Committee in 1846, the year before he married Susanna Forsythe.  Susanna first attended Westtown School in 1829 and was added to the School's Committee in 1864.  From May 1869 though April 1874, the couple served as Superintendent and Matron of the School.
Susanna Forsythe Sharpless.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Aaron was described in 1899 as "[...] a plain farmer, but of more than ordinary good sense, an elder of discernment and religious experience, and on all practical questions a man of excellent judgment."  Both Aaron and Susanna "[...] represented that of which Westtown was an exponent - good, practical education, and lives of self-denial, dedicated to the service of Truth."  (Dewees, 162.)
A view of the grounds of Westtown School.  Source:
Wikimedia Commons.
Susanna lived to be ninety-two years of age, dying in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on October 8, 1907.  Aaron predeceased Susanna by thirty-one years, dying at the age of sixty-six in Philadelphia on January 14, 1876 - just two years after leaving his position as Superintendent at Westtown School.  Both are buried at the Birmingham Friends Burial Ground, South, in Birmingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
"An American Family History:  The Abington Meeting - Early Years" at census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 7/6/2014.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.


July 1, 2014

Silk Quilts in the Archives of Westtown School

Westtown School, founded in 1799 by members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, houses a number of archives that include papers, letters, samplers, quilts, art work, and other material relevant to the School's history.  Among these holdings are three silk quilts we would like to share with you.

The first, and the topic of this post, was made by Elizabeth Dunn who was a student at the School from May of 1859 until her graduation in 1865.

The Elizabeth Dunn Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This beautiful quilt is comprised of both silk and cotton fabrics and features six vertical strips in the Tumbling Blocks pattern about 6 inches wide each, separated by five 8 inch wide strips of sage green silk.  An 8 inch wide border of darker silk surrounds the main body of the quilt and displays a one-half inch edging.  Visible on one corner of the quilt is an inscription in cross stitch that reads: "Commenced 1860 / Completed 1867 / E. Dunn."

Elizabeth Dunn Quilt, detail.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth was born April 23, 1846 in Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey, the daughter of Phillip Palmer Dunn and Sarah Ellis Decou.  When they enrolled their daughter at Westtown School, Elizabeth was thirteen years old.
Westtown was established not only to educate Quaker children but also to provide a "guarded" environment for teaching and passing on the values and precepts of the Religious Society of Friends. It was located about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia in West Chester County on 600 acres of wooded land away from big city influences.  In fact, the School was a full day's coach ride from Philadelphia and its many distractions.
View of the woods surrounding Westtown School today.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The year after Elizabeth enrolled at Westtown she began work on her silk and cotton quilt.  One can imagine the tranquility of the environment, when not pursuing the rigorous study expected of Westtown students, and how the environment may have lent itself to the quiet pleasure of quilt making.  The quilt probably occupied Elizabeth's free time off and on throughout her stay at Westtown - time that may have been hard to come by given her studies and her role as an assistant teacher during 1865.  She finally completed the quilt in 1867, two years after leaving the School.
Elizabeth may have been inspired to complete the quilt in anticipation of her marriage to Thomas Alsop Bell on September 17, 1868 at Chesterfield Monthly Meeting in Burlington County, New Jersey.  Whatever provided the impetus to finish the project she began as a young girl, the quilt survived these many years and is back at Westtown where Elizabeth was when she began making it.  We would like to believe that the quilt provided fond memories of Westtown School throughout Elizabeth's life.  She passed away in 1898, one year before the death of her husband.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania. census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 6/25/14.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Smedley, Susanna Assisted by Anna Hartshorne Brown.  Westtown Through the Years: Catalog 1799-1945. Westtown, PA: Westtown Alumni Association, 1945.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.



June 16, 2014

Holmes Family Quilts, Part 3

We return once more for a look at the Holmes Family quilts attributed to Anne E. Holmes of Loudoun County, Virginia.

These family quilts are all beautifully constructed, but as they were studied for recurring patterns we noticed that several of them contain odd, seemingly random choices of fabrics.

To creative eyes, the visual effect evokes a feeling of spontaneity, lending a charming surprise fo viewers.
We find the same occurrence on another quilt bearing the name of George W. Holmes.  The large blocks set on point (diagonally) between broad bands of sashing distinguish this handsome quilt, as do the diamonds emanating from the ends of the eight-pointed stars.
Anne Holmes' name is inscribed on two of the seven Holmes Family quilts, but others are inscribed with the names of her siblings George and Lorena.  This is not the first time we have found a group of family quilts inscribed with the names of siblings.  It reminds us that a name inscribed on a quilt might - but does not necessarily - denote the quilt's maker.  Furthermore, while there is documentation of nineteenth-century quilts made by men, there is such a strong oral family tradition that the quilts were made by Anne that it is unlikely that George made "his own" quilt.
George (1847-1915) became a Director in the Loudoun National Bank at Leesburg, Virginia.  He married Rebecca Crockett and they had two children.  They resided in Woodburn, Virginia, in a home they called "Meadow View Farm"
When studying historical quilts, it is important to ask as many questions as possible.  Anne and her sister lived with their parents for many decades and together even after their parents had died and Anne was married.  It is possible both worked on the quilts.  Their mother, Esther (or "Hester") Thomas Holmes lived from 1817-1892.  She may have had a hand in them too, as well as any of the help who shared their abode.  However, given the family tradition attributing the quilts to Anne, we will record her as the most likely maker of these wonderful quilts.
Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.


June 1, 2014

Holmes Family Quilts, Part 2

Today we are returning to a private collection of quilts inscribed with the names of Holmes family members.  Family tradition attributes the quilts to Ann Eliza Holmes who was born in 1841.  Ann married Jonathan Logan in 1880, so the quilts inscribed with her maiden name most likely pre-date  her marriage.  One lovely example is this "Irish Chain" patterned quilt with green and double-pink fabrics.  The quilting, like that seen on the other quilts in the collection, is exquisite.

Quilt inscribed "Ann M. Holmes."
The quilt seen above is clearly inscribed with the distinctive, double-looped "A" used for the other inscriptions of Ann's name on quilts.  But Ann's is not the only name inscribed on the Holmes family collection of quilts.
The quilt above contains the inscribed name of Ann's sister, "Lorena M. Holmes."  Lorena (1861-1927), referred to in the family as "Lola", never married.  She lived for many years with her sister.
The Holmes family appears in Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy's transcribed Minutes for Goose Creek Meeting.  Ann's and Lola's mother was reported in 1839 for being "mou" (married out of unity) to their father, Elisha.  Elisha was recorded for the same transgression.  Interestingly, his "acknowledgement" was accepted and he was retained as a member.
In March of 1865, during the Civil War, Elisha Holmes entertained 8-10 confederate soldiers under the command of John S. Mosby for a month without charge, although one Quaker "was careful to point out that Mosby's guerillas remained in his neighborhood of Goose Creek Friends 'without  consent of the families where they lodged.'"  Still, Friends "suffered with great grace, swallowing their Union sentiments and providing the soldiers with the best their larders could provide."  John H. Alexander, author of Mosby's Men noted "the motherly instincts of the good housewives stirred [...] as they saw the boys enjoy their pies and jam; and I am sure the eyes of the demure maidens flashed quite naturally as they served apples, nearly as rosy as their cheeks, to the soldier boys."  (Chamberlin and Souders, 323, 380.)
It is likely Elisha's daughters (and quilt inscribed identities) Ann and Lorena were present at the time of this occupation.  In 1865 Ann would have been 23 years old; Lorena was just five.
As mentioned earlier, Ann married in 1880 but Lorena never did.  At the time of her death in 1927, Lorena was not a member of Goose Creek Meeting.  However, she left "a legacy of $500 in her Will, also a legacy of $500 to be used by proper authorities of the graveyard at Lincoln, Loudoun Co., VA, especially both Hicksite and Orthodox Friends, as a general fund for its upkeep.  Not being a member of this Meeting, her gift is greatly appreciated."
Sources:, records accessed April 13, 2014.
Chamberlin, Taylor M. and Souders, John M.  Between Rebel and Yank: A Civil War History of Northern Loudoun County, Virginia.  Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2011.
Find A Grave Memorial #40296012.
Labaw, Rev. George Warne.  A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America.  New York: Frank Allaben Genealogical Company, 1911.
Personal conversation between Mary Holton Robare and Holmes family descendent, Loudoun County, Virginia, April 11, 2014.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.

May 16, 2014

Holmes Family Quilts: Part 1

With the kind permission of the owner, we are pleased to share photographs of seven historical Quaker quilts from the Holmes family of Loudoun County, Virginia.  These photographs will be presented in two parts.

Oral family tradition attributes the quilts to Ann E. Holmes.  Researching Ann, who also appears as "Anna Eliza" in some records, required a great deal of cross-referencing due to discrepancies in spellings and dates that appear in almost every record.  Irrefutable is the beauty and masterful craftsmanship of the quilts, the first of which (seen below) is also an explosion of color.

Holmes Family Quilt, private collection.  Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.

Ann E. Holmes was born 1841 in Virginia, the daughter of Elisha and Hester ("Esther" or "Esta" in some records) Holmes. The family appears in records of the Quaker Goose Creek Meeting, Loudoun County, Virginia.

Goose Creek Meeting House, March 2014.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.

Ann was the second of four children.  All four children married, but while the two boys (Owen T. and George W.) had children, Ann and her sister Lorena did not.  Since families so often pass quilts down through the females in the family, who then divide quilts among offspring, perhaps that is one reason so many quilts stayed together and descended to an indirect descendant.  With so many related quilts still together as a group, we have a fascinating context in which to view them.

 The quilting on all of the quilts is beautifully done.  It is also interesting to see fabric used in one quilt reappear in another, such as the red checked fabric in this quilt and the one shown below.

Holmes Family Quilts, private collection.  Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.

Ann married "Jno." (Jonathan) W. Logan on November 10, 1880.  Following his death in 1899, Ann is listed in the 1900 U.S. Federal census.  She was living as a head-of-household with her twenty-years- younger sister Lorena (referred to by the family as "Lola"), a sixteen year old "B" (Black) servant, Laura Bryant, and Edmond Parker, a black servant of unknown age.  By 1910, Ann and her sister were living alone.  Ann died March 11, 1914 and is buried in the Goose Creek Burying Ground. We will learn a little more about her sister in the next post.

Note:  The Holmes Family Quilts will be on display at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society as part of a special exhibit of Quaker Quiilts on June 13-15, 2014.  For more information call (540) 552-6550 or see

Sources:, records accessed April 13, 2014.

Find a Grave Memorial # 40296012.

Labaw, Rev. George Warne.  A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America.  New York: Frank Allaben Genealogical Company, 1911.  (pgs. 355-356)

Personal conversation between Mary Holton Robare and Holmes family descendant.  Loudoun County, Virginia, April 11, 2014.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.