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:  www.shenandoahatwar.org/The-History/The-People/Rebecca-McPherson-Wright and http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507540/.
 
 
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 www.loudounhistory.org/history/underground-railroad.htm.
 
"Summary of Memoirs of Samuel M. Janney" in Documenting the American South at http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/janney/summary.html.
 
 
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 http://www.mosbyheritagearea.org/QuakerSites_FINAL.pdf .

 

 


 
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