May 16, 2016

Remembering Family and Friends by Name

Friendship quilts bearing inscribed names, verses, and art work appeared in America in the 1840s, peaked in popularity in the 1850s, and then slowly declined as a favored quilt-type through the 1870s.  By that time, the deprivation caused by the Civil War had begun to turn to prosperity and women turned to new fads in quilt making, especially the crazy-quilt that featured richer fabrics than cottons and were often embellished with ribbons, lace, beads, and embroidery.  The cotton friendship quilt did not disappear, however, and is made to this day for special occasions and fund raising purposes.

Single-pattern friendship quilt dated 1869 from Belmont County, Ohio.
The quilt measures 79 1/2 X 89 inches.  Names are inscribed on the cross-bars
of all of the blocks.  "Forget Me Not" is inscribed on a block bearing the name of
Ann Davis from Sulphur Springs, Perry County, Ohio.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Close-up of the block bearing the name Ann Davis.  The sentiment "Forget Me
Not" is inscribed on the lower left and is underlined by the inscriber.
The popularity of the inscribed friendship quilt during the nineteenth century was caused, in part, by the sense of community these quilts conveyed.  They provided a way for family and friends to gather together to make something for a loved and respected member of their community - something that documented and commemorated that community and acknowledged significant life events such as marriage or the departure of families from their communities.  Members of the Religious Society of Friends, in particular, documented family and community relationships and events in this way.
The inscriptions of names on friendship quilts was accomplished by writing directly on quilt blocks in ink, stamping names or using name stencils applied by ink, or stitching names on blocks using embroidery or cross-stitch.
Hand-written name (Hannah Starr) and town (Newfield) on a friendship quilt from upstate
New York, ca. 1840-1850.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Example of the imprint of a metal stamp, first inked and then applied to a friendship
quilt block for later signature within the decorative motif.  Type could also be set in
metal stamps like this, providing the name at the same time the stamp was applied.
Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Typeset or stenciled name on a signature quilt made about 1875 in Bethlehem,
New Hampshire.  Collection of Pamela Weeks.  Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Writing directly on fabric with ink using quill or steel pens was a skill often taught to girls in schools of the early to mid-nineteenth century.  It is difficult to do without smudging or causing the ink to pool or run because of inconsistent ink application and the fabric density of weave.  Not surprisingly, many nineteenth century signature quilts were inscribed by only one trained and experienced hand.  The name or names to be applied to each quilt block were written on paper and basted to the block.  These annotated blocks were then given to the experienced inscriber who added the names.
Block with name (Sarah Hoover) written on paper and basted to the block.  Collection of
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Example of an inexperienced hand.  A block inscribed by Mary Ann Curtis of Newfield, New York.
Hard-to-read inscriptions such as this can often be clarified using photo editing software to lighten
the ink spread, increase the sharpness of the signature image, and remove "fuzziness."
Badly smudged or indecipherable signatures cannot be attributed only to those who were inexperienced in writing on fabric with ink.  The inks, themselves, were often to blame.  Up until the 1840s and the advent of indelible carbon and silver nitrate inks, most permanent inks were made from nutgalls, which contain tannic acid, and ferrous sulfate.  These inks were commercially manufactured but could also be made at home and they continued to be homemade products, of inconsistent quality, well into the nineteenth century.
Cellulose materials, which include paper, cotton, and linen, undergo a chemical reaction called hydrolysis when they come into contact with acids.  This reaction causes the fibers of linen and cotton to become brittle and break over time, disintegrating the areas on a quilt where a signature or other writing had been placed.  In addition, holes and deterioration in printed fabrics of the nineteenth century, especially those with brown or black design elements, is usually caused by acids in the mordant used in the dyeing process.
A striking example of fabric deterioration from the use of acidic ink is provided by a quilt top in the collections of the Litchfield Historical Society in Litchfield, Connecticut.  The quilt top was made in 1857 by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell (1765-1862) for Mary Pierce.  Mrs. Cogswell was ninety-three years old at the time she inscribed verses from the Old Testament on four of the quilt tops corner blocks using iron gall ink.  Sadly, indelible carbon inks were available commercially at the time and would not have produced the deterioration shown below.
Quilt top made by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell, 1857.  Collection of the Litchfield
Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.  Object number 1920-02-1.  Photograph
courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.
Full photograph of the quilt top made by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell.  Size of top is
87 1/2 X 87 1/2 inches.  Collection of the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield,
Connecticut.  Photograph courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.
We are fortunate that so many inscribed friendship quilts have survived from the nineteenth century.  By remembering people by name, these quilts provide fertile research opportunities for us to gain insight into the relationships and the social and historical context of lives lived over a century ago.  It is always regretful when a life that could have been known through research is "lost" because the ink used to remember that life disintegrated the fabric leaving nothing behind.
Our thanks to Alex Dubois of the Litchfield Historical Society for the photographs of the Cogswell quilt top.
Calvalho, David.  Forty Centuries of Ink.  Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2006.
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt:  A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press, 2009.
Fox, Sandi.  For Purpose and Pleasure, Quilting Together in Nineteenth Century America.  Nashville: The Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.
Ordonez, Margaret T.  "Ink Damage on Nineteenth Century Cotton Signature Quilts." In Uncoverings 1992, 148-168.  San Francisco:  American Quilt Study Group, 1993.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.



May 1, 2016

Naming Names

Anyone who has tried to research people named on nineteenth-century inscribed quilts can attest to the difficulty, at times, of determining just who is who.  This difficulty comes from the existence of more than one quilt block displaying the same first and last name.  Sometimes this is because one person made and inscribed her name on multiple blocks for the same quilt.  Commonly, however, several members of the same family, some bearing the same first and last names, appear on the quilt's blocks. The challenge, in this case, is to do sufficient genealogical research to understand the family relationships and generations represented on the quilt.

Emigrants to America in the eighteenth-century brought with them established child naming traditions from the various countries, and within countries the various regions, in which they had lived.  While these traditions changed and evolved over time, they often resulted in the reuse of the same family first names, and the use of family surnames as middle names, down through the generations.

Chosen first and middle names frequently reflected the desire to honor prior family members from both the mother's and father's lines.  Sometimes, rather than a family connection, chosen first or middle names were selected from Hebrew or biblical sources, especially for girls, to reinforce religious convictions or precepts.  These names then passed down through the generations as subsequent children were named to honor a former family member who had received such a name.  In nineteenth-century America, some parents also chose to name children after a famous person from the worlds of literature, politics, art, or social action.  The one constant, regardless of historical naming tradition, was that these traditions were not followed rigidly and cannot be relied upon to decipher family relationships.
 In her study of child naming traditions in early New England, Gloria L. Main found it was common practice to name children after a preceding relative or, in the case of some religions, after a godparent (who was often a grandparent).  What differed among groups from different regions in New England was the family member from whom a name was chosen for the first born boy and girl, and for subsequent children.
According to David Hackett Fischer, the Quakers settling in America had a naming tradition that honored both the father's and mother's line in equal measure.
First born boy was named after the mother's father.
Second born boy was named after the father's father.
Third born boy was named after the father.
First born girl was named after the father's mother.
Second born girl was named after the mother's mother.
Third born girl was named after the mother.
It was also common practice among the Quakers to adopt the maiden name of either the father's or mother's mother as part of girls' names.  These naming traditions, however, were not always followed by members of the Religious Society of Friends, providing flexibility in the choice of names given to many Quaker children.  They were followed often enough, however, to account for people bearing the same names down through the generations.
Center of Philena Cooper Hambleton's quilt, 1853, bearing the names of her six
sisters-and-brothers-in-law.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.  Photograph
by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The Benjamin Hambleton family of Columbiana County, Ohio, provides an interesting example of both traditional and non-traditional child naming in a single, early nineteenth-century Quaker family.
Benjamin Hambleton married Ann Hanna, the great-aunt of Senator Marcus Hanna of Ohio, in June of 1815 and had nine children by her, seven of whom survived.
Ann Hanna (1797-1867) and Benjamin (1789-1865) Hambleton.
All photographs of the Hambleton family courtesy of the Jerome Walker family.
Their first child was a daughter whom they named Rachel after Benjamin's mother.  Rachel was born in 1816.
Their fourth child and second girl was named Catherine Hanna after Ann's mother Catherine and Ann's maiden name.  Catherine was born in 1822.
Catherine Hanna Hambleton (1822-1893).
Their ninth child and third surviving girl was named Martha Kester, Kester being the maiden name of Benjamin's mother.  Martha was born in 1833.
Martha Kester Hambleton (1833-1923),
All three of their surviving daughters were named according to Quaker naming traditions.  But then we get to the sons!
The Hambletons were vociferous and active abolitionists whose home in Butler Township, Columbiana County, Ohio, was a station on the Underground Railroad leading north to Lake Erie.  Benjamin, his oldest daughter Rachel, and his oldest son Osborn, were members of the local New Garden Anti-Slavery Society.  His son Osborn founded the Forest Home Anti-Slavery Society in Poweshiek County, Iowa, after he and his wife Philena moved west in 1854-55.
The flexibility in choosing names for Quaker children is aptly illustrated by the names given to Ann's and Benjamin's sons.
Their first born son was named Osborn after Charles Osborn, a local abolitionist and editor of the Lisbon, Ohio, anti-slavery newspaper The Philanthropist.
Osborn Hambleton (1818-1882).
Their second son was named Levi after the noted abolitionist Levi Coffin.
Levi Hambleton (1820-1899).
Their third son was named Joel Garretson after another Midwestern abolitionist.
Joel Garretson Hambleton (1824-1912).
Their fourth son was named Thomas Clarkson after the Englishman Thomas Clarkson who founded the British Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade in 1787.
Thomas Clarkson Hambleton ((1831-1903).
None of the Hambleton boys were named according to the Quaker naming tradition cited earlier, but all of the girls were.  Perhaps like many Puritan families who chose to give their children biblical names based on their religious convictions, the Hambletons chose to select the names for their male children based on social and political convictions that were compatible with their religious beliefs in equality and social justice.
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.
Fischer, David Hackett.  Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America.  New York: 1989.
Hambleton, Chalkley.  Genealogical Record of the Hambleton Family.  Chicago: Published for the author, 1887.
Main, Gloria L.  "Naming Children in Early New England" in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXVII:I (Summer 1996), 1-27.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.




April 16, 2016

A Tribute to Alice Paul

We would like to change emphasis this time, turning from Quaker quilts to Quaker history and one Quaker woman, in particular, whose efforts changed the course of women's rights and history in this country.  That woman was Alice Paul.

President Barack Obama, on the 12th of this month, signed the necessary paperwork under the Antiquities Act to establish a national monument to the history of women's equality in the United States.  This act added to the National Park Service the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.  Formerly known as the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, the property contains a library, museum, and extensive material associated with the National Woman's Party (NWP).  The founder of the NWP was Alice Paul who lived and worked at this house as she promoted women's right to vote, rewrote the Equal Rights Amendment, and fought for its passage in Congress. 

The Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument.  Source of image:
Wikimedia Commons.  Built by Robert Sewall in 1799- 1800, this is the oldest
house still standing in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Alice Paul was born in Paulsdale, New Jersey, on January 11, 1885.  Her family was descended from William Penn and were participating members of the Religious Society of Friends.  Alice attended the Moorestown Friends School and afterwards Swarthmore College, a school co-founded by her grandfather.  She graduated from Swarthmore in 1905 with a bachelor's degree in biology.  She later attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning both a masters degree and a Ph.D. in sociology.
Alice Paul as a young girl.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Between her bachelor's degree from Swarthmore and attending the University of Pennsylvania, Alice spent a fellowship year working in a settlement house on the Lower East Side of New York.  Her experience at the Henry Street Settlement House convinced her that social work was not the way to fight injustice in this country but rather only political action could generate the kind of change that was needed.
Alice continued her studies at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, after completing her masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania.  She heard Christabel Pankhurst speak while in Birmingham and later moved to London where she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Christabel and her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst.  Affiliation with this group showed Alice the militant side of political action to gain suffrage for women in England. She participated in a number of suffrage demonstrations and was three times arrested for her activities. During her last incarceration, she participated in a hunger strike which resulted in being force-fed and badly injured during the process.
Alice returned to the United States in 1910 and immediately became involved with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) which, at the time, was languishing due to internal divisions and the death, in 1907, of its former leader Susan B. Anthony.
Alice Paul in 1915.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Alice was already well-known in America from English newspaper articles that described her activity with the WSPU and her incarcerations She instantly injected the American movement with renewed vigor and purpose using her organizational skills and lessons learned from the Pankhursts.  Her first major project was to organize the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession which took place in Washington, D.C. the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.
Program from the Woman Suffrage Procession.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Alice, Lucy Burns, and a group of their colleagues mobilized no fewer than 5,000 women to march in the parade, sending word across the country for women's rights advocates to join them.  The resulting spectacle was like nothing before seen in Washington.  Alice marched with a group of Swarthmore friends, all dressed in white.  They were joined by many college-aged women who had become attracted to the movement by Alice Paul and her followers.
Thousands of spectators lined the streets to either cheer or jeer as the small army of suffragettes passed by with signs and flags, some on horseback.  It was reported that Wilson arrived by train in Washington while the procession was underway and demanded to know why there was no crowed of well-wishers to greet him.  He was told: "Everyone is watching the Woman Suffrage Parade, Sir."  (Stiehm.)  He was not pleased and this annoyance only increased what would be a long-standing dislike that Wilson developed for Alice Paul - a feeling that was mutual.
Alice Paul raising a glass to the suffragist banner.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
The Woman's Suffrage Procession did not end peacefully.  Although a permit had been granted to hold the event, the police coverage was not adequate to deal with the open hostility that broke out when a mob of men began hurling bricks and stones at the marchers and some of the police actually joined in the attack. One hundred women were hospitalized from injuries suffered during this violent outbreak and the cavalry was actually called out to stop the bedlam and protect the women marchers.
If the issue of woman's suffrage had not been given serious attention up until the procession, it certainly was thereafter.  Tension grew within NAWSA over the aggressive tactics being employed to earn the vote and, in 1916, Alice broke from the organization and formed the National Woman's Party (NWP).  With the NWP, the focus shifted to achieving an amendment to the Constitution while keeping the issue in the forefront through what were called "Silent Sentinels" of woman holding signs demanding the vote, repeated public demonstrations, and even chaining themselves to the gates of the White House to demand passage of an amendment that would give them the vote.  Many of the suffragettes, including Alice, were arrested and imprisoned for these activities, living under brutal prison conditions that included force-feeding with hoses when they refused to eat.
Alice Paul sewing stars on a suffragist banner.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Finally, in June of 1919, the United States Senate passed the suffrage amendment and the battle began to have it ratified by all state legislatures.  The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was finally ratified in August 1920 by one vote in Tennessee.  This vote was cast by Assembly Member Henry Burn - but only after his mother, Febb Burn, sent him a telegram demanding that he change his vote to "yes". 
Later in life, Alice fought to provide protection to women in the Civil Rights Act.  She was the original author of an Equal Rights Amendment that was passed by the Senate and the House in 1972 but was not approved by the minimum of thirty-eight states needed to ensure its ratification.
Alice lived to be ninety-two years old, passing away at the Quaker Greenleaf Extension Home in Moorestown, New Jersey, on July 9, 1977.  She actively promoted women's rights until the end, exemplifying the Quaker expression: "Let your life speak."  In 2012, a $10.00 gold piece was issued in her honor and the newly dedicated Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument now also commemorates the contributions of her life and work.
 Selected Sources:
Bacon, Margaret Hope.  Mothers of Feminism, The Story of Quaker Women in America.  Philadelphia: Friends general Conference, 1986.
National Park Service announcement of the addition of the Belmont-Paul Woman's Equality Monument to the Park Service System at
Sewall-Belmont House and Museum at
Stiehm, Jamie.  "When Suffrage Was Cool, Our own revolutionary, Alice Paul, crossed the finish line to victory."  In the Swarthmore College Bulletin, January, 2014.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.

April 1, 2016

A Final Glimpse of Eliza Naudain Corbit

Our last two posts concerned Eliza Naudain Corbit, her husband Daniel, and his second wife Mary Wilson Corbit.  These posts were inspired by a quilt of blocks that Eliza made and distributed to her friends and family for annotation.  This quilt is a holding of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library in Winterthur, Delaware.

The Historic Odessa Foundation in Odessa, Delaware, also has one of Eliza's creations.  This is a quilt top, backed in floral fabric, un-quilted, containing the green printed fabric seen in the Winterthur quilt as well as a variety of other fabrics.  The top is comprised of 8 1/2 X 8 1/2 inch blocks, nine across and nine down for a total of eighty-one blocks.  The blocks are separated by pieces of three-inch-wide brown printed sashing and display the names of various family members and friends as well as a lengthy verse about the coming of death on a centrally placed block.  The date of the quilt is 1844, the year of Eliza's death.

Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt Top.  The top measures approximately
61 1/2 X 72 1/2 inches.  The block displaying the lengthy verse is in the fifth row down,
the fifth block across, surrounded by blocks with darker green fabrics.  Photograph
courtesy of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
Jessica F. Nicoll, in her book Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855, discussed signature quilts of the Delaware Valley and commented that Quaker signature quilts "[...] exhibit stylistic and organizational preferences that were both shaped by and expressive of Quaker beliefs."  She further quotes historian Howard Brinton as citing what he believes as "[...] the four basic testimonies of Quakerism: simplicity, equality, peace, and community."  (Nicoll, 14.)  While others cite different testimonies as most basic to Quakers, such as worship, honesty, and recognizing that of God in everyone, community was central to the everyday life of most historical Quakers.  This was exemplified by their close-knit families, their movements from Quaker meeting to Quaker meeting as they migrated from place to place, their prodigious recordkeeping of family life events, and their adoption of signature quilts as a means to represent, document, preserve, and hold close their community of family and friends, whether living or dead.
Eliza's great granddaughter, Mrs. D. Meredith Reese, revealed to Jessica Nicoll that Eliza had suffered from a "lingering illness" which left her an invalid during her last two years of life.  Eliza, in fact, began making quilt blocks in 1842 and finished enough of them by the time of her death in 1844 to make the Winterthur quilt and the quilt top at the Historic Odessa Foundation.
Central block of the Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt Top.  Use of photograph
courtesy of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
The central block of the quilt top contains a verse from a hymn written by Isaac Watts.  It appeared in Hymns and Spiritual Songs published in 1707.  Its reflections on death and the temporal nature of life is, in retrospect, poignant in light of how soon Eliza died in relation to the date of the quilt top.  The verse reads:
"Thus far the Lord hath led me on,
Thus far his power prolongs my days,
And every evening shall make known
Some fresh memorial of his grace.
Much of my time has run to waste,
And perhaps am near my home,
But he forgives my follies past,
And gives me strength for days to come.
I lay my body down to sleep,
Peace is the pillow for my head,
While well-appointed angels keep
Their watchful stations round my bed.
Thus when the night of death shall come,
My flesh shall rest beneath the ground,
And wait thy voice to touch my tomb,
With sweet salvation in the sound."
Drawing of Eliza Naudain Corbit in the collections of the
Historic Odessa Foundation.  Permission to use the image courtesy
of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
Eliza Naudain Corbit passed away on December 18,1844, undoubtedly surrounded by her family and perhaps some of her close friends.  Not all who loved her would have been at her death-bed but the many friends and family members who inscribed their names on her quilt blocks were there at least in spirit.  As Jessica Nicoll pointed out when discussing Eliza's quilt top, Eliza had symbolically gathered around her these members of her beloved community as she readied herself for death.  (Nicoll, 13.)
Our thanks to Brian Miller of the Historic Odessa Foundation for providing the object record of Eliza's quilt top and for use of the Foundation's photographs.
Nicoll, Jessica F.  Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855.  Winterthur, DE: The Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1986.
Object record for item 1971.1317, Historic Odessa Foundation.
"Thus Far the Lord Hath Led Me On", online at accessed March 29, 2016.
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.



March 17, 2016

Daniel and Mary Wilson Corbit: Delaware Abolitionists

Daniel Corbit lost his wife Eliza Naudain Corbit in 1844 after twelve years of marriage and six children.  One of Eliza's quilts, a holding of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, was the topic of our last post.  The timing of this quilt and the verses inscribed upon it signified the end of Eliza's life with Daniel.  He now faced a new life with his cousin, Mary Corbit Wilson, who became his wife three years later.

The Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt.  Collection of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens
and Library.  Photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library,
Winterthur, Delaware.
Daniel Corbit was born on October 2, 1796 to William Corbit (1746-1818) and Mary Cowgill (1761-1845), a couple who had been married in Duck Creek Monthly Meeting, Kent, Delaware, on May 20, 1791.  Daniel's father owned a tannery at Cantwell's Bridge (a town renamed Odessa in 1855) and also built what is now known as the Corbit-Sharp house at Main and Second Streets in Odessa.  The house was built during the period 1772-1774 and it remained in the family until 1938 when it was purchased by Rodney Sharp and restored.  Daniel Corbit was raised in this house and became its owner after his father's death.
Corbit-Sharp House, Odessa, Delaware.  Source of image:  Wikipedia.
Daniel was fifty years old when, in 1847, he married thirty-six year old Mary Corbit Wilson (1811-1880), a cousin and neighbor, and brought her to this house as his wife.  A letter to Daniel from Mary dated 8th mo 8th, 1846, expresses her pleasure and reservations about his proposal that she become his wife, voicing concerns that she might be unable to replace his former wife in both his heart and home.  In this letter, Mary also mentions the schism that occurred in the Quaker community in 1827 that split the Religious Society of Friends into two factions, the Orthodox and the Hicksite.  Daniel was an Orthodox members affiliated with Philadelphia Quakers while Mary and her family appear to have become Hicksites.  (See letter citation below.)  This turned out not to be an impediment to their marriage as Mary indicated in her letter that she was flexible on the issue.
Daniel eventually took over his father's tannery but, when sources of bark became difficult to obtain, he abandoned the business and turned his full attention to farming.  He took up the peach business when farmers along the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal gave it up and developed orchards that produced plentiful fruit and a sizable income.
Peach orchard.  Source of image:
The peach orchards along with his other farming activities, his financial lending at legal interest rates, time as a member of the state Legislature and member of the Constitutional Convention of 1852, and his position as a Director of the Bank of Smyrna combined to make Daniel a wealthy and much-respected citizen of Delaware.  As such, he was asked to run for gubernatorial office but turned down the opportunity because, if elected, he'd have to serve as commander in chief for the state.  His Quaker faith and anti-war beliefs prevented him from doing this.  His faith, however, did not prevent him and Mary from waging an on-going battle to liberate those held as slaves in Delaware and elsewhere.
Odessa's central location gave it a pivotal role in the movement of blacks fleeing the south through Delaware on one of the routes of the Underground Railroad.  This route passed through or near the towns of Camden, Dover, Blackbird, Middletown, Odessa, and New Castle, all of which provided "stations" on the railroad where escaping slaves could be briefly housed before being passed on to railroad "conductors" who transported them to the next station north or showed them the way to proceed on their own.
The Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber, 1893.  Source of image:
Wikimedia Commons.
Daniel and Mary Corbit's house was one of the "stations" in Odessa that assisted slaves moving north.  Mary Corbit Warner, the daughter of Daniel and Mary Wilson Corbit, speaking at a gathering of the Delaware Chapter of the Colonial Dames of America in 1914, recounted an incident in which her mother received a slave named Sam at the backdoor of the Corbit-Sharp house.  He was fleeing from a sheriff's posse and sought her help.  Daniel was away at the time but Mary took Sam in and hid him in a tiny attic closet with a miniscule door.  When the sheriff and two others knocked at Mary's door, she let them in and gave them permission to search the house.  Although they saw the small closet door in the attic, they remarked that it was too small for a man to pass through so did not explore it.  They eventually left the house without discovering Sam.  When they were gone, Mary was said to have taken Sam a quilt and some food so that he could be as comfortable as possible until nightfall when it would be safe for him to move on.  Sam safely made it to Pennsylvania and wrote to Mary from there thanking her for her help.
Stairwayin the Corbit-Sharp house leading to the upper floor
and the attic.  Source of image:  Library of Congress, Prints
and Photographs Online Catalog.
Another Corbit property, Clearfield Farm, also served as a "station" on the Underground Railroad.  The farm was originally owned by Captain David Clark whose daughter, Mary, married Daniel Corbit's half-brother, Pennell Corbit.  Both Pennell and Mary died early, leaving two young daughters behind.  Daniel became their guardian and inherited from David Clark their property at Clearfield Farm.  The farm was one of the Smyrna "stations" on the Underground Railroad located in Blackbird Hundred.  A description of Clearfield Farm notes that it had a number of places for hiding fugitives.  These included an attic crawl space, space behind a false fireplace, and two hidden inner rooms without doors that could be entered through sliding wooden wall panels.
Clearfield Farm.  Photograph by William Pflingsten, August, 2008.  Source of image:
Historical Marker Data Base at
One more building that served as a "station" on the Underground Railroad was the Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House in Odessa.  This tiny brick building was built in 1785 by Mary Wilson Corbit's parents, David and Mary Corbit Wilson.  When Harriet Tubman, the famous female operator on the Underground Railroad, was interviewed for her 1800 biography, author Earl Conrad quoted her as saying that, on some occasions, she had hidden in the Appoquinimink Meeting House.  The meeting house has a second-story removable panel that leads to spaces under the eaves.  It originally also had a cellar with a ground level doorway.
Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House (1785) taken in 1938 prior to restoration. 
Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Harriet Tubman, circa 1885.  National Portrait
Gallery.  Source of image:  Wikimedia Commons.
Daniel and Mary Wilson Corbit were not the only abolitionists in and around Odessa, Delaware, who assisted fugitives fleeing to the north.  They were members of a group of dedicated men and women, including John Hunn, a member of the Appoquinimink Meeting, who did just that at a time when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a dangerous business.  John Hunn, for example, was turned in to the authorities for assisting slaves and had to pay a penalty which cost him his farm and his livelihood.
Daniel Corbit passed away in 1877 in Odessa at the age of eighty years.  His wife Mary Wilson Corbit followed three year later in 1880.
Sources: Public Member Family Trees, census records and Quaker meeting records.
"Appoquinimink Meeting in Odessa, Delaware" accessed 2/11/2016 at
Conrad, Henry C.  History of the State of Delaware, Vol. III.  Wilmington, DE: Published by the author, 1908.
Corbit-Sharp House (William Corbit House), Written Historical and Descriptive Data, Historic American Landscapes Survey.  Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, no date.
Hoffman, Steve.  "Riding Along the Underground Railroad".  In Middleton Life Magazine, (summer 2008).  Accessed 2/11/2016 at
Letter Mary Corbit Wilson to Daniel Corbit, Hopewell 8th mo 8th, 1846.  The Winterthur Library, The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Folder 4, Daniel Corbit Papers, .308.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.


February 29, 2016

"Too mean are all earthborn delights/Pure heavenly joys my soul invites . . ."

Eliza Naudain Corbit's name accompanies these words inscribed on one of thirty-one quilt blocks she made for family and friends to sign, annotate, and return to her.  The date inscribed on her block was 2nd month 1844.  In December of the same year, Eliza passed away at the age of thirty-four.

Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt.  Collection of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and
Library.  Photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library,
Winterthur, Delaware.
Two other Corbit quilts are held by the Historic Odessa Foundation in Odessa, Delaware.  One of them is a quilt top comprised of eighty-one blocks of the same pattern and some of the same fabrics as those used for the Winterthur quilt.  Like the Winterthur quilt, this top displays names and verses, including a center block bearing Eliza Naudain Corbit's name with a lengthy verse implying the coming of death.  This top was discussed by Jessica F. Nicholl in Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855 (pp. 12 and 13) and we will revisit it in a future post.

The Winterthur quilt measures 77 1/4 X 67 1/4 inches with the blocks set en pointe.  A green patterned fabric is used for the four elements of all of the crosses except four, on the outer edges of the second and fourth rows, that are solid green.  All of the crosses have white center squares that display a name inscribed in ink and various leaf, floral or urn motifs for embellishment.  All but four of the blocks have outer triangles of a small leaf print that gives them a pink hue.  Four of the blocks have white center squares and white triangles (instead of pink) where lengthy verses have been inscribed on all four sides of the blocks.  (These blocks are symmetrically placed in the center of rows three and five.)  All blocks are separated by a white sashing and the quilt is quilted with white thread, seven stitches to the inch.

Detail of block inscribed with the name Mary Naudaink, the town of Wilmington, the date
Feb 13 1845 and four verses in it's white triangles.  Photograph courtesy of the
Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, Winterthur, Delaware.
Two of the quilt's blocks are memorials to Eliza Naudain Corbit's sister-in-law and niece.  These blocks are in the center of the first row of blocks and their inscriptions are placed in ink-drawn urns.  The first inscription reads: "In/Memory of/my dear sister Virginia Naudain/who died Feb/28th/1844."  Virginia (maiden name Chambers) was Eliza's youngest brother Andrew's wife.  The second inscription reads: "In/Memory of/my dear niece/Ann E Naudain/who died April/20th 1843."
In an interview with the great granddaughter of Eliza Naudain Corbit in 1985, Jessica F. Nicoll was told that Eliza had had a lingering illness during her last two years of life.  The verses on the block inscribed with Eliza's name reflect her anticipation of what was to come.  They include:  "May the words of my/mouth and the meditations of my heart/be acceptable to thy sight/O Lord!  My strength and my redeemer."  "Nor gilded roofs, nor regal state/Nor all that can be fancied great/Or wise, or fam'd, my soul desires/Far higher still my wish aspires."  "In the multitude/of my thoughts within/me, Thy comforts delight my soul."  "Too mean are all earthborn delights/Pure heavenly joys my soul invites/And asks while prisoned in this clod/A nearer union with my God."
Detail of block inscribed with the name Lydia Eddewes (one of Eliza's sisters).
Photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library.
The first emigrant to America in Eliza Naudain's family was Elias Naudain (born 1657), a French Huguenot native of La Tremblade, Santonge, France.  He was married to Jael Armand (1652-ca. 1720) of the same town and they both fled to the safety of London to avoid the persecution of French Protestants that was rampant in the 1680s.  There, both were naturalized in 1682.  They had four surviving children before Elias passed away in London.  Shortly thereafter, in 1688, Jael and her children arrived in America, becoming some of the first settlers of the Narragansett Colony in Rhode Island.
"The Towers" of Narragansett.  Source of image:  Wikimedia Commons.  This
structure was not built until 1883 but stands to this day as a venue for weddings and other events.
The Narragansett Colony that Jael and her children joined was disbanded in 1691.  She remarried
after that and moved to New York.  After she was again widowed, she lived with her
son Elias in Delaware.
One of Jael's surviving children was her last-born, named Elias after his father.  Elias (1680-1749) married Lydia Leroux in Philadelphia in 1715 and, by 1717, he was living in Delaware as a mariner and a resident of Appoquinimink Hundred.  He purchased farmland known as the "old Naudain homestead" in 1735, land that remained in the family (except for the period 1816-1827) into the twentieth century.  His son, Arnold, was Eliza's grandfather.  Arnold married Catharine Allfree and Andrew, Eliza's father, was their son.
Andrew Naudain (1758-1819) married Rebecca Snow (1770-1813) in 1786.  Rebecca's family owned land near Leipsic, Delaware, of which she inherited 300 acres.  They named this land, and the home that was built on it in 1790, Snowland.  The property was also known to locals as "Naudain's Landing."  The home is preserved to this day and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Snowland (Leipsic, Delaware), 2012.  Source of image:  Wikimedia Commons.
The Historic American Buildings Survey description of the structure says the following:  "Snowland is a good example of the simple Delaware plantation house built after Georgian Symmetrical arrangement had come into favour.  While many of the external features characteristic of the Middle Georgian manner are absent, the fundamental feeling of the composition is unquestionably traceable to Georgian precedent."
Andrew and Rebecca Snow Naudain lived at Snowland their entire lives, died there, and are buried there.  Further, it appears that their eleven children were all born on the plantation.  The tenth of these children was Eliza Naudain.
Eliza was born on October 10, 1810.  She grew up at Snowland with a wealth of siblings, including her brother Arnold Naudain who served as a U.S. Senator from Delaware from January 7, 1830 until June 16, 1836.  In 1833, Eliza married Quaker Daniel Corbit (1796-1877), a member of the Duck Creek Monthly Meeting.  Daniel lived at Cantwell's Bridge, Delaware, where his father William had established a tannery.  Daniel inherited the tannery business in due time, became the Director of the Bank of Smyna, and also engaged in mercantile businesses with success.  He and Eliza had six children in twelve years before her life ended on December 18, 1844.  Three years later, Daniel married a cousin and a neighbor, Mary Corbit Wilson (1811-1880), at Wilmington Monthly Meeting.
We know little of Eliza Naudain's married life other than that she was a mother, a Quaker by marriage, and evidently a kind and loving person.  Conrad, in his History of the State of Delaware, tells us that Daniel "[. . . ] was accustomed to say his wives were the best of the good gifts of a kind Provience, and all who heard agreed with him."  After Daniel wrote to Mary Corbit Wilson proposing marriage, Mary wrote back in part: "I feel quite at a loss how to express myself on this to me most important subject, my first feeling was one of entire incapacity to fill the place made desolate in thy Heart and Home by the loss of thy incomparable Wife, remembering her worth as I do.  I feel the more deeply the great compliment thee pays me in thinking me worthy to fill her place."  (Letter Mary Corbit Wilson to Daniel Corbit cited below.)
Detail of block inscribed with the name Ann M. Murphy.  Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt.
Courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, Winterthur, Delaware.
Our thanks to Linda Eaton, Curator of Textiles at the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, for sharing the photographs and object record of Eliza's quilt.
Sources: Public Member Family Trees, census records, and Quaker meeting records.
Conrad, Henry C.  History of the State of Delaware, Vol. III.  Wilmington, DE: published by the author, 1908.
Letter Mary Corbit Wilson to Daniel Corbit, Hopewell 8th mo 8th, 1846.  The Winterthur Library, The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Folder 4, Daniel Corbit Papers, .308.
 "Miner Descent: Tracing each branch back to their arrival in America" at
Nicoll, Jessica F.  Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855.  Winterthur, DE:  The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1986.
Object Report for object 2010.0022, quilt.  Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, Winterthur, Delaware.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.

February 18, 2016

Sarah Wistar and the House of Industry

We first discussed Sarah Wistar's quilt in our post of October 30, 2012.  We revisited the quilt in our last two posts when we explored the lives of two of Sarah's relations, Caspar Wistar, her great-grandfather, and the author Owen Wister, a distant cousin.  It is time to turn to Sarah, herself, and her remarkable life in the service of others.

Sarah was born of Richard Wistar (1756-1821) and Sarah Morris (1758-1831) in Philadelphia during the year 1786.  She was their third child, having been preceded by her sisters Catherine (1783-1822) and Rebecca (1784-1812) and followed by a brother Richard (1790-1863).  Neither Sarah nor her two sisters married, spending their lives in Philadelphia as spinsters in a well-to-do, prominent Quaker family.  As such, they devoted much of their time to charitable works.

Sarah's quilt at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, is comprised of ninety-nine blocks inscribed in ink with names, drawings, and sentiments.  Some of the blocks cite charitable organizations with whom Sarah associated during her life.  These included Widowhouse, Pupils of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Aimwell School, and the House of Industry.

Detail of block in the Sarah Wistar Quilt that refers to the House of Industry.
Photograph courtesy of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
The inscription concerning the House of Industry reads as follows:  "In grateful remembrance of the many pleasurable hours spent at the House of Industry.  The social intercourse of its members and the friendships commenced there, which we fondly trust may be mature'd in a brighter world, where, when done with Time, our spirits together with those whom we have endeavor'd to aid, may through Eternity join the ransomed and redeem'd of the land.  This circle of blocks prepared by the members are united by their friend Sarah Wister."
This dedicatory block is surrounded by blocks signed by members of The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor (who established and ran the House of Industry), and by Ann Oliver Burns who served as Matron to the House for forty years.  (Refer to our posts of June 15 and July 1, 2015 about Ann Burns and The House of Industry Signature Quilt.)
Detail of block in the Sarah Wistar Quilt bearing the name of Ann Oliver Burns, Matron of
the House of Industry at the time the quilt was made.  Photograph courtesy of the International
Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Ann Parrish, along with twenty-three other Quaker women, began what would result in the House of Industry by founding The Friendly Society in 1795.  The House of Industry, itself, was established in 1798 by a group of these women and others who appear in the minutes of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  When this group decided to incorporate to increase their funding potential, Sarah Wistar was one of the forty-six unmarried women who obtained a Charter or Act of Incorporation on first month, 12th, 1815.  They called their corporation The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  Relief and employment were provided by the House of Industry where poor women could spin and sew for pay, receive two meals a day, and bring their children along to be cared for in what became the first "childcare center" in America.
Copy of the incorporation document enacted in 1815.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The women's work at the House of Industry was overseen by House Managers.  These women were appointed on a rotating, weekly basis from the membership of The Female Society for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  House of Industry records obtained from the Quaker and Special Collections at Haverford College indicate that Sarah Wistar was actively engaged as a House Manager from at least 1840 through 1845, the years for which records were requested.  The duties of a House Manager included preparing the materials to be sewn, overseeing the work of the seamstresses to ensure quality, and providing weekly reports of all items produced.  These items were itemized in House reports and include "shirts", chemises, wrappers, bed clothes, pillow cases, petticoats, "comfortables", and quilts.
The names of several of Sarah's 1840-1845 fellow-Managers appear on the blocks of her quilt.  These include Mary Bacon, Mary Beesley, Annabella Cresson, Mary Foulke, Margaret Hart, Eliza Hopkins, Hannah S. Johnson, Martha Morris, Sarah Morris, Anna Morton, Elizabeth Paul, and Julianna Randolph.  Some of the other names on Sarah's quilt are those of additional members of The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor (who may or may not have served as Managers at the House of Industry).
The Sarah Wistar Quilt, 1842-43.  Photograph courtesy of the International
Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Quaker inscribed quilts normally display the names of many of the recipient's family members.  Sarah's quilt is no exception, but the number of people named on her quilt who were associated with The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor and its House of Industry points to a group of friends, and an organization, that must have featured largely in Sarah's life.
Sarah's sisters and both of her parents passed away by 1823.  Her brother, Richard, married Hannah Owen Lewis in 1824.  It is not clear where Sarah lived, or with whom, after 1824.  She was not found living in Richard's household at the time of the 1850 census but some early 1860s tax records name both Sarah and Richard and give an address of 1313 Filbert Street in Philadelphia.  The death notice cited below lists this address as her residence at the end of her life.  Wherever Sarah lived at various times in her life, it is clear that she devoted much of her life and time to charitable causes and especially to the House of Industry and The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.
Sarah Wistar's grave stone at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.  Source of
photograph: Find A Grave web site.
Sarah passed away on September 21, 1866 at the age of eighty-one years.  She was buried on September 25th at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.  Her brother, Richard, had predeceased her by three years.  The Philadelphia Inquirer published notice of her death on September 25, 1866 as follows:  "WISTAR - On the 21st instant, at 'Oakland', in the 81st year of her age, SARAH WISTAR.  Her relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, this (Third) day, 25th at 10 o'clock, without further notice, from her late residence No. 1313 Filbert Street.  To proceed to Laurel Hill."
Sources: Public Member Family Trees and census records.
Anonymous.  Wistar Family: A Genealogy of the descendants of Caspar Wistar, Emigrant in 1717.  Compiled by Richard Wistar Davids, Philadelphia, 1896.
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter and Mary Holton Robare.  "A Memento of Our Old Matron:  The House of Industry Signature Quilt."  In Blanket Statements, Spring 2014, published by the American Quilt Study Group.
Ducey, Carolyn and Jonathan Gregory.  What's in a Name?  Lincoln, NE: The International Quilt Study Center & Museum, 2012.
Find A Grave web site at
Roberg, Madeleine and Joan Laughlin.  Research notes: The Sarah Wistar Quilt (International Quilt Study Center & Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska). 
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.