December 29, 2013

Christmas Past

Christmas has passed once again with families all over the world celebrating the day within their own religious, cultural, and family traditions -- that is, if they celebrate Christmas at all.  Many people of the world do not.

The early Quakers did not celebrate religious holidays, believing that every day given by God was special and no single day warranted religious recognition over any other.  Modern members of the Religious Society of Friends may acknowledge Christmas in various ways or not at all, depending on the beliefs and traditions of their Meetings.  Quakers in general, however, have negative reactions to the rank commercialism that characterizes Christmas in America.

Englishman Thomas Nast's drawing titled "Merry Old
Santa Claus" from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper's Weekly.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.
Seeking insight into early Quaker attitudes in this country about Christmas and its traditions, we consulted some letters, diaries, and journals written by Quaker women in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It was not surprising to find that the Christmas holiday was seldom mentioned.
The letters of Anna Briggs Bentley (1796-1890), originally from Maryland and living on the Ohio frontier in the early and mid-19th century, occasionally described family activities during late December and early January.  Almost all of her references were to slaughtering farm animals, the bitter cold they were experiencing, the health or ill-health of family members and neighbors, sewing and mending, cleaning, and meal preparations.  No mention was made of the Christmas holiday as something the family acknowledged or marked in any way.
Illustration from 3200 Old-Time Cuts and Ornaments edited by Blanche Cirker.
Anna Briggs Bentley's lack of reference to the Christmas holiday is understandable.  She and her husband were rural Quakers with only occasional need to travel to nearby towns where the population was more urban and where Christmas was publicly celebrated by non-Quakers.  Further, they joined the conservative, Hicksite faction after the schism of 1827 divided the Religious Society of Friends.  The Hicksites followed the traditional teachings of the religion, including refusal to acknowledge or celebrate religious holidays.
The diary of Elizabeth Drinker (1735-1807), on the other hand, provided some references to the Christmas holiday and the new year.
December 31st, 1778
"First day: Went this afternoon to S. Emlen's came home after Night, little-Molly with me, several guns fired off very near us --the Bells ringing according to the old foolish custom of ringing out the old year." (Crane, 89.)
December 25th, 1793
"Christsmass, so call'd, keep't by some pious well minded people religiously, but some others as a time of Frolicking . . . ."  (Crane, 120.)
December 31st, 1794
"Another year past over, and our family mercifully keep't together - How many calamities  have we escaped? and how much to be thankful for.  - Molly Drinker, Sally Smith and John Smith went to Clearfield, they dined there, Henry and Hannah came back with them, they spent the evening at Edwd. Shoemakers, with near 30 young people- 'tis not the way I could wish my Children to conclude the year, in parties - but 'we can't put old heads on young shoulders' . . . ." (Crane, 142.)
Illustration from 3200 Old-Time Cuts and Ornaments edited by Blanche Cirker.
December 25th, 1795
"Called Christsmass day: many attend religiously to this day, others spend it in riot and dissipation.  We, as a people, make no more account of it than another day. . . ."  (Crane, 158.)
December 25th, 1805
". . . . about one o'clock I heard a dull heavy thumping, I could not account for after listening some time I heard musick, then concluded that the first Noise was a Kittle-drum - a strange way of keeping Christsmass . . . ." (Crane, 277.)
December 25th, 1806
"Christsmass . . . . last night or rather this morning I heard the kettle-drum for a long time it is a disagreeable noise in my ears, it was after one o'clock, and at two, I sat up and took a pinch of snuff, which I do not do, but when I feel unwell and uncomfortable - I had sleep't none, nor for some length of time after . . . ."  (Crane, 289.)
Elizabeth's diary entries clearly reflect her attitude toward Christmas while acknowledging that such a holiday existed and was celebrated throughout the city of Philadelphia where she lived. In her urban environment, the existence of the holiday and its traditions could not be ignored, but they were not adopted by her Quaker family.
Elaine Forman Crane, Ed.  The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, The Life Cycle of an Eighteenth Century Woman (Abridged Version).  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
Emily Foster, ed.  American Grit, A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.
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December 14, 2013

Literacy, Numeracy and Useful Work

Carol Humphrey, in her book Quaker School Girl Samplers from Ackworth, lists literacy, numeracy, and useful work as the governing themes of early Quaker education for both boys and girls in 18th century England.  These themes were carried out in both home-schooling situations and in Quaker boarding schools established to provide education to children of poor and middle-class families.

Ackworth Quaker Boarding School, c. 1850.  Courtesy of Richard B. Walker

The most famous of these British schools is the Ackworth Quaker Boarding School founded in 1779 and still in operation.  The founding precepts for education at Ackworth were established from the beginning:  "It is proposed that the principles we profess be diligently inculcated and due care taken to preserve the children from bad habits and immoral conduct.  That the English language, writing, and arithmetic be carefully taught to both sexes; and that the girls be also instructed in housewifery and useful needlework."  (Thompson, 17.)

Ackworth School, from a needlework standpoint, is best known for the medallion style samplers completed by its female students - a style that traveled to America in the late 1700s as English families immigrated to the New World.

Sewing associated with "housewifery" was also taught at Ackworth and, by 1821, its female students were producing a prodigious number of sewn items.  In that year alone they produced: 230 shirts, 46 counterpanes, 17 sheets, 32 towels, 10 cravats, 102 night caps, 8 boys' pinafores, 227 pocket handkerchiefs, 3 table cloths, 76 bolster cases, 9 pillow cases, 81 aprons, 120 tuckers, 177 shifts, 29 day caps, 4 pinafores, 6 cushion covers, and 393 pairs of knitted stockings.  (Humphrey, 18.)  This output does not include the samplers mentioned earlier which they undoubtedly made to hone their needlework skills and that have survived to this day in large numbers.

The educational precepts established at Ackworth School were echoed in America where the Quaker practice of educating both their boys and their girls took the form of home-schooling, the use of in-home tutors, and the establishment of boarding schools where the children of Quaker families, both affluent and poor, could receive "guarded" educations reflective of Quaker beliefs.
Teacher Anthony Benezet with some of his students.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As early as 1754, the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting established a school for Quaker girls under the direction of Anthony Benezet (1718-1784), a noted abolitionist and educator.  In addition to his daytime work at the school, Benezet instructed black children in his home, eventually establishing a school for them with the support of the Religious Society of Friends.

Benezet took the education of girls further than most during the colonial period in America, providing them with instruction in French, Latin, the classics, and literary composition in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic.  The extent to which needlework was part of this education is not known, but Quaker schools later modeled on the success of Ackworth placed high emphasis on the development of sewing skills and other needlework.  Two of these schools were the Aimwell School founded in 1796 in Philadelphia by Quaker Anne Parish and fellow-female Friends, and the Westtown School, founded by Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1799 in Chester County, twenty-five miles west of Philadelphia.

Aimwell School was devoted to the education of girls whose parents could not afford to provide them with schooling.  Needlework and sewing were an emphasized part of the curriculum at Aimwell because skill in these areas could help provide its graduates with a means to support themselves and also make them more marriageable.

One quilt made by students of Aimwell School is in the collection of the Historical Society of Moorestown, New Jersey.  Its main inscription dedicates the quilt to teacher Sarah D. Powell in 1847, and attributes its makers to pupils at Aimwell School.  (Refer to our post of November 27, 2012 for detailed information about this quilt and the Aimwell School.)

Members of the American Quilt Study Group examining the Aimwell School Quilt at the
AQSG Seminar held in New Jersey in 2011.  Photo courtesy of Lisa Hammell, Historical
Society of Moorestown, New Jersey.

Aimwell School Quilt, detail of some of the fabrics.  Photos courtesy of
Lisa Hammell, Historical Society of Moorestown, New Jersey.

The Aimwell School Quilt is one of very few 19th century quilts that can be firmly attributed to an American school. We gain more insight into school needlework and needlework instruction from the many and varied samplers sewn by Quaker school girls in both England and America.

The sampler shown below is a reproduction of one in the collections of Westtown School.  It was made by an unknown student at Westtown and descended through the Maule family.  The original may have been made by Mercy Maule, a student at Westtown in 1800 and 1801.  This style of sampler is based on the medallion samplers created and popularized by the Ackworth School in England.

Reproduction of a sampler made at Westtown School in 1801.  Photo courtesy of
The Essamplaire at

Westtown School as it appears today. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Quaker samplers in America were sewn in a variety of motifs from simple mending and darning samplers that displayed the student's skill in needlework used to mark linens and mend clothing, to elaborate figurative samplers displaying alphabets, architectural and outdoor scenes, verses, and even family genealogy.

Most young women in early 19th century America began their needlework training at home by the age of five or six years, and continued to improve and expand their skills throughout their lives.  At Westtown School in the early 1800s, female students usually spent two weeks out of every six developing their needlework skills.  (Needlework was removed from the Westtown female curriculum in 1843.)

Literacy, numeracy, and useful work - all were the focus of early Quaker education for girls as well as boys.  We can be grateful that we have so many examples of the "useful work" young women completed in the form of samplers and their surviving sewing projects such as the Aimwell School Quilt.


Bacon, Margaret Hope.  Mothers of Feminism, The Story of Quaker Women in America.  Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 1986.

Humphrey, Carol.  Quaker School Girl Samplers from Ackworth. Singapore: Needleprint and Ackworth School Estates Limited, 2006.

Thompson, Henry.  A History of Ackworth School During Its First Hundred Years. London: The Centenary Committee, Ackworth School, 1879.

The Essamplaire web site at

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2013.

December 1, 2013

The Sandy Spring Quilt - Part 3

Research can be a solitary activity but the connections we make with others in the process are particularly rewarding.  Investigation of the Sandy Spring Quilt resulted in many miles, in-person visits, and much correspondence, especially with Joanna Church, the Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  She was already familiar with the historical community whose names are inscribed on the Sandy Spring Quilt.  In our shared quest to discover why the Sandy Spring Quilt was made, she observed several links between the quilt's signatories.

Sandy Spring Quilt, detail of  block.  Inscription almost illegible, interpreted as
"Albina O. Stabler".  Photo by Joanna Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County
Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Most inscribed identities had connections to the Religious Society of Friends; most were residents of the town of Sandy Spring, Maryland, at the time of the quilt's making; and, many appear in records of the town's clubs.  Actually it is fair to say that in 1858 the people of Sandy Spring were crazy for clubs!
One such club was the Mutual Improvement Association, the oldest continually meeting women's association in the United States.  It first met on May 1, 1857.  The organization's objective was to "elevate the minds, increase the happiness, lighten the labor or add to the comfort of one another, our families or friends."
Sandy Spring Quilt, detail of block inscribed "Belle Miller".  Photo by Joanna Church. 
Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.

They had quilting parties and rag balls where men and women "socialized over tea and cake, sewed strips of cloth together, and then wound them into balls for rug weaving."  They also had a Farmer's Club, reading circles, and a debating society that met for a while at the Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls.
One debating society participant was Anna Farquhar.  She was one of eleven Fair Hill students or alumna whose names appear on the Sandy Spring Quilt.  She was also a wonderful letter-writer.
Anna Farquhar (1834-1917).  Photo courtesy of the Sandy Spring Museum,
Sandy Spring, Maryland.
On "1st day evening, 1858" Anna Farquhar wrote to "My dear Eliza": "Do tell me thy candid opinion about admitting gentlemen.  I heard this evening that some of the ladies said they would not attend if any gentlemen came, but I do not know whether there is any truth in that.  I really want to know what thee thinks of it.  Is not this a neighborhood of clubs just at this time?  The young gents seem very much interested in their debating society and I hope it may flourish, but would thee not like to put on an invisible cap and hear some of [their] speeches [ . . .]  I would give anything in reason to hear them."
One month later, in February of 1858, Anna had some news to share with her cousin.
"I hear Robert Stabler went up to Loudoun to see Hannah Taylor, and perhaps that will be the beginning of a change, but please do not tell anyone I said so, for I have a great objection to spreading such reports.  It would be very pleasant to have Hannah among us, for I think she is a first rate girl."
Hannah Boone Taylor Stabler (1835-1922).  Photo courtesy of
the Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring, Maryland.
Anna need not have worried that she was spreading unfounded gossip.  Hannah Taylor and Robert Stabler were married in 1858.  The descendant whose correspondence first suggested the origin of the Sandy Spring Quilt was their great-granddaughter.  The inscription "H.B. Stabler" (Hannah Boone, maiden name Taylor, Stabler) appears on the quilt along with the names of Hannah's mother-in-law, two of her nieces-by-marriage, and at least four (possibly five) of her sisters-in-law.
Sandy Spring Quilt, details showing inscriptions.  "Ellen Stabler" and "Sarah Miller, Alex"
(probably short for Alexandria, Virginia).  Photos by Joanna Church.  Courtesy of
the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Following their marriage, Hannah and Robert M. Stabler settled in the "lovely old homestead", Edgewood II.  The daughter of Jonathan and Lidia Taylor of Loudoun County, Virginia, Hannah came "to Sandy Spring as a young bride, [and] there were few personalities among us who held so warm and a secure a place in the community."  The couple were "especially and much beloved by children, and the atmosphere they created can best be understood by the speech of a child who once said it seemed to her "the sun was always shining at Edgewood!"
Portions of this post were adapted from an article first published by the American Quilt Study Group.  See Robare, Mary Holton.  "Cheerful and Loving Persistence: Two Historical Quaker Quilts."  In Uncoverings 2007, edited by Joanna E. Evans.  Volume 28 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group.
Special thanks to Lucy Pope of the Sandy Spring Museum and Joanna Church, Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  See and visit Joanna's blog at
"Sandy Spring Museum Capital Campaign for the New Library Archive" (Sandy Spring Museum, 2006).
Allen, Gloria Seaman and Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn.  A Maryland Album: Quiltmaking Traditions, 1634-1934. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.
Anna Farquhar "letters".  Papers of the Brooke Family, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
Kirk, Annie B.  Annals of Sandy Spring or Twenty Years History of a Rural Community in Maryland, Vol. IV.  Westminster: The Times Printing Company, 1929.



November 15, 2013

The Sandy Spring Quilt - Part 2

Researching the names, dates, locations, and verses found on the blocks of an inscribed quilt allows us to place the quilt in the context of historical communities.  However, just because a name appears on a quilt does not necessarily mean that person was involved in making the quilt - or even saw it!  For example, some people whose names appear on quilts are known to be deceased at the time of the quilt's making.  Attempting to identify a quilt's maker (or makers), recipient, and chain of ownership often involves separate avenues of research.  These quests can be fascinating.

Sandy Spring Quilt.  Photo by Neil Steinberg.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County
Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
The Montgomery County Historical Society in Maryland purchased the Sandy Spring Quilt from a dealer in the early 1980s. They determined that the women whose names appeared on the quilt were, for the most part, residents of Sandy Spring, a small town to the southwest of Baltimore and just north of Washington, D. C.
Sandy Spring Quilt, detail.  Block inscribed "H.B. Stabler".  Photo by Joanna Church. 
Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
The Historical Society staff did not know much else about the quilt's origins until 1987 when they discovered some correspondence between a descendant of Sandy Spring Quakers and the Sandy Spring Museum.  Inquiring of the quilt's whereabouts, the descendant described a quilt which "could probably be called the Sandy Spring Quilt.  It was made by women of the neighborhood and given to Hannah Taylor upon her marriage to Robert Stabler of Edgewood, part of the Manor on the Spencerville Road, in 1858."
Disowned from the Orthodox Falls Monthly Meeting in 1852 for joining the Hicksites, Hannah and her husband got certificates of membership to the Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting in 1860.
Sandy Spring Meetinghouse, Sandy Spring, Maryland.  Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C. 20540 USA.
The original Sandy Spring Quilt correspondents have, over time, become unavailable to confirm when and why the quilt was made.  Without contradictory evidence to the assumption that the quilt described by the descendant is the one owned by the Montgomery County Historical Society, the idea that this quilt was made for Hannah's wedding provides a working theory.
Does genealogical data about the inscribers of the Sandy Spring Quilt support the theory that it was made for an 1858 wedding?  In the beginning, turning from questions of provenance to the inscriptions themselves raised more questions than answers.
Joanna Church, Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, performed a new reading of the inscriptions in 2006 which built upon research originally performed by Marian Jacobs in 1983.  Ms. Church's extensive knowledge of the area's early residents -- and fixing on the 1858 year of Hannah Taylor's marriage to Robert Stabler -- allowed for some new interpretations.  Additional genealogical research and cross-referencing yielded surer probable identities. 
Where the age of those named on the quilt could be estimated based on genealogical records, an age range from approximately two years to sixty-four years was established.  Nine of the people represented on the quilt were between nine and seventeen years of age. 
Given the popularity of quilt making as evidenced by diaries, the varying degrees of skill used to complete the quilt, and the ages of those named on the quilt in 1858, it is tempting to imagine quilt blocks being not only inscribed, but also made by novice quilters, possibly schoolgirls.
Sandy Spring Quilt, details.  Photos by Joanna Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery
County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Of course, mismatched points can not be considered reliable determination of a maker's age.  Even very young schoolgirls produced magnificent historical needlework, but schooling in relation to the Sandy Spring Quilt is worth mention.  Of the thirty-four decipherable inscribed identities on the quilt, eleven (including some over the age of seventeen) appear on the list of "All the Scholars Since the Commencement of the Institution" of Fair Hill Seminary, also know as Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls.
Fair Hill, 1906.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
Washington, D. C. 20540 USA.
Fair Hill Seminary opened in 1819 under the direct care of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  It was founded to "establish a boarding school for the guarded education of Friends' children", and operated on and off throughout the 1800s.  (During the Civil War, two-thirds of the students withdrew due to concerns over fighting in nearby Baltimore.  The school closed for good in 1865.)
Needlework and quilting were not listed as part of the formal curriculum at the time the Sandy Spring Quilt was made.  However, there were several early samplers made there.  We will share more about one Fair Hill scholar-who-quilted in our next post.
Portions of this post were adapted from an article first published by the American Quilt Study Group.  See Robare, Mary Holton.  "Cheerful and Loving Persistence: Two Historical Quaker Quilts."  In Uncoverings 2007, edited by Joanna E. Evans.  Volume 28 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group.
Special thanks to Joanna Church, Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  See and visit Joann's blog at 



November 1, 2013

The Sandy Spring Quilt - Part 1

The Sandy Spring Quilt is a single-pattern friendship quilt made ca. 1860 that belongs to the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, Maryland. The quilt is made up of thirty-six, ten-inch square blocks displaying the names of many different people.  The quilt measures 80 1/2 X 84 inches and each of its blocks contains two different fabrics on a background of unbleached muslin.  The block pattern is known, along with other names assigned to it, as "Blazing Star".  (Refer to Barbara Brackman's pieced pattern numbered 3772.)

The Sandy Spring Quilt is seen hanging at top behind the "Pieced Quilt in Eastern
 (Blazing)Star Pattern" featured in our post of October 1, 2013.  Photo taken by Mary
 Holton Robare at the Virginia Quilt Museum, 2008. Both quilts are in the collection
of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Filled with thin cotton batting, the bedcovering was quilted in designs of diagonal lines and feather plumes.  The blocks of the quilt were pieced by hand and joined together by machine.  The cream-colored backing was rolled to the front to form the binding.  One of the blocks is inscribed with the name Sarah E. Stabler.
Sandy Spring Quilt.  Details of block inscribed "Sarah E. Stabler".  Photos by Joanna
Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Anyone who has tried to decipher old, faded handwriting on fabric can appreciate the efforts required to interpret many of this quilt's inscriptions!
Sarah E. Kirk (as she signed her name on an earlier quilt) married Charles Stabler in 1853.  In 1860 the couple settled on a fifty-six acre portion of the Montgomery County Stabler family estate, in a house called Sunnyside.
Sunnyside in about 1940.  Photo donated to the Montgomery County Historical
Society by Roger B. Farquhar.
By the time they moved to Sunnyside, two of their four children had been born.  They moved in 1866 but moved again "in rather a panic" two years later to a farm known as The Cottage.
The Cottage about 1940.  Photo donated to the Montgomery County Historical
Society by Roger B. Farquhar.
The panic was due to the fact that the railroad was coming to town and that it would spoil the quietude of the countryside.  Although such rumors swirled for over a century, the tracks of the "iron horse" never extended to the village of Sandy Spring.
When was the Sandy Spring Quilt made and why?  The quilt itself offers a dizzying array of seemingly contradictory clues.  To start with, the construction techniques and fabrics of the quilt are confusing.  Upon examination, the quilt blocks appear executed with greatly varying degrees of skill.  Stitches on one block are sloppy while elsewhere they are expert.  Stripes of one block do not line up, while blocks of others contain perfectly matched fabric patterns.  For several decades - from the 1840s onward- manufacturers produced the utilized prints.
Does the finishing by sewing machine offer a definitive date? The sewing machine went into production in the late 1850s and early 1860s.  Even earlier home use was documented in Virginia around 1850.
Seamstress ca. 1853.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division, Washington, D.C.
If it was within their means, quilters were using the newly invented machine as soon as it was available.  Since the Quakers of Sandy Spring were affluent enough to purchase the new technology, the most we can deduce is that a machine-sewn binding was completed sometime after the 1850s.
Many diaries and letters mention early home use of sewing machines including a letter from Anna Farquhar whose name is inscribed on one of the blocks of the Sandy Spring Quilt.
Sandy Spring Quilt.  Detail of block inscribed with the name of Anna Farquhar. 
 Photo by Joanna Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical\Society,
Rockville, Maryland.
Sometime before her 1865 marriage, Anna Farquhar wrote:  "We reached home without any adventures this morning and I soon seated myself at the sewing machine but could do nothing with it.  Then Miss Mary came down and worried with it an hour without any better success, and I almost gave up, but after dinner Charlie got it to sew a little and this evening it seems to be getting back to its normal good behavior."
Brackman, Barbara.  Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Paducah, KY: American Quilter's Society, 1993.
A significant amount of this post was adapted from an article first published by the American Quilt Study Group.  See Robare, Mary Holton.  "Cheerful and Loving Persistence: Two Historical Quaker Quilts."  In Uncoverings 2007, edited by Joanna E. Evans.  Volume 28 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group.
Special thanks to Joanna Church, Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  See and visit Joanna's blog at
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


October 15, 2013

The American Quilt Study Group Seminar in Charleston, South Carolina

Members of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) held their annual Seminar, which occurs in a different location each year, in Charleston, South Carolina, September 18-23.  The AQSG is an organization of approximately 1,000 quilt and textile enthusiasts including researchers, folklorists, historians, dealers, appraisers, collectors, designers, educators, museum personnel, restorers/conservators, and, of course, quilt makers.  (For more about the group, see the description at left.)

Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 2010.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons,
author Khanrak.
In Charleston, we were blessed with glorious weather consisting of mild temperatures, low humidity, and lovely soft breezes blowing in from the sea.  Over 250 members were in attendance to listen to original research papers, engage in roundtable discussions on a variety of topics, view the quilts that were hung for the event, attend focused Study Centers, network with one another, partake of the local cuisine, and enjoy city, museum and plantation tours.
A break during  research paper presentations.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
Some of Charleston's earliest settlers were a small number of English Quakers who arrived there in the late 1600s and established a burying ground on Archdale Square. In 1696, they built a small meeting house.  As Charleston's Quaker population dwindled during the 18th century, this property was neglected and was deeded to the Society of Friends in Philadelphia in 1812.  It burned in the Queen Street fire of 1837 and was not replaced, although a brick meeting house was erected on the property in 1856 by the Society of Friends in Philadelphia to secure the property.  In 1861, this too burned to the ground.  The property was purchased by the City of Charleston from the Society of Friends in Philadelphia in 1968 and the land was used for a parking garage.  The burials on the property were relocated during the construction of the garage.
Map showing the "Quaker Meeting House" west of the walled city in 1711.  From
 Edward Crisp,"A Compleat Description of the Province of Carolina in 3 Parts, 1711.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A visit to the Charleston Museum's exhibition of quilts and quilt storage area revealed no quilts attributed to makers or recipients known as Quakers.  But the early history of the city was represented by a plethora of chintz broderie perse, pieced, and whole-cloth beauties too beautiful not to share on this blog.  Click on the following Charleston Museum link for a sampling of their quilt collection:
Adding to our chintz indulgence were two excellent, informative, and illustrated research presentations by Merikay Waldvogel (whose paper topic was "Printed Panels from Chintz Quilts: Their Origin and Use") and Sharon Fulton Pinka (who presented her paper, "Lowcountry Chintz: The Townsend/Pope Quilt Legacy").
More than one member was heard saying that all of the paper presentations were wonderful this year!  The other papers presented were "Adirondack Quilts and Comforters: A Regional Study" by Hallie E. Bond, "The 'Cooish' Rescue of the Quilt in Harry Kelly's Cottage" by Dr. Cheryl Cheek, and "Alabama Cotton and Bemis Bags: Pieced into Quilt History" by Sarah Bliss Wright.  These excellent papers are all published in AQSG's research publication for this year titled Uncoverings 2013.  Check the AQSG web site for information about obtaining the publication. 
This year's Seminar was a special one and we thank its organizers and the friendly people of Charleston for an unforgettable experience.
Information about the early Quakers in Charleston was provided by The Preservation Society of Charleston at
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.

October 1, 2013

Deborah Iddings Willson and the Pieced Quilt in Eastern (Blazing) Star Pattern

Pieced quilt in Eastern (Blazing) Star pattern.  Photography by Joanna Church.
Collection of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
This splendid quilt was donated to the Montgomery County Historical Society (MCHS), Rockville, Maryland, by Mary Moore Miller.  It came out of a house built by a Quaker although there are other possibilities for its provenance.  Experts date the quilt to the 1840s based on the fabric's colors and prints, which include a sashing of blue moire.  The size is also worth noting as it is almost nine feet square.  Miller purchased the quilt in 1986 at the "Fairfield" estate sale.  At that time, Fairfield was the home of Deborah (Iddings) Willson (1896-2000).  Those dates are correct.  She died at the age of 103!
Fairfield circa 1950, donated to the MCHS by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.  Courtesy
of the MCHS, Rockville, Maryland.
Fairfield was built by Deborah's Quaker grandfather, Edward Peirce, in 1856.  It is said that his wife, a Moravian named Sophie Kummer, had the first piano in Sandy Spring, Maryland, which "helped break down Quaker opposition to music . . ." in the community.
Detail of the quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the MCHS.
That the quilt came out of the Fairfield house is evidenced by the 1960s inscriptions on its back.  "Bought at Deborah Iddings Willson sale 9-14-1968."  Where there is no other documentation, quilt scholars look for other clues.
Fueling speculation about the origins of the quilt is the Trenton tape with which it is bound.  One article published on The Quilt Index describes it like this:  "Tape binding woven of tan cotton thread, often with a lengthwise blue or green stripe, was used on New Jersey quilts of the 1840s with some regularity."  (We addressed Trenton tape briefly in a previous post of 27 November, 2012 about the Aimwell School Quilt.)
Detail of the Aimwell School Quilt showing "Trenton tape" binding.  Photograph
courtesy of Lisa Hammond.
Until recently, quilt historians suspected this binding was made exclusively in New Jersey but, like many historical ideas, this is open to revision.  The source of its manufacture is unknown, and some feel it might even have been produced by home weavers.  Without further evidence best knowledge states, "Unless this binding is later reported from other locations, the presence of a tan tape binding on a mid-nineteenth century quilt may suggest that it is of New Jersey or at least Delaware Valley origin."
So one wonders how did Deborah Iddings Willson of Maryland come to own this quilt?  Deborah married John Albert Willson in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 1926.  She worked as a second grade teacher in Baltimore and later helped her parents design and produce woven floor coverings.  Some speculate that the quilt was handed down to her through her female Quaker lines.  That practice was customary but certainly not a rule.  Still, examinations of the quilt combined with Deborah's genealogy suggest possible Quaker connections.  We know that "Mrs. Willson was descended from the Peirce and Moore families [Quakers], both of which came to Montgomery County from Pennsylvania in the late 18th century and probably the quilt (or at least the quilting techniques) came with them." (2007 MCHS exhibit label).
Detail of the pieced Quilt in Eastern (Blazing) Star pattern..  Photograph by
Mary Holton Robare.
Many Montgomery County, Maryland, residents settled there after migrating from Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, and many were members of the Religious Society of Friends. But after researching the life of Deborah Iddings Willson one wonders, is it possible the quilt was handed down from another source, or through her music-loving Moravian grandmother's side of the family?
In her obituary, Deborah -- a direct descendent of Quakers and Moravians -- was described as a lifelong Episcopalian.  We will probably never have a definitive attribution for this quilt, let alone one that is Quaker.  However, thanks to a generous donor and an openly sharing historical society, we are able to enjoy the beauty and mysteries of this wonderful, historical quilt.
We wish to thank Joanna Church, Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  Please visit their website as well as Joanna's blog at
Canby, Thomas Y., ed.  "Sandy Spring Legacy."  Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring, Maryland, 1999.
See Cochran, Rachel, Rita Erickson and Barbara Schaffer.  "Characteristics of New Jersey Quilts."
Church, Joanna.  "Label".  2007 Exhibit of Quilts at the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Willson, Deborah Iddings.  Obituary, quoted on the "Find a Grave" website at  Accessed 26 August 2013.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


September 15, 2013

A Variable Star Quilt Top

Last week we had the great pleasure of seeing an unfinished quilt top inscribed with the names of at least two mid-nineteenth century Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends. ( Research is just beginning to further identify the people whose names appear on the quilt top.) The top displays inscribed dates of 1844 and 1845 and measures 87 X 87 inches.  Many of its forty-one square blocks, sixteen triangles, and four quarter-blocks contain names.

Variable Star Quilt Top.  Collection of Nancy Hahn.  All photographs by
Mary Holton Robare.
Both men's and women's names appear on the quilt top, but just one couple is represented together in one inscription, although we do not know why -- or for whom -- the blocks were compiled.  The block inscribed with the names of the couple was placed nearer a corner (rather than the center) of the quilt top.  Whatever the role the couple played in this quilt project, they were fascinating people.
The quilt top owner's initial research discovered Daniel and Hannah T. Longstreth (inscription seen below) were prominent Friends.  Daniel married Hannah Townsend on 25 December 1832 at the Green Street Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, twelve years before this top was inscribed.  They were both clerks of Quaker Meetings.  Hannah was an ardent abolitionist and a friend of Lucretia Mott.  She was also a member of a relief organization that sewed and prepared supplies and clothing for soldiers during the Civil War.

Several blocks include hand-drawn art.  As a serious collector of antique quilting tools, the owner explained there were elaborate stamps available at the time.  However, stamps did not produce the finely-described lines and evenly applied ink to the degree seen in this quilt top's inscriptions.  Two  of our favorites are seen below.

One bonus of seeing unfinished work is that, because it is unused, the colors are still vibrant.
It is also fascinating to see how blocks were constructed.  In at least one case, the maker pieced fabrics so that the pattern on the front would match-up, as seen in the foreground of the image below.
Thank you to Nancy Hahn for sharing her wonderful quilt top, and to Georgina Fries of Bellwether Dry Goods for additional observations.
Jordan, John W. LL. D., ed.  Colonial Families of Philadelphia, Volume II.  New York & Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1911.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.