March 23, 2012

A Quaker Quilt at the American Museum in Britain

The American Museum in Britain opened in 1961 to showcase America's decorative arts and to provide the British public with a more informed understanding of American history and the American people.  Based at Claverton Manor in Bath, the museum has among its holdings over two hundred quilts of superb quality and workmanship.  Most of these quilts are American in origin and some of them were made by Quakers.

One of the museum's Quaker-made quilts is a Tumbling Blocks Star quilt made by Sarah Taylor Middleton (1825 - ?) and exhibited in 1852 at the New Jersey State Fair in Trenton.  Not only was Sarah one of the earliest female physicians in Pennsylvania, practicing under the name Rogers after marrying Clayton Brown Rogers (1810 - 1885) on July 1, 1861, she was also an accomplished seamstress.  Her skill and ingenuity can be seen in her unusual choice of using the Tumbling Blocks pattern to fashion a silk, twelve-pointed star and then applying this star by applique to a background of blue-striped silk.

Sarah Taylor Middleton's Tumbling Blocks Star Quilt.  The quilt measures
103" X 103".  Photograph courtesy of the American Museum in Britain.

Close-up of the silk Tumbling Blocks.  Each block is constructed from three
 pieces of silk that were "tacked onto diamond-shaped papers and then
 hand-sewn together." The use of light, medium, and dark shades of silk provide
 the blocks with their three-dimensional appearance. Photograph courtesy of
 the American Museum in Britain.

Close-up of the background silk used to mount the Tumbling Blocks Star and
detail of some of the quilting that appears on the quilt's surface.  Photograph
courtesy of the American Museum in Britain.

While the silk blocks and the quilting were sewn by hand, the blue-striped silk used to receive the Tumbling Blocks Star was assembled by sewing machine from three lengths of fabric. Treadle sewing machines were available in 1852 but they were considered novelties at the time and, as such, were expensive to purchase.  As a physician, Sarah in all likelihood had sufficient income and, as an unmarried woman, the freedom to "splurge" on an innovative piece of equipment for her personal use.

Daguerreotype of an unknown woman seated at a sewing
machine ca. 1853.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In contrast to the sober fabrics used on the front of the quilt, Sarah chose to back the quilt with a bright, glazed-blue cotton.

The backing used for the Tumbling Blocks Star Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of
the American Museum in Britain.

This beautifully made and unusual entry won Sarah Taylor Middleton a silver ladle presented by the New Jersey State Fair and inscribed "Premium S.T.M. For Silk Quilt 10 Mo. 1852".

For more about the American Museum in Britain, its history, and its collections, visit their web site at 


Beresford, Laura and Katherine Hebert.  Classic Quilts from The American Museum in Britain.  London: Scala Publishers Ltd., 2009.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012

March 11, 2012

"Boots on the Ground"

When asked what I think are the most valuable research tools I've come across, I always answer Tina Frantz and Pat Rowell.  These two remarkable women contributed more to my research into Philena Cooper Hambleton's family and life than any other sources available to me.  I highly recommend to any of you who are trying to research a signature quilt, Quaker or not, to seek the help of willing "boots on the ground"--people who live in the geographical areas of your quilt's inscribers.  They can do leg work you cannot do from your home, and discover information you will never find in books or on the Internet.

When you find someone willing to assist you, be aware that research usually involves costs.  Always ask about charges or fees before formally requesting research work of others.  It is fair expectation that you will have to  pay someone for time spent searching files, copying documents, and mailing.  This is just good research etiquette.  Sometimes all that is asked is a donation to an organization in whatever amount you wish to pay.  And sometimes fees are waived altogether, particularly if there is a potential for a scholarly publication or presentation that will bring positive publicity to the research provider.

I became acquainted with Tina Frantz in 2002 when I first ventured to Columbiana County, Ohio.  She was recommended to me by the owners of the B&B where my husband and I stayed just outside of Lisbon.  On our first trip, Tina referred me by phone to local historical societies and libraries where I might find records I was seeking.  In 2004, when we returned to Lisbon, Tina spent three days with us in her SUV negotiating flood-ravaged roads to take us to cemeteries, old houses, open land, and archives pertinent to the lives of the people named on Philena's quilt.

Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Tina Frantz "showing" Philena's quilt to past
members of the Dutton family, including Philena's sister-in-law Rachel Hambleton Dutton.
Dutton Family Cemetery, McCann Road, Hanover Township, Columbiana
County, Ohio, 2004.  Photograph taken by Theodore H. Chenoweth.

Tina Frantz and Theodore H. Chenoweth using chalk to highlight the names
on a tombstone where the children of William and Hannah King Ward are buried.
King Family Cemetery, McCann Road, Butler Township, Columbiana County,
Ohio, 2004.  Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

Tina Frantz and Lynda Salter Chenoweth examining the names on tombstones
rolled by vandals down the hill from the Sandy Spring Meeting cemetery outside of
Hanoverton, Ohio, 2004.  Photograph by Theodore H. Chenoweth.

Tina not only knows the "ground" of Columbiana County but has long worked with the Ohio Genealogical Society, local historical societies, and county offices to develop historical information about the early residents of this part of Ohio.  Through her "day job" working with the county court in Lisbon, she has access to 19th century legal records.  These include wills, land purchases and tranfers, cases heard before the Court of Common  Pleas, probate records, suits, and  other legal transactions that she graciously searched for me outside of work hours.  Of particular interest to me have been the 19th century probate records related to the settlement of estates.  These provide an inventory of every item owned by the deceased and, when sold at the traditional "crying sale", an account of who bought each item and how much was paid for it.  I have urged Tina to co-author an article on probate records with me--titled something like "Probate Records Are a Gas!!"--because these records give such insight into the personal lives of people and also show, through recorded purchases, relationships with neighbors and family members who bought items from the estate.  One day we just may do it.

I found Pat Rowell by chance one day while trying to follow up on some vague information about where most of the Hambletons are buried.  Pat volunteers at the Poweshiek County Historical and Genealogical Society in Montezuma, Iowa, performing research for members of the public seeking information about their families or just interested in the history of the area. Pat volunteered to visit local Quaker cemeteries for me to see if she could find the graves of Philena, her husband Osborn, and other immediate members of the Hambleton family.  Find them she did at the Friends Cemetery just outside of Lynnville, Iowa, in Jasper County!

Pat Rowell standing next to one of the several Hambleton tombstones located
in the Friends Cemetery, Lynnville, Jasper County, Iowa. 
Photograph courtesy of  Pat Rowell.

Poweshiek County Historical and Genealogical Society in Montezuma, Iowa.
Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

Pat then volunteered to comb through the files of the Poweshiek County Historical and Genealogical Society looking for items related to the Hambletons and their in-laws, the Cravers.  She found Osborn Hambleton's probate records, several articles in various publications about Hambleton family members as Iowa pioneers, old land maps with properties identified by owner names, obituaries about Hambleton family members, an article about the anti-slavery society founded by Osborn and Philena at Forest Home, and a wealth of other information. We were able to find the house that Philena and Osborn built in 1855 using the maps, and all of these sources helped to bring the Hambletons' lives in Iowa into biographical focus.  My greatest regret is that I was unable to meet Pat in-person when we traveled to Iowa after visiting Ohio in 2004.

Lynda Salter Chenoweth in front of the stone marking the graves of Osborn,
Philena, and Lorilla Hambleton.  Friends Cemetery, Lynnville, Jasper County,
Iowa, 2004.  Photograph by Theodore H. Chenoweth.

So, how do you find wonderful people like Tina and Pat to help you with your research?  The easiest way is to contact historical socieities in the cities, towns, or counties where you know quilt inscribers lived.  This can be done by searching the Internet for historical societies in particular areas (e.g., Ithaca Historical Society, Columbiana County Historical Society, Chester County Historical Society).  You usually don't have to know the society's exact name to find them.  If a relevant society does not have its own web site or email address, you will usually find at least a street address and telephone number that you can use to contact it. Then call or write asking if they have any volunteers who are available to assist you find local records or visit local cemeteries.  You will be surprised at how willing volunteers are to help you, especially those associated with small, rural societies and libraries.

Lynda Salter Chenoweth

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012