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.



1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog while looking at another quilters side bar on her blog and saw a link to your blog. I made a quilt that had 1 block in it that was of this cotton boll and loved it - I am putting you on my feedly reader so I can keep up to you and plan on going back in my spare time to see more of your posts - very interesting research and photos that you have!