August 1, 2015

The Quaker Valley Quilt (Part 1)

Large portions of this post were first published in the American Quilt Study Group quarterly newsletter, Blanket Statements, in 2008.
We have studied dozens of historical quilts.  In addition to studying their designs, materials, and construction techniques, we use genealogical methods to learn about the people who made them.
When we first began doing genealogy, we wrote letters to town and county clerks and mailed them off with a check, sometimes waiting weeks for confirmation of a birth, marriage, or death date.  Standards of proof are the same today.  There is no substitute for hours of cross-referencing and substantiation, or visiting archives in person, but the availability of records online now makes it possible to research the stories behind quilts with less effort and much less time.
Bear in mind that, when investigating names associated with quilts, we cannot rush to ascertain true identities.  Like many other groups, the Quakers used the same names for generations and within families; it is easy to confuse one person for another.  Names and initials inscribed or stitched on quilt blocks are fantastic clues, but they need to be studied in context of oral traditions. as well as other inscribed names, dates, and locations within identifiable communities.
Remember to determine if you are looking at a maiden or married name, cross-reference names with dates, and scrupulously use the process of elimination when many individuals with the same name appear in records.  The process is time-consuming, but worthwhile as it allows us to discover stories of almost forgotten communities.
The Quaker Valley Quilt Given to Menallen Meeting in Honor of William and
Roseanna Wright.  Photograph by John Herr.  Collection of the Menallen Meeting,
Biglerville, Pennsylvania.
Such is the case with investigation into the identities inscribed on blocks of The Quaker Valley Quilt, c. 1850.  The quilt was given in 2007 to the Menallen Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in honor of William and Roseanna Wright whose nineteenth-century ancestors are represented in the quilt's inscriptions.
Detail, The Quaker Valley Quilt.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
This friendship signature quilt has a natural-color backing, a twill tape binding, and is finely quilted in double rows and a variation of a single cable filled with single diagonal lines.  The blocks are constructed in a Sawtooth-like pattern.
Detail, The Quaker Valley Quilt.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
The center of each quilt block except one is inscribed in ink with one or more names.  It appears as if just one or two inscribers wrote all of the names.
According to an unattributed, typed sheet of paper that contains a picture of the quilt, it measures 89 X 100 inches.  Referring to it as a "Patchwork Friendship Quilt in Lady of the Lake Pattern," the paper states that there are over 2700 pieces in the quilt top of 72 blocks, and that: "This quilt was made by the members of the Somerset, PA, Tent Protestant Church and given to the women of the Quaker Valley, PA, Amish Church on Friendship Day around 1850.  It was displayed annually on Friendship Day until the Civil War when it was taken home and kept safe by a member of the Amish community."
Because the quilt was found at an antique dealer's shop in New Market, Maryland, the written provenance (and the pattern name, "Lady of the Lake," which appears to be a name bestowed in the twenty-first century) may have remained the quilt's prevailing history had it not been for serendipitous timing.
Detail, The Quaker Valley Quilt.  Photograph by John Herr.
Remarkably, the quilt's purchase and donation coincided with research conducted by Debra Sandoe McCauslin for her book Yellow Hill: Reconstructing the Past Puzzle of the Lost Community at Yellow Hill (For the Cause Productions, 2007).  McCauslin was already familiar with the many "Wright" and Menallen Meeting members whose names were written on the quilt's blocks.  With help from researcher Judith Pyle, McCauslin located most of the inscribed identities in local Quaker records.
The 1850 residents of Adams County, Pennsylvania, were located quickly because of their appearance in documents related to Menallen Meeting.  By studying birth and death records, maiden versus married surnames, and community events in newspaper accounts and social histories, we determined that between 1847 and 1852 were the most probable years of the quilt's inscriptions.
Detail, The Quaker Valley Quilt.  Photograph by John Herr.
There are 73 signatures on the quilt.  The names of nine men are present, and three quilt blocks contain more than one name.  Some of the inscribed individuals were tracked through census records as having moved west in the mid-nineteenth century.  A search yielded definite connections, such as marriages and family ties, between members of Menallen Meeting and Quakers in Salem, Columbiana County, Ohio.  Other inscribed identities were found requesting membership transfers to, or residing in, Baltimore, Maryland; Putnam County, Illinois; Clayton County, Iowa, and Loudoun County, Virginia.
We will tell you about some particularly interesting signatories in our next post.
Selected Sources:
The authors of this post are grateful to Barclay Brooks, Clerk of Menallen Meeting, for access to The Quaker Valley Quilt and related research materials, and to Gaye Ingram for editing the original article. census records
William Wade Hinshaw.  Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy.  Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, 1938-1950.
Mary Holton Robare.  "As Truth May Direct: The Quaker Valley Quilt" in Blanket Statements, 92, edited by Gaye Ingram.  Lincoln, NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2008.
Unattributed, typed paper, n.d., in "Papers of the Menallen Meeting," Biglerville, Pennsylvania.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.

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