May 1, 2015

The Emlen-Williams Quilt Revisited

We introduced you to the Emlen-Williams quilt on July 4, 2012 in a post about the placement of names on the surface of Quaker signature quilts.  This silk wedding quilt, a holding of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library, demonstrates a practice of grouping the names of close family members at the center of a quilt with the names of more distant relatives, friends, and neighbors radiating out toward the quilt's edge - a practice that is often observed on Quaker signature quilts.

The Emlen-Williams Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum,
Gardens & Library, Winterthur, Delaware.
This quilt was made in 1851 to commemorate the marriage of Sarah Williams and Samuel Emlen of Philadelphia.  It measures 79 inches by 98 1/2 inches and is a pieced, silk friendship quilt displaying a star and triangle pattern (sometimes referred to as the LeMoyne pattern). Ninety-one names were placed on the quilt but, due to silk deterioration and the fading of some of the ink, just more than seventy of these names are still legible.  The legible inscriptions were both hand-written and stamped.
A beautifully inscribed name appearing on The Emlen-Williams quilt.  Photograph
by Mary Holton Robare with permission of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library.
Mary Holton Robare inspecting The Emlen-Williams Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of
Mary Holton Robare.
Samuel Emlen (1829-1920) married Sarah Williams (1830-1913), the daughter of George Guest and Hannah Newlin Williams, in Philadelphia on September 30, 1851 at the Sixth Street Meetinghouse of the Religious Society of Friends.
Samuel, the son of James and Sarah Farquhar (nee Foulke) Emlen, was one of a long line of Emlens descended from George Emlen who migrated to America soon after William Penn arrived in this country.  George married in Philadelphia in 1685 and was a vintner by profession.  His line produced a series of George Emlens, one of whom was his grandson, George, carrying on the trade of brewer established by his father (also a George).  (Although the Emlens were Quakers, the production of wine and beer was considered an honorable profession at the time and was not frowned upon.)  The grandson was financially successful in his inherited trade and established a county seat in Whitemarsh Valley to which he and his family permanently moved during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777.  There, they hosted General George Washington and his staff from November 2nd through December 11th, 1777 while Washington conducted a series of skirmishes against General Howe's British troops before moving on to Valley Forge for the winter encampment.
George Emlen's estate in Whitemarsh Valley where he hosted General George Washington
in 1777.  Source of image: Wikimedia Commons.
Samuel and Sarah lived with her parents in Philadelphia after their marriage but in 1860 began to build a large house at 121 West Coulter Street in Georgetown, moving there in the early spring of 1861.  Sarah's parents moved with them to the new house and remained there for the rest of their lives.
Samuel had practiced law and engaged in business while living in Philadelphia.  After the move to Germantown, he ran a seed and agricultural equipment business (census records list his profession as "agriculturalist") and he also became a practicing Quaker minister.  After retirement in 1891, Samuel devoted himself to religious and philanthropic work.
Over the years, Samuel and Sarah had seven children, two of whom died young of diphtheria.  Sarah's life after marriage was, by necessity, largely devoted to the care of her children and, eventually, to the care of her parents, although census records show that she and Samuel enjoyed the help of live-in servants to help on the several acres of land that surrounded their home, attend to the farm animals, and perform domestic duties indoors.
Sarah Williams Emlen about 1900.  Gift of descendants of Sarah and Samuel Emlen to the Winterthur
Museum, Gardens & Library.  Use of photo courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library.
Katherine A. Hunt, in analyzing the names on Sarah's wedding quilt, was able to glean information about Sarah's premarital social life by identifying her relationships to those named on the quilt.  The relationships of those represented on Quaker signature quilts, in particular, reveal the community and social networks of the quilt maker(s), quilt recipient(s), or both.
Sarah was only twenty years old when she married Samuel.  Until that time, the names on her quilt indicate that her community and social networks included: 1) her immediate family and close relatives; 2) associates of both Sarah and Samuel from the Westtown Boarding School - a popular and prestigious Quaker school serving Philadelphia and surrounding communities which they both attended; 3) neighbors, friends, and family members who attended the same Quaker meeting and lived near the Williams family in the Franklin Square area of Philadelphia; and, 4) members and associates of The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.
Quaker women associated with the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and its several Monthly Meeting venues heavily contributed their time and financial support to a variety of philanthropic causes and organizations in the area.  The Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor was founded in 1795 by a few young Quaker women, including Anne Parrish who was also a founding member of the Aimwell School, for the purpose of offering relief and employment to poor women who were willing and able to work.  It was formally incorporated by unmarried members of the Society on January 12, 1815.  Sarah's mother, Hannah Newlin Williams, is cited by Katherine Hunt as having been a contributor to the Society starting in 1818, three years after it was formally incorporated.  One of Sarah's cousins, Margaret, was listed as a member in 1850.  Sarah, herself, was first recorded as a member in 1851, the year she married Samuel Emlen, but she appears to have participated actively in its works for some time before her marriage.
"Slightly more than twenty of the individuals who signed Sarah's quilt had an association with the society, and many others had family members who had been involved with it."  (Hunt, 48-49.)  The number of the Society's associates whose names are inscribed on Sarah's quilt indicates that she had a close relationship with them prior to her marriage and probably spent much of her time in support of their philanthropic activities.  A great deal more will be said about this organization in a later post about The House of Industry Quilt owned by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and displayed at the Arch Street Monthly Meetinghouse in Philadelphia.
The names appearing on Sarah's wedding quilt reveal a network of relationships that she enjoyed before marrying Samuel and until moving to their residence in Germantown.  Family relationships would have continued after the move, but Sarah may not have had the opportunity or inclination to maintain strong associations with some of the others named on her quilt, especially as a married woman living on the outskirts of Philadelphia proper with several children to attend.
These last two photographs show detail of The Emlen-Williams Quilt.  Photographs
courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library.
Sarah lived to be eighty-three years old, dying on October 19, 1913 of influenza with bronchitis.  She was still living in the West Coulter Street residence at the time of her death.  Samuel passed away seven years later on December 5, 1920.
Samuel Emlen about 1900.  A gift of descendants of Sarah and Samuel Emlen to the Winterthur
Museum, Gardens and Library.  Use of photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library.
We wish to thank Linda Eaton, Director of Collections & Curator of Textiles, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library for permission to use museum photographs of The Emlen-Williams Quilt and of Sarah and Samuel Emlen.
Sources: census, death, and Quaker meeting records accessed 4/24/2015.
"Early Country Houses: Emlen House & Laverock Hill" in The Challenge, May 2014, a publication of the Springfield Township Historical Society.
Eaton, Linda.  Quilts in a material world, Selections from the Winterthur Collection.  New York: Abrams in association with The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc., 2007.
Emlen Family, One of a Series of Sketches Written by Frank Willing Leach for the Philadelphia North American, 1907-1913, and Brought Down to Date, 1932.  Accessed 4/24/2015 at
Hunt, Katherine A.  "From the Collection:  The Emlen-Williams Quilt, 1851" in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 43-52.
The Constitution, By-Laws and Rules of the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.  Philadelphia: James M. Armstrong, Inc., no date.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2015.



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