November 15, 2014

A Quaker Cotton Boll Quilt from North Carolina

Our last post featured a circa 1880 Pineapple Quilt.  This time we are sharing another quilt that is  dominated by yellow/orange fabric.  This one displays an elegance of technique and refinement highlighted by simplicity.  It is estimated to have been made sometime during the period 1870-1885.

Cotton Boll Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
The Cotton Boll Quilt measures 82 by 72 inches and is comprised of nine blocks that are approximately 25 inches wide and 28 1/2 inches long.  The blocks are hand-pieced together and the quilting stitches on the white portion of the quilt are 16 per inch.  The number of stitches on the teal appliqued elements total 12 per inch.  This is perhaps because the quilting of these elements was through three, rather than two, pieces of fabric.  The quilt's binding is hand-basted and machine-sewn.  The hand-basting threads have not been removed.

Detail of block and double-row, cross-hatch quilting.  Cotton Boll Quilt.
Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
Detail of quilting stitches on teal elements.  Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
Detail of quilting from the back.  The pattern of the cotton boll is outline-quilted.
Photograph courtesy of Lisa Hammell.
The cotton boll pattern, also referred to as Chrysanthemum, is an example of adopting an image of local flora to produce a quilt pattern.  North Carolina Quilts, the publication resulting from the North Carolina Quilt Project, cites four cotton boll quilts, one of which was made by Temperance Neely Smoot in about 1860.  Its fabrics have faded from what was probably a red and green motif to a color motif that now appears orange/red and muted green.  Another cotton boll quilt in the same publication is attributed to Frances Johnson (1782-1872). This one is red and green with a Flying Geese sashing and border.  It is also dated 1860.  (Roberson, 93 and 94.)
An article about a modern cotton boll quilt posted to the Internet by the Upstate [South Carolina] Heritage Quilt Trail states that the cotton boll pattern "is a traditional Carolina block made in the late 19th century."  The tradition has been to place the applique pattern on a white background surrounded by Flying Geese sashing and a Flying Geese border.
Family tradition has it that our featured cotton boll quilt passed down through a Quaker family.  The owner's former father-in-law is descended from a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family, the Biddles.  Robert and William C. Biddle, along with a group of ten other, mostly-Quaker Philadelphia residents settled Riverton, New Jersey, in 1851 to build summer homes away from the industrialization that was over-running the Schulylkill River.
Wernwag Bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.  View of the South
Gardens at Fairmount Water Works, ca. 1830.  Photograph courtesy of Adam Levine,
Historical Consultant, Philadelphia Water Department.  Image source:
The Cotton Boll Quilt is believed to have been made by Sarah White (born 1860), one of three daughters born to David White, Jr. (1823-1895) and Isabella Wilson (1830-1899).  David and Isabella White lived in Perquimans County, North Carolina, with their family.  One of David's and Isabella's three sons, David White III (1870-1923), received his unmarried sister's quilt after she passed away.
David White III later married Henryanna Clay Hackney (1876-1913) and they had a daughter named Priscilla Henryanna White (1913-1971).  While attending Guilford College in North Carolina, Priscilla met and married Charles Miller Biddle (1911-2006) who was also attending this Quaker school.  The Cotton Boll Quilt passed down from David White III to his daughter, Priscilla Henryanna Biddle, and from there made its way to the current owner.
Perquimans River, North Carolina.  Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.
Sarah White and her parents are recorded in census records as living in Perquimans County from at least the 1850s through the 1880s.  Sarah's father, David White, Jr., is listed in 1850, before Sarah was born, as a farmer/tanner.  He is listed as a farmer in 1860, 1870, and in 1880 when he was fifty-nine years old and Sarah was nineteen.
The 1870 census indicates that the family had an extensive farm with a property value of $7,000 and with personal property worth $1,500.  (These combined amounts are equivalent to $154,342.81 in 2013 dollars.)  The family also had five servants and field workers, three of whom were free blacks by the last name of Riddick.  Cotton was a prevalent crop in North Carolina at the time and it is quite possible that the Whites devoted some or all of their fields to cotton.  If this is the case, its presence may have inspired Sarah to choose a cotton boll pattern for her quilt.

This lovely quilt will be featured as one of those for sale December 2-4, 2014 at  For more information, contact Lisa Hammell at
Our thanks to Lisa for letting us share this colorful and attractive quilt.
Sources: census and Public Family Tree records, accessed October 10-15, 2014
Hammell, Lisa.  "Genealogical Notes," October 20, 2014.
Roberson, Ruth Haislip, ed.  North Carolina Quilts.  North Carolina Quilt Project, 1988.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.



November 1, 2014

An Almost-Quaker Pineapple Quilt & Southern Union Spies

Today's post concerns this sweet, applique quilt with an estimated date of ca. 1880.  The pattern is identified in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique as (not surprisingly) "Pineapple".

Pineapple Quilt, ca. 1880.  Private collection.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
Although we can't document the quilt to a Quaker maker, we are presenting it here because its owner calls it a "Quaker quilt", and because it opens the way to some fascinating Quaker history.  In the course of studying Quaker quilts, we frequently run into quilts that are cherished for their connection to Quaker forebears, even if the actual maker is unknown.
The quilt was brought to our attention because the husband of the person who handed it down in the family was descended from the Hollingworths, Quaker settlers in Winchester, Virginia. The quilt owner's husband was also a descendant of the Wrights of Frederick County, Virginia.  The owner so closely identified with this family that when she had the opportunity to visit the Wright family homestead toward the end of her life, it felt like a pilgrimage to her roots.  Before we tell you more about the Wrights, let's look at the quilt.
Measuring 67 1/4 by 84 inches, its twenty 15 by 15 inch blocks are separated by one inch sashing.  It is quilted in diagonal rows, cross-hatching, and with stitches that outline the applique.  The backing is seamed and it has an applied binding.
Details, Pineapple Quilt.  Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.
With an estimated date of ca. 1880, it is the search for a probable maker or first-owner that leads to the story of Southern Union Spies.  Family tradition is that the quilt belonged to Esther (Riggin) Raymond.  Born in 1918, she was too young to be the original maker or owner. Esther's mother, Edith (born 1878), was also too young to have made a quilt ca. 1880.  There is no way of knowing who made the quilt, but the investigation into Edith's ancestry gets interesting.
Edith's mother, America "Mae" Hughey (1856-1933), was from Ohio.  If she made the quilt, there is no indication she was a Quaker.  However, she was married in 1874 to a birthright Quaker, Jonathan T. Wright of Frederick County, Virginia.  Thus, IF (being highly speculative) she made the quilt, we might call it "almost Quaker".
Of more importance here, however, is history associated with Jonathan T. Wright's sister, Rebecca -a famous female Quaker and Civil War spy.
Rebecca M. Wright (1838-1914).  Image courtesy of the Southern Unionists Chronicles website. 
Jonathan and Rebecca were two of several children born to Rachel (Lupton) and Amos Wright.  Amos was known as a Union sympathizer, as was his daughter Rebecca.  She worked as a young teacher before deciding (in about 1854) to study further at a "Friends School in Loudoun County, under the direction of Samuel M. Janney."   This school, unnamed in accounts, was most likely Springdale, the boarding school founded by Janney in 1839 and operated in Loudoun County until his retirement in 1855.  Its mission was to provide a "guarded education" for young women.
Springdale, Loudoun County, Virginia.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
It has been long-rumored that the school's building was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad but this has not been satisfactorily verified to scholars.  What is known, however, is that Janney's "anti-slavery efforts included founding Sunday schools and day schools for African American children, lobbying the District of Columbia to abolish slavery, and supporting emancipation and colonization societies."  His influence was profound.
Despite a public stance of neutrality, Quakers (not all but many) tended to be Union sympathizers due to their general disapproval of slavery.  In the town of Winchester, Virginia, sentiments were so sharply divided between all residents that the town changed hands over seventy times in the course of the Civil War.
It was in the fall of 1864 that Rebecca Wright was recommended to General Sheridan as a "person of Union loyalty, who might be able to give information on the Confederate forces."  In seeking a trusted go-between for communications with Rebecca Wright, Sheridan found Thomas Laws, "a black slave from Clarke County."
Thomas Laws.  Photograph excerpted from Winchester Star newspaper article.  The image
depicts a sketch of Thomas Laws from the James E. Taylor Sketchbook. The caption states
that, "[...] the Laws sketch was probably from a picture that Laws sent to [Taylor] in 1894."  Star
photo courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society.
Laws was the courier for notes exchanged between Rebecca Wright and General Sheridan.  The notes were written on tissue paper and wrapped in tinfoil which Laws was instructed to hold in his mouth en route. He was further instructed to swallow the packets in the event of capture.
Newspaper writer Val Van Meter states that the information exchanged was "[...] responsible for the timing of the Third Battle of Winchester and the Union Army's subsequent conquest of the Shenandoah Valley."
Indications are that Thomas Laws lived in Clarke County, Virginia, for the rest of his life.  When Rebecca's role in the events leading up to the Confederates' defeat was discovered, she was hated in her hometown.  She recalled boys spitting on her in the streets, and being called names such as "Traitor of the South".  Deciding to leave Winchester after the Civil War, she secured a job in the United States Treasury Department with the help of General Sheridan.
You can learn more of this story from our list of sources and you can see a ca. 1889 image of Rebecca on these websites: and
Sources and Notes:
Special thanks are extended to Ruth Raymond, Karen Colley, and Barbara Garrett.
You can see another Pineapple Quilt dated 1850-1875 on The Quilt Index, Record # 1E-3D-2F2.
Scheel, Eugene.  "Underground Railroad-Journey to Freedom Was Risky for Slaves and Guides" in The History of Loudoun County, Virginia at
"Summary of Memoirs of Samuel M. Janney" in Documenting the American South at
Van Meter, Val.  "Teacher, Slave Unite to Help Union After Course of Civil War" in The Winchester Star, 13 September, 2014.
Williams, Kimberly.  Quaker Sites in Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County, Virginia: The Mosby Heritage Area Association, not dated, at .