December 30, 2011

Lucinda S. Russell Quilts

If a quilt is not inscribed with a name, it is difficult to know its origins.  Family traditions and oral history are notoriously inaccurate, but in some cases are the only guides we have to a quilt's history and connection to the Religious Society of Friends.

Lucinda and Mary Russell.  Photograph courtesy of
Jane Russell Johnson.

Lucinda S. (Buckingham) Russell (1830-1892) is pictured above with her daughter, Mary.  We do not know if she was Quaker prior to her marriage, but upon wedding a Quaker, Isaac S. Russell (1826-1916), Lucinda was told she should "put away her jewelry".  The implication was that she should conform more to the Quaker tenet of simplicity.

Several quilts attributed to Lucinda were displayed at the Virginia Quilt Museum in the 2008 exhibit Quilts and Quaker Heritage.  Lucinda's descendants refer to the ca. 1850 quilt shown below as a "Mariner's Compass" pattern, although Barbara Brackman cites other names of this pattern.  These other names include "Caesar's Crown", "Grecian Star", and "Whirling Wheel".

Photograph by Mary Holton Robare

Another quilt, referred to as "Radiant Star", was discovered in the New Market, Maryland, home where Lucinda once resided.  It is inscribed in ink with the name "Henry Russell".  Henry (born 1873) was Lucinda's son.  It is important for researchers to note that sometimes, as seen in other historical quilts as well as those made by Quakers, the name that appears inscribed on a quilt denotes ownership rather than maker.

Photograph by Mary Holton Robare

Initials and names that were stitched, stamped, stenciled, or inked on other household linens such as table cloths and sheets served as laundry marks.  These marks helped organize laundry as it went out and came back into use or storage from cleaning and pressing.  Similar marks on signature album and friendship quilts usually serve other purposes, such as extending sentiment toward a quilt recipient.  However, when just a single name or set of initials appears on a quilt, all possibilities should be considered.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

December 20, 2011

Quilters & Quaker Meetings

Some of the most comprehensive information about inscribers of 18th and 19th century Quaker quilts can be gleaned from Quaker records.  If the identities of those whose names are inscribed on quilt blocks can be identified as active members of the Religious Society of Friends, much can be learned about the lives of historical Quaker quiltmakers.

The extant records of Quaker meetings, in the form of minutes, birth, death and marriage records, investigative testimonies, and disciplinary actions were compiled at various levels of the organization of the Religious Society of Friends.  Its organizational structure can be viewed as a pyramid with its base comprised of Meetings of Worship.  Here members gathered twice weekly to feel God's presence and to contemplate their spiritual relationship with Him.  Both men and women attended these Meetings.

Upper Springfield Meeting House in Columbiana County, Ohio.
Built in 1856.  Photo by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

The Meetings of Worship also provided the occasion for men's and women's Preparative Meetings where decisions were made about the business that needed to be addressed at the next level, the Monthly Meeting.  Information about the items to be addressed at the Monthly Meeting was recorded in Preparative Meetings for discussion and to provide a basis for decision-making .  Matters requiring investigation and possible disciplinary action usually originated at the Preparative Meeting level, as did requests to marry, proposed philanthropic work, and other matters concerning individuals or the work of the congregation.

                                             Example of actual minutes from the Men's New Garden Preparative Meeting, 
                                            Columbiana County, Ohio, taken in 1830.  These minutes reside at the Friends
                                                  Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

Monthly Meetings were held as separate extensions of one of the Meetings of Worship.  Monthly Meetings considered requests by couples to be married, the actions that should be taken to address the misconduct of individual members, any requests for certificates of transfer to other Meeting sites due to departures from the local area, the receipt of new members transferring from other areas, the appointment of Clerks amd Elders to the congregation, the approval of ministers within their midst, and other matters of concern. Detailed records were kept of these transactions, as well as of the marriages, births, and deaths of members.  The Monthly Meeting minutes recorded at all Meeting locations of the Religious Society of Friends provide a wealth of personal information about each congregation's membership and are a boon to today's genealogists and historians.  One must know, however, which Meeting or Meetings a person attended to find relevant records.  (The Monthly Meetings tab above provides more information about early Monthly Meetings, names them by state, and indicates the counties in which they were/are located.)

Winona Meeting House and Cemetery.
Winona, Butler Township, Columbiana County, Ohio.
Photo by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

Quarterly Meetings were attended by appointees from Monthly Meetings.  These were held at approximately three month intervals with representatives from two or more Monthly Meetings within a geographical area.  Here representatives heard messages and received decisions made at the Yearly Meeting level.  They also resolved some matters referred by Monthly Meetings (such as appeals of disownments) and determined matters to be referred to the Yearly Meeting level because they could not be resolved at the level of the Quarterly Meeting.

At the peak of the pyramid were the Yearly Meetings.  Although the only, ultimate authority recognized by Quakers was their personal sense of God (described in many ways such as the Light of Christ, the Inner Light, Spark of the Divine, etc.), these Meetings held jurisdiction over Quarterly Meeting areas, including the weekly and monthly Meetings that met under their care.  The Yearly Meeting was the final arbiter of member disagreements, the interpreter of Quaker "Disciplines", or general rules of behavior and doctrine, and the final authority on matters of governance.

Minutes were kept of the proceedings of Quarterly and Yearly Meetings and often contain information about the circumstances of individuals who appealed to, or were referred to, these levels to resolve matters of dispute.

From their letters and diaries, it is clear that many mid-19th century Friends enjoyed extended visits during Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.  These occasions would have provided perfect opportunities for quilting, exchanging, and inscribing quilt blocks.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

December 10, 2011

Van Diemen's Land Revisited

The women convicts who made the Rajah quilt in 1841 landed at the port of Hobart in Van Diemen's Land, the current Tasmania.  Here convicts were usually taken directly to the Factory at Hobart where they provided free labor engaged in needlework, textile production, and laundry chores.  The children of these women either stayed with them in or near the Factory or were moved to an orphanage.  Some of the women, however, married upon arrival or were directly assigned as domestic servants to private homes.

The January/February 2012 edition of Archaeology Magazine happens to carry a short article by Samir S. Patel about some recent archaeological finds at the Ross Female Factory in Tasmania.  The article states that one of the rules of the factories forbade women "to have contact with their babies except for breastfeeding."  Recent excavations in the factory nursery ward by Eleanor Conlin Casella of the University of Manchester suggest the women tended their youngest children while also performing their sewing duties.  The discovery in the nursery area of lead seals which had been attached to bolts of cloth, and fragments of buttons and thimbles, indicates that the women were working with textiles in the nursery itself where they evidently were allowed contact with their children under three years of age.  Children of three years and older were normally transferred to an orphan school distant from the factory.

1853 stamp issued by the British Government

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

December 7, 2011

"That the Women Be Engaged in Needlework . . ."

Elizabeth Gurney Fry, a descendant of two wealthy Quaker banking families and a minister of the Religious Society of Friends, first visited women convicts in London's Newgate Prison in 1813.  This experience began a life-long pursuit to reform and improve the conditions of incarcerated women in Britain's prison system and on the ships that transported thousands of female convicts and their children to Australia, then New South Wales, as laborers.

Elizabeth Gurney Fry 1780-1845

One of Fry's early achievements was to convince authorities to institute rules at Newgate and other prisons that would govern the conduct and treatment of women convicts.  These rules eventually included the segregation of men and women prisoners, the appointment of matrons to oversee the women, the education of the women and their imprisoned children, and religious instruction.

One additional rule was designed to give the women skills they could use after release from prison, and provide productive activity while incarcerated and on convict ships taking them to New South Wales.  This rule read:  "That the women be engaged in needlework, knitting, or any other suitable employment."  The needlework skills they learned included those necessary to  piece and assemble coverlets and quilts.

Fry formed a ladies society in 1817 to provide educational and religious instruction within British prisons, and to teach sewing skills to women convicts.  This society later grew into The British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners which also provided the fabrics, wool, thread and other sewing materials needed by the women to perform needlework.  This Society is thought to be the first nationwide women's organization in Britain.

Women prisoners shipped to New South Wales on convict ships had to endure approximately four months at sea, depending on the number of stops along the way and their final destination.  The British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners supplied the sewing materials needed to occupy the women during the voyage.  According to Sue Prichard's piece "Creativity and Confinement" in Quilts 1700-2010, Hidden Histories, Untold Stories (London: V&A Publishing, 2010), 95, each woman was provided with "tape, 10 yards of fabric, four balls of white cotton sewing thread, a ball each of black, red and blue thread, black wool, 24 hangs of colour threads, a thimble, 100 needles, pins, scissors and two pounds of patchwork pieces."

Many quilts and coverlets were made during passages to New South Wales but only one known transport quilt resides in a public collection--a coverlet assembled by some of the 180 women aboard the convict ship Rajah that sailed from Woodwich for Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in April of 1841.

Unknown female convicts on board the Rajah
The Rajah quilt 1841
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Les Hollings and the Australian Textiles Fund 1989

This unlined coverlet, a holding of the National Gallery of Australia, measures 325 X 337.2 cm.  The description provided by the Gallery is as follows:  "The 2,815 fabric pieces of the quilt are joined in the medallion or framed quilt style popular in the late 18th century in England and Ireland.  The central field [...] is decorated with broderie perse or applique chintz.  This is bordered by eight rows of patchwork in printed cottons, which showcase the fashion and changes in the textile printing industry at the time."  The lower border contains a cross-stitch inscription dedicating the piece to "The Ladies of the convict ship committee."  It reads:  "This quilt worked by the convicts of the ship Rajah during their voyage to Van Diemens Land is presented as a testimony of the gratitude with which they remember their exertions for their welfare while in England and during their passage and also as a proof that they have not neglected the Ladies kind admonitions of being industrious.  June 1841."

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

November 28, 2011

The Lydia V. Wood Quilt

A current exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is featuring sixteen historical quilts, one attributed to Quaker Lydia V. Wood (1831-1917).  If you are in the area of Winchester, Virginia, stop by and see Daughters of the Stars: Shenandoah Valley Star Quilts and Their Makers.  Wood's quilt was expertly conserved by Pam Pampe for the exhibit, which extends through January 8, 2012.  (For more information, go to

Photograph by  Mary Holton Robare.

Lydia V. Wood's quilt is the large one pictured above on display during the Virginia Quilt Museum's 2008 exhibit, Quilts and Quaker Heritage.  (The smaller ca. 1850 quilt in the forefront was made by Thamasin Haines Walker, collection of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.  The dress was loaned by Hopewell-Centre Meeting in Clearbrook, Virginia.) 

Lydia's quilt, measuring 95 X 96 inches, contains eight-pointed stars and half-square triangles that alternate in a Hanging Diamond set, creating the illusion of diagonal lines. 

Photograph by Mary Bywater Cross.

A variety of fabrics were used in the quilt.  Today, the overall impression of its now-muted colors is of blue-grays and tans.

Photograph by Mary Bywater Cross.

Of particular note is the quilt's handwoven fringe.

Quiltmaker Lydia V. Wood was the daughter of Jessie and Hanna (Hollingsworth) Wood of Winchester, Virginia.  In 1855, Lydia transferred her membership in the Hopewell Monthly Meeting in Virginia to the Springboro Monthly Meeting in Ohio.  According to a historical marker in Springboro, Lydia "raised Nathaniel Hunter, a black orphan who later became the private secretary of the well-known black educator Booker T. Washington."  (See   This would be an interesting topic for further research.

Wood's quilt was a gift to the Museum of the Shanandoah Valley from noted quilt historian Mary Bywater Cross.  It originally descended from the Wood family of Winchester, Virginia, through two generations of nieces to Nan Wood Graham, who presented it as a gift to her friend Mary.  Graham was the sister of the famed American artist Grant Wood and the model for the "farmer's daughter" in his iconic 1930 painting, American Gothic.

Nan Wood Graham with the quilt made by Lydia V. Wood.
Photograph by Mary Bywater Cross.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

November 6, 2011

Example of Quaker Date Notation

Fallen tombstone of W. P. Clemson, a member of Philena Cooper
Hambleton's step-father's family.  Taken at the Sandy Spring Monthly
Meeting Cemetery, outside of Hanoverton, Ohio.

November 5, 2011

Quaker Date Notations

How do you know whether or not a signature quilt was made and/or inscribed by a member of the Religious Society of Friends?  If you are lucky enough to know the provenance of the quilt, its Quaker origin may have been revealed by its history or as part of a family tradition associated with the quilt.  Without the benefit of such information, however, your only clue may be the date(s) inscribed on the quilt.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Quakers did not use the names of the months and the days of the week when recording dates.  Instead, they substituted the numbers that represented the numeric placement of months within the year and days within the week.  For example, April 23, 1845 could be recorded as 23rd of 4th mo. 1845, or as 23rd day 4th mo. 1845, or as 23rd of 4th 1845.  The same date might also appear as 4th mo. 23rd or fourth mo. 23.  There were many variations of this dating method used in correspondence, on legal documents, in Quaker records, and as inscriptions on quilts.

Block from the Cather-Robinson quilt, 1848.  Collection of the
Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah  University.

Detail of Cather-Robinson quilt showing signature and date
 interpreted as Margaret Ann Johnson  8th mo. 4  1848.

The appearance of a Quaker-style date on a quilt is not proof that an inscribed identity was Quaker.  Some individuals retained this style of dating long after their families left the religion, but a Quaker-style date provides a good clue for further investigation.

The Quakers used numbers instead of the proper names to designate months and days because they felt it was sacriligious to use names derived from those of pagan gods and goddesses or from deified rulers of the Roman Empire.  In the latter case, the months of July and August were named after Julius Caesar and the emperor Augustus, adding two additional months to the Roman year which was originally comprised of only ten months.  The names of pagan gods and goddesses provided the origins for January (the Roman god Janus), March (the Roman god Mars), May (the Roman goddess Maia), June (the Roman goddess Juno), and Saturday (the Roman god Saturn).  Monday is related to the moon and special Roman sacrifices offered on that day, Wednesday derives from the Old English for Woden's Day, and Thursday is from the Old English for Thor, the god of thunder.

John Pitts Launey, in his book First Families of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Vol. 1), pages iv and v, points out that the Religious Society of Friends used both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars.  "The Julian Calendar was used for dates before and including October 31, 1751.  During this period, the 1st month was March and the 2nd was April and so on.  On the day following October 31, 1751, the Gregorian Calendar went into affect [sic] and January became the first month as it is today."

Should you be fortunate enough to be researching a dated Quaker quilt made before November 1, 1751, keep this in mind!

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

October 18, 2011


It all began quite innocently.  My husband and I were strolling along the streets of Petaluma, California, in 2001 viewing the city's annual outdoor quilt show.  Petaluma is blessed with a number of antique shops and, during our stroll, I dashed in and out of several of these shops looking for antique quilts and fabrics.  Had I not entered Chelsea Antiques at the end of the day, this blog would not exist--nor would my friendship with Mary Holton Robare, the two books I've since written, the pleasure of hours immersed in Quaker records, and the memories of trips to Ohio and Iowa tracking down details of the lives of people who lived over 150 years ago.
Petaluma Quilt Show, 2001.
I found and bought an old, worn quilt at Chelsea Antiques that day.  That quilt, made in Ohio in 1853 for Philena Cooper Hambleton, literally changed my life.  What began as a mild interest in the 39 people whose names were written on the quilt gradually became an all-engrossing quest to know them.

I'd researched a couple of signature quilts before Philena's quilt came into my life but none of them had been Quaker quilts.  When I discovered that the majority of people named on Philena's quilt were Quakers, reams of research material materialized to reveal their daily lives, their beliefs, the issues of the day, and the ways in which at least a small group of people coped with 19th century American life during times of turbulence and expansion.

In considering what makes Quaker quilts special enough to warrant a blog, Mary and I had to acknowledge that, in general, 18th and 19th century Quaker quilts are much like the quilts made by non-Quakers.  Quaker quilt makers tended to follow the trends prevalent in their larger communities, making whole-cloth quilts followed by the album sampler quilts and single-pattern friendship quilts so popular in the 19th century.  When signature quilts became popular in the middle of that century, Quakers made quilts in this style too.

Quilt historians have noted some characteristics of Quaker signature quilts that seem to recur but are not always present.  These include the grouping of names in family units on the face of the quilt, the use of the Quaker method of date notation (e.g., 5th day 7th mo. 1823), and placing the names of husband and wife together on a single block.  However, these characteristics do not present themselves on every Quaker signature quilt and are also known to occur on quilts made by non-Quakers.

So, what makes Quaker signature quilts special?  Mary puts it this way:  "When a name on a quilt is identified as Quaker, it opens the window to some special opportunities for exploring history.  This is largely because, historically, members of the Religious Society of Friends kept wonderful, detailed records.  These records augment what can be found in public documents.  By studying the history of Quaker quilters and block-inscribers, we can glimpse some of the mid-19th century forces that shaped America.  Because they had access to the finest materials and newest ideas of their times, we can also appreciate many of their quilts as show-pieces of their day."

Mary and I are hosting this blog to share information and resources needed to research quilts made and inscribed by members of the Religious Society of Friends.  (Much of the forthcoming information, however, will apply equally well to researching any signature quilt, Quaker-made or not.)  We will concentrate on 19th century Quaker signature quilts, the sources and locations of Quaker records, and information about the history and practices of the Religious Society of Friends to illumine 19th century Quaker lives and provide context for appreciating their quilts.  We invite you to join us!

Lynda Salter Chenoweth

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011