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