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 http://www.anamericanfamilyhistory.com/Walton%20Family/Abington.html.
Ancestry.com 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.
Ancestry.com 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."
Ancestry.com, 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 http://www.winchesterhistory.org/society_events.htm.


Ancestry.com, 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.

May 1, 2014

An Unspeakable Act (Part 2)

Two years before Rachel Votaw was found murdered on her father's property, she had finished a sampler that read:

"Friendship's soft aid can sooth the mind
When wealth no pleasure can impart
Can make e'en adverse fortune charm
And calm the troubled heart."
Rachel Votaw

Sampler made by Rachel Votaw at the age of sixteen.  Photograph courtesy of
Jane and George Harold of New Carlisle, Ohio.

In spite of the sentiments on Rachel's sampler, friendships that may have helped to heal the sorrow, anger, and disbelief surrounding her murder were undoubtedly torn.  In reading accounts of the day, the pain and rancorous division of those times were apparent.  We can only hope faith helped to "calm the troubled hearts" of Rachel's family and members of their Quaker community.

James Courtney's acquittal of murder did not stop legal action in the case.  An Examency Court record, titled State of Ohio vs. Nathan Galbreath, exists among the County Court records in Lisbon, Ohio, charging Galbreath with perjury related to his testimony on behalf of James Courtney.  This document states: "Examency Court on the 23rd of January A.D. 1830 to investigate the facts of this case.  Defendant charged with Perjury."  Those listed as willing to testify on behalf of the State included Rachel's father, Moses Votaw, and a number of members of the Paxson family.  Those who were to appear on behalf of the alleged perjurer, Nathan Galbreath, included his son, David, his brother, Thomas, and Benjamin Hambleton - the father-in-law of Philena Cooper Hambleton.  (Refer to our post about Philena of March 1, 2013.)

Public square in what-was-then New Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio.  Henry
Howe, 1846.  From Henry Howe, Historical Collection of Ohio, Vol. 1 (Cincinnati:
C.J. Krehbiel and Co., 1907), 438.

No records were found to reveal the outcome of the perjury inquiry but a check of the New Garden Monthly Meeting records of those willing to testify in the case showed that Nathan Galbreath was supported by both Hicksite and Orthodox members of the Quaker community.  Charles S. Votaw's letter (cited in the previous post) implied that Courtney was "shielded" by the community's Hicksite families.  However, members of both factions of the Religious Society of Friends aligned themselves behind the family of the victim, the Votaws, and behind Nathan Galbreath, the alleged perjurer.  The divide was not along strictly religious lines and seems more related to personal, community, and family relationships.  Nonetheless, the very act of taking legal action in an attempt to discredit Nathan Galbreath, a prominent member of the Quaker community and the Clerk of the New Garden Monthly Meeting for several years, demonstrates the tension felt by that community over Rachel's death.

Tension in the Quaker community was further demonstrated by the fact that both James Courtney and Rachel's older brother, Aaron, were disowned by the New Garden Monthly Meeting in 1830,

The Upper Springfield Munthly Meeting house at Damascus, Ohio, built in 1856.
Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

By this time, Courtney was attending the Upper Springfield Monthly Meeting (also attended by his brother Edward and Phebe Votaw Courtney) at Damascus, about ten miles to the northwest of New Garden.  At the November 26, 1829 New Garden Meeting, its Preparative Meeting brought a complaint against Courtney "for departing from the truth and for using unbecoming language".  Those appointed to "treat with" these matters included John Battin whose surname appears three times on the Columbiana County Quilt.  He and the others who visited Courtney reported on December 24, 1829 that Courtney was not in a "suitable disposition of mind to condemn his misconduct".  Written testimony was then prepared against Courtney and sent to him at the Upper Springfield Meeting.  The "official" testimony of disownment dated January 1, 1830 cites joining the Hicksite faction of the Religious Society of Friends and "use of spirituous [sic] liquors" as the causes for disownment.

It is key to understanding the Quaker practice of disownment that - even despite being accused of murder, partaking of alcohol, and having joined the Hicksite faction - the Meeting's ultimate intention, as was also stated in the disownment testimony, was for Courtney to "find true repentance for his evil ways and turn therefrom".

Three months later in April, 1830, James Courtney was disowned again - this time by the New Garden Hicksite Meeting.  William Wade Hinshaw lists the reason for disownment to be "disunity", a term that was used for repeated disruptive disagreement on doctrinal and other matters decided by Meeting consensus, or to cloak sexual peccadilloes and other "unspeakable" acts.  Hinshaw reports that this disownment was reversed by the Quarterly Meeting in January, 1831.  However, the New Garden Quarterly Meeting records at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College contain no mention of an appeal or reversal.

Aaron Votaw's disownment ostensibly had to do with his having attended the wedding of someone who married outside of discipline and also that he'd attended a "place of diversion".  The written testimony against him was drawn up in March and he was disowned for "disunity" by the New Garden Meeting on July 22, 1830.

Aaron Votaw (1809-1885).  Photograph courtesy of Margaret L. Stuntz.

Rachel's murder had taken place only months before.  Her accused murderer and her brother were living in an extended community traumatized and divided by this event.  Nothing in the disownments of James Courtney and Aaron Votaw speaks to the tragedy of Rachel's death or the community tension that formed the backdrop for these actions.  The vague term "disunity", cited in Hinshaw's abstracts of Quaker records as the reason for the disownments, does not appear in the written, contemporary Meeting records in either of these cases.  In fact, nothing could be found in the written Meeting records kept during the aftermath of the murder that even hints that such a thing occurred.  Actions to deal with the murder of Rachel Votaw after Courtney's acquittal seem to have been limited to individual disciplinary actions (the disownments) and the legal challenge of Nathan Galbreath's testimony.

As for James Courtney, he married Elizabeth Elviston in 1833, four years after the murder, and subsequently had ten children.  He died May 22, 1874 and is buried next to his wife in the Quaker Hill Cemetery, Sebring, Mahoning County, Ohio.  The location of Rachel Votaw's grave is unknown.

Although events surrounding Rachel's murder are not directly related to the Columbiana County Quilt that was dated about sixteen years later, researching the quilt's inscribed identities demonstrates the way long-lost stories can emerge through the study of historical quilts.


Special thanks to James Hazard of the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, for supplying copies of the hand-written New Garden Monthly Meeting records quoted here.

Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Neighbors and Friends: Quakers in Community, 19th Century Life in Columbiana County, Ohio.  Thorofare, NJ: Xlibris, 2010.  Note: Some of the text for this post is taken from Lynda's book.

Hinshaw, William Wade.  Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. IV.  Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, 1946.

Stuntz, Margaret L.  The Ancestors of Mahlon Votaw, Vol. 2, the Votaw Volumes.  Decorah, IA: The Anendson Publishing Co., 2001.

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

April 14, 2014

An Unspeakable Act (Part 1)

The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus has a worn and faded eight-pointed star quilt from Columbiana County, Ohio.  The quilt measures 229 cm. by 248 cm.  Its blocks are set en pointe and the quilt is inscribed in ink with names, locations, and dates on most of its fifty-six blocks.  The years inscribed on the quilt are 1845 and 1846.

Columbiana County Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the Ohio HIstorical
Society, Call No. H84240.

The community represented by the quilt's inscriptions was like any other nineteenth-century American community, with all life's usual joys and sorrows.  However, in the course of her research, Lynda discovered a particularly dark event, perhaps more startling to Quakers who were known for eschewing acts of violence.

Two of the quilt's inscribed names are Edward Courtney and Phebe [Votaw] Courtney -- both associated with a tragic event that occurred in Butler Township, Columbiana County, only sixteen years before their names were placed on the quilt.

Phebe Votaw Courtney's first cousin, Rachel Votaw, was found murdered on September 7, 1829, lying on a pile of rocks in the swamp on her father's property.    Rachel was the daughter of Moses and Mary Brown Votaw, was considered one of the prettiest young women in the county, and was eighteen years old at the time.  Her death is recorded in her father's Bible with the following notation:  "murdered plain circumstances say by James Courtney."

Swamp land on the property previously owned by Moses Votaw, Butler Township,
Columbiana County, Ohio.  Photograph courtesy of Helen Ward Wolfgang.

The Courtney family, like the Votaws, had roots in both Loudoun and Harrison Countys in what-would-later-become West Virginia.  Both of these families migrated to Columbiana County, Ohio, in the early 1800s, both were members of the Religious Society of Friends, and both belonged to the New Garden Monthly Meeting in HanoverTownship.

James Courtney's brother, Edward Courtney, had married Phebe Yates Votaw in 1823.  By 1829, James Courtney was courting Phebe's cousin Rachel against the will of Rachel's family.  The cause of their concern is not entirely clear.  Quaker records prepared in 1829 (after Rachel's murder) reveal concern about James' sporadic attendance at Meeting and his penchant for imbibing "spirituous liquors", both of which might be frowned upon by Rachel's family.  But the source of the family's concern may have exceeded these rather mundane transgressions.  It is possible that violent tendencies ran in the Courtney family.  Years later, in 1895, James Courtney's son, Daniel, murdered his daughter's husband -- a man named Frank Swaney.

Newspaper accounts of the Swaney murder noted that Daniel Courtney's father, James, has been accused of murdering Rachel Votaw over sixty years earlier.  The story that ran in the Salem Daily News on October 4, 1895 gave a full account of Rachel's murder and its aftermath as recounted by older residents of the area.  This account reads, in part:  "James Courtney was the lover of Rachel Votaw and it was understood that they were engaged to be married.  The girl's parents objected to the match. [. . .]  Courtney was denied admission to the house of his sweetheart and they met clandestinely.  One night Rachel left her house, supposedly to meet her lover.  The next morning her body was found in a swamp on her father's farm.  A silk handkerchief was found knotted around her neck and the cause of death, by strangulation, was shown by the distorted and livid face of the former beauty.  A strange circumstance connected with the murder was that the handkerchief found about the girl's neck had belonged to her brother."

Another view of the Moses Votaw property.  Photograph courtesy of Helen 
Ward Wolfgang.

James Courtney was arrested for Rachel's murder.  The newspaper account of 1895 says that he was tried for the murder but acquitted based on the testimony of a fellow-Quaker and the circumstantial nature of the evidence presented. However, no criminal court record about the trial and its proceedings could be found.

In mid-January, 1895, Charles Stratton Votaw, the son of Rachel's uncle Joseph, wrote to his cousin Elihu H. Votaw about the family's perception of what happened.  "That beautiful and loved Aunt of thine [Rachel] was murdered and report then said that some of the Hicksite familys [sic] done all they could to shield that scoundrel of a Jim Courtney, that died a few years ago and just before his last he said he murdered Rachel Votaw.  I remember my folks talking and a man I think his name Galbreth that swore in court that Jim was away that night she was killed, so it could not of been him.  [...]  My mother saw the thumb and finger marks on her throat and always believed she was choked to death by that demon, but those I speak of tried to make it appear that she had tried to choke herself to death by tying her handkerchief around her neck."

Elihu H. Votaw, recipient of the foregoing letter.   Photograph courtesy of
 Margaret L. Stuntz.

Some of what Charles Votaw conveys in the letter above is the lingering distrust and ill-feeling brought about by the schism of 1827 that split the Religious Society of Friends into two factions: the Orthodox and the Hicksite.  All of the Courtneys joined the Hicksite faction and were disowned, while most of the Votaws remained Orthodox.  Interestingly, Rachel's parents, Moses and Mary Brown Votaw, became Hicksites which makes Charles' statement about the Hicksite families "shielding" James Courtney deserving of more scrutiny.  This and other topics will be addressed in our next post, revealing how the Quaker community in which she lived dealt with Rachel's death.


Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Neighbors and Friends: Quakers in Community, Life in 19th Century Columbiana County, Ohio.  Thorofare, NJ: Xlibris, 2010.  Note: Some of the text for this post is taken from Lynda's book.

Hinshaw, William Wade.  Encyclopedia of American Quaker Geneaology, Vol. IV.  Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, 1946.

Stuntz, Margaret L.  The Ancestors of Mahlon Votaw (1826-1919), Votaw Volumes, Vol. 2.  Decorah, Iowa: The Anundsen Publishing Co., 2001.

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