April 1, 2013

Quaker Disownment and the Purcell Quilt

Family tradition attributes the 90 1/2 X 86 inch quilt shown below, and referred to by the family as the "Thistle Border Quilt", to Hannah Taylor Purcell (1816-1882).  It is finely hand-quilted in diagonal rows and cross-hatches in natural-colored thread.  Quilted flowers and leafy vines appear on the plain blocks that alternate with the blocks of nine-patch construction.  The 7 1/2 inch wide, thistle-print fabric that borders the quilt is rolled to the back to form a binding.

Purcell Nine-Patch with Thistle Border Quilt, circa 1830.  Photograph by
John Herr.  Private collection.
Hannah Taylor married Lott Purcell on September 12, 1833 in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Lott was reprimanded by Goose Creek Meeting for "marrying out of unity" to a non-member.  The couple later moved to Frederick County, Virginia, where Lott was subsequently disowned for being unwilling to "make any kind of satisfaction" or "acknowledge error" in the matter of his marriage.
Disownment was a common and frequent action taken by 19th century Meetings to express displeasurew with the behavior or actions of their members.  It is important to understand, however, that a Quaker disownment, while painful, was not a shunning.  It was the behavior, not the person, that Meetings wished to disown and these behaviors included such things as neglecting attendance at meetings, training in the militia, "frolicking and dancing", marrying outside of the faith, even simply attending a non-Quaker wedding.
As much as the practice was painfully abused, like most things Quaker it is important to look at specific times and circumstances.  According to a history of Hopewell Friends, persons "offending or failing to live up to the rules of discipline were under dealings by the monthly or business meeting, but might give satisfaction by signing a written statement that they had come to a 'sight' and 'sense' of their offenses and had experienced a true repentance.  That the individual might do this was in all cases the desire of the meeting."
Some disownments tore relationships apart.  Other times, even without a satisfactory resolution between an offender and a Meeting, the disowned could retain close connections with their Quaker friends and family.  In 1837, Lott Purcell's parents and siblings transferred their membership to Hopewell Monthly Meeting in Frederick County, Virginia, where Lott was enumerated as "Lot Pursell" in the U.S. Federal Census of 1840.  Lott died in 1850, leaving Hannah with many children (between six and eight in number according to various records).
Interestingly, although they are not found in Quaker records following Lott's disownment, Hannah and Lott are both buried in a Quaker graveyard near the gravesites of Lott's parents and other family members.  The burial ground adjoins the former site of the Upper Ridge Meetinghouse on Apple Pie Ridge Road in Frederick County.
Upper Ridge Cemetery, Frederick County, Virginia.  Photograph by Mary
Holton Robare.
Gravestone of Hannah Taylor Purcell.  Photograph by
Mary Holton Robare.
Purcell Nine Patch with Thistle Border Quilt, detail.  Photograph by John Herr.
The Thistle Border Quilt attributed to Hannah is the oldest of several quilts made over a span of three generations that were handed down to descendants.  One hundred and eighty years after it was made, the family considered it a "Quaker quilt".
Hinshaw, William Wade.  Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. VI (Virginia).  Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1946.
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


  1. Interesting, this disownement, but rather sad?! Nice little nine-patch - thanks for the post!

  2. Very interesting! Especially for me because Arden, where I believe our quilts were made, is at the foot of North Mountain in WV, which runs into Apple Pie Ridge in Virginia! Perhaps this family was acquainted with the Quakers who gave Apple Pie Ridge it's name.

    1. Please get in touch with us at lchen@saber.net. We would like to learn more about your quilts! Thanks, Lynda & Mary

  3. This practice was common in the early Presbyterian churches in the South too. Not called "disownment," but the offending member was not eligible to take communion and membership was nullified unless and until reformation was evident. Because the church community generally was the only community, ex-communication was serious business. The things that weakened the Presbyterian Church's hold were the Great Awakenings of the early 19th-century and hormones. The Awakenings were anti-rational, and the huge camp meetings that were their vehicle were charged with emotion. Young people who otherwise never would have met came together under these highly emotional conditions, and many married outside their church communities. Families were loath to have their children criticized or ex-communicated, and they often left the church. During this time the Baptist and Methodist churches nabbed many a Presbyterian and grew to be the most numerous churches in the South. Neither emphasized the need for literacy and formal theological study for ministers, and of course, the Presbyterian Church saw both as necessary.

    1. Thanks, Gaye, for this interesting information.