November 15, 2015

"Tell Her Please Be Saving Calico Peices [sic] for Hannah for She is Making a Quilt and We Never Get Calico Here"

With these words, Anna Briggs Bentley asked a family member to remind her mother to save calico pieces for a quilt her daughter was making.  The letter was written 12th mo 14th, 1834 to relatives in Maryland from Green Hill, the Bentley's homestead in Columbiana County, Ohio.

Tile silo - all that remained of Green Hill in 2002.  Photograph by
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Anna, her husband Joseph and their six children at the time migrated to Ohio in 1826 from depleted family land near Sandy Spring, Maryland.  They settled near Salem, Ohio, a town founded in 1806 by Quakers Zadok Street and John Stranghan.  Ohio was very much a frontier in 1826 and the Bentleys had to clear land before they could begin farming and raising crops for sale, barter, and to feed their family. Times were particularly difficult, with little or no cash to buy life's necessities.  The Bentleys, like so many new settlers in the area, had to rely, in part, upon the generosity, sharing, and labor of their neighbors and fellow-Quakers to get through the early years at Green Hill.
 
Anna was a prolific letter-writer, corresponding with members of her family whenever she could take time from her continuous child-bearing, illnesses, and household and gardening chores.  Fortunately, her letters have been preserved by the Maryland Historical Society and, edited by Emily Foster, were published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2002 as American Grit, A  Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  This remarkable collection of correspondence gives an untarnished view of life on the American frontier in the early 19th century and the hardships endured by early settlers.
 
Anna's letters, themselves, testify to the scarcity of cash and the products one would normally be able to obtain easily in cities farther east.  Paper was a commodity she often lacked and so made efficient use of what little she had, when she had it.  She wrote horizontally across each page as one would normally do, but then turned the page sideways and wrote horizontally across what she had written.  This technique is readable (try it!), conserved paper, and also reduced the cost of postage.  An example of this technique is shown below on a letter in the archives of Haverford College.
 
Portion of a letter from William D. Cope to Henry Cope, October 22, 1826.
From the Cope Evans Family Papers.  Courtesy of Quaker and Special Collections,
Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania.
 
Paper was not the only thing Anna lacked during the early years at Green Hill.  Without sufficient cash income, she constantly struggled to keep her family clothed.  Once they had a small herd of sheep, wool became available to her which she, her neighbors, and her children carded, washed, and spun into yarn for making stockings and knitted items, or delivered to a local fuller who processed it into either woolen cloth or a linen/wool fabric known as linsey-woolsey.
 
Purchased photograph of an unknown girl spinning wool.  Collection of
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Much of the family clothing was made from "linsey" as Anna called it.  She wrote on 1st mo 22nd, 1832:  "Thy fears, dear Mother, were too true with regard to our not getting our linsey in time.  It was taken to the fulling mill the week before the freezing cold weather began and there it staid till last 2nd day.  We got the 20 yds fulled for the he part of the family.  I cut out a pair of pantaloons for Jos 2nd day night and finished them, a monstrous pair for our monstrous Aaron, and a pair for Franklin I finished after midnight last night. [. . .]  The linsey is very good.  The other 29 yds for the she folks will be done tomorrow week."  (Foster, 136-137.)
 
The wool and linsey-woolsey cloth, along with flannel made of woolen yarn, formed the basis of the Bentley family wardrobe.  This, their utilitarian clothing, was supplemented by shipments of used clothing and, sometimes, fabric sent to them by their relatives back in Maryland.
 
Anna wrote about one of these shipments during 8th mo 1829.  She described a large box of childrens' clothing as follows:  "There was an excellent black coat that looks like silk, a pr of cinnamon-colored trousers, ditto a very handsome buff waistcoat for Granville, a pair of nice silk stripe drilling, 1 of linnen drilling and one of light stripe pantaloons for Franklin, a waistcoat, 8 shirts, and a nice blue cloth coat with J. Kempton's name in the lining (I don't know how it came there) for Franklin, a pr drilling trousers  and 8 coats and great coat and hat for Thomas, an excellent most new furred hat for Granville, a leghorn for Franklin, a pretty little leghorn which I have trimmed for Aliceanna, a calico frock for Maria, one for Hannah, a gingham for Deborah.  Oh dear, this ain't near all [. . .].  (Foster, 102.)
 
By way of explanation, drilling is defined by Florence M. Montgomery in Textiles in America 1650-1870 as "a heavy linen cloth."  She defines gingham as "a striped cloth woven with multiple-stranded warps and wefts and noted for toughness of texture.  In the West, it was a cloth of pure cotton woven with dyed yarns often in stripes and checks."  Montgomery quotes Thomas Sheraton's Encyclopedia (1804-07) to provide a broad definition of calicos.  "In commerce a sort of cloth resembling linen made of cotton.  The name is taken from that of Calicut, the first place in which the Portuguese landed when they discovered the Indian trade [. . .]  Calicoes are of different kinds, plain, printed, stained, dyed, chintz, muslins, and the like all included under the general denomination of calicoes."  Leghorns were hats made from the straw of an Italian wheat and imported into America from Livorno (a city previously called Leghorn).  They were popular in various styles from the early 1800s but especially during the 1860s.
 
Plate from Godey's Ladies Book showing Godey's Fashions for June 1864. 
 The women are wearing leghorn hats made of straw and variously decorated.
 
On 8th mo 14, 1830, Anna wrote to her sister near Elkton, Maryland.  This letter reveals some of the types of fabric available to those living in Ohio by that time.  She wrote: "What a change there is in the dress of the people here since we came.  Then 1 decent calico and plenty of homemade was sufficient; now there is scarcely an old woman of my acquaintance that could not count 3 nice dresses to my 1.  They have their silks, pongees, bombazets, merinos, while poor me is as contented as any of them when I can put on a clean, whole (ragged and dirty I will not go) calico dress with cape of the same."  (Foster, 173.)
 
A variety of 19th century calico pieces.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
 
Montgomery cites a trader in 1807 who wrote that "pongee is a peculiar kind of silk, very strong and wears a great while, that it may be had of all colors and of different qualities."  (Montgomery, 327.)  Bombazet was a worsted cloth of either plain or twill weave finished without glaze.  Merino was cloth woven from the wool of merino sheep.
 
By 1836, calico was being produced in large quantities in America.  Susan W. Greene cites Leander Bishop as saying that by 1836 "the United States printed one hundred and twenty million yards of calicoes.  The Hudson Calico Print Works of Marshall, Carville and Taylor was in a high state of efficiency, having 42 block printers and five printing machines, two of which printed four colors at a time, and three of them three colors.  The machines were all of the best models in England whence they had been recently imported [. . .]."  (Greene, 47.)
 
A variety of calicos in a four-poster child's bed quilt from the 19th century.
Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
 
Anna's 1834 plea for calico pieces for Hannah's quilt seems to relate more to her isolation on the Ohio frontier and her lack of access to both the cash and dry goods needed to obtain it than to its general availability.  Some of the family calico dresses she refers to were existing dresses sent to her by relatives back east to be modified for her use or the use of her daughters.  Calico was, in fact, available - just not easily available to Anna.
 
Sources:
 
Bishop, J. Leander.  A History of American Manufactures 1608-1860.  Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1868.
 
Foster, Emily (ed.).  American Grit, A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
 
Greene, Susan W.  Wearable Prints, 1760-1860, History, Materials, and Mechanics.  Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2014.
 
Montgomery, Florence M.  Textiles in America 1650- 1870 with Foreword by Linda Eaton.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 


November 1, 2015

Remembering Frances Slocum

Two of the contemporary quilts displayed at Indiana State Museum as part of the 19 Stars exhibit were conceived and made by internationally-known fabric artist Penny Sisto.  Penny was born in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland and, while working for the British Ministry of Overseas Development, served as midwife and clinic assistant in health facilities for the Maasai, LuBukusu and Kikuyu tribes in East Africa.  Here she learned to add beading and collage methods to the needlework skills of embroidery, applique, and quilting she had learned from her grandmother.

Penny Sisto.  Our thanks to Penny for permission to use this photograph.
 
Penny's studio is in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, where she makes figural art quilts, many related to social justice issues.  When Indiana State Museum decided to display quilts in celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial, Penny offered two of her remarkable quilts based on Indiana history and the real-life story of Frances Slocum.
 
There are several early accounts of the story of Frances Slocum as well as more recent books and blog posts concerning her life.  These accounts differ on some points but the basic story is provided here.  Frances was one of ten children born to Jonathan and Ruth Tripp Slocum, a Quaker couple residing in Warwick, Rhode Island, until they left for the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania in 1777.  Here they found British troops and Native American tribes engaged in the Revolutionary War against Americans.  Other families fled the area in July 1778 when the Battle of Wyoming erupted and the British forces, in alliance with Seneca warriors, destroyed a fort near Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where the Slocums lived.  Over 300 settlers were killed during this battle and its aftermath.  Believing that their non-combative Quaker faith and friendly relations with local Native Americans would protect them, the Slocums remained where they were.  Later that fall, their homestead was attacked by three Delaware tribesmen while the men of the family were away and Frances, then age five, was abducted while her mother looked on in horror.
 
"The Capture of  Frances Slocum", a print appearing in the late 1860s in tabloid
accounts of the abduction.
 
By one account, Frances was traded to a childless Miami couple for animal pelts shortly after her kidnapping.  This couple adopted her as their own child and cared for her as she grew into a beautiful young woman with distinctive auburn hair.  They named her Maconaquah, Miami for Little Bear, and Frances easily assumed their customs and language.  She married a Delaware man named Tuck Horse in 1790 but the marriage was an unhappy one marked by domestic violence, prompting her to leave Tuck Horse and return to her adoptive parents.
 
Some time later, Maconaquah was walking through the forest and came upon a man who had been injured in battle.  He was a Miami warrior named Shepcoconah and Maconaquah led him home where she and her adoptive parents nursed him to health.  Once able, Shepcoconah helped Maconaquah's father provide meat and other game for the family.  Before her father died, he gave Maconaquah to Shepcoconah to be his wife.
 
Shepcoconah moved the family to Indiana after the War of 1812.  There they lived on the banks of the Mississinnewa River near Peru.  Shepcoconah became Chief of the Miami but gradually lost his hearing and stepped down as Chief.  During this time, he and Maconaquah had four children; two daughters who survived to adulthood and two sons who did not.
 
After foregoing his chiefdom, Shepcoconah moved the family farther up river about nine miles above Peru, Indiana.  Here he built a large log house for them as well as a trading post.  Soon a settlement of both whites and Native Americans grew up around the house and trading post - a settlement called Deaf Man's Village with a population of 1,154 by 1830.
 
Deaf Man's Village.  Watercolor by George Winter, 1839.  Courtesy of the
Tippecanoe County Historical Association, Lafayette, Indiana.
 
In 1835, an Indian trader named Colonel George Ewing, who spoke fluent Miami, encountered the light-skinned Maconaquah while at the trading post and inquired about her background.  She revealed to him that she was white, having been abducted fifty-seven years before by Delaware warriors.
 
Picture of Frances Slocum, signed Jennie Brownscombe, from the book Frances Slocum; The Lost
Sister of Wyoming by Martha Bennett Phelps, 1916.  Source of image: Creative Commons,
 
Ewing sent a letter recounting his meeting with Maconaquah to the postmaster of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who was also the publisher of the local newspaper, The Lancaster Intelligencer.  Nothing was done with the letter until August 1837 when a new owner of the newspaper came across it and published this part of Ewing's letter:  "There is now living in this place among the Miami Tribe of Indians, an aged white woman who, a few days ago told me that she was taken away from her father's house on or near the Susquehanna River when she was very young.  She says her father's name was Slocum, that he was a Quaker and wore a large-brimmed hat."
 
The Slocum family had unsuccessfully searched for Frances from the day she was abducted.  When they got word of the letter, they began corresponding with Colonel Ewing and two of Frances's brothers and one of her sisters made a trip to Deaf Man's Village to try to identify their sister.  Her identity was confirmed by an injury to one of her fingers inflicted by one of her brothers with a hammer when they were children.  A second meeting took place while they were there. This one was in Peru with Maconaquah traveling to her family bearing a haunch of venison as a gift.  They tried to convince her to return with them to Pennsylvania but she refused, preferring to live among the people, customs, and language of her childhood and maturity. 
 
A treaty between the Miami and the U.S. Government enacted in 1840 threatened to cause the forced removal of Maconaquah, her family, and other tribal members to Kansas.  She appealed this provision, requesting permission for her family to stay.  Her case was argued by John Quincy Adams before Congress and she and her heirs were granted by law the land where they lived in the amount of one square mile (640 acres).  Maconaquah died at her home on March 9, 1847.  She was seventy-four years old and was buried next to the log cabin where her husband and two sons were buried.  In 1900, both her white and Native American descendants erected a monument to her and her husband on the site.
 
The grave of Frances Slocum, Slocum Cemetery, Somerset, Indiana.  Author: Sarah Stierch. 
Source of image: Creative Commons.
 
The story of Maconaquah inspired Penny Sisto to make two quilts related to Frances and her life.  The first, titled Frances Slocum's Landscape, is shown below.
 
Frances Slocum's Landscape.  Maker: Penny Sisto.  Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Use of photograph courtesy of Penny Sisto and Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana.
 
Penny shared this about the work by email:  "The portrait quilt shows Frances Slocum as an older woman who stands strong in her Journey.  She is steadfast and yet in her eyes a great sorrow hides.  She is a woman who has had to find her own place in the universe.  I show her in 'see spirit' as a white Crane - graceful, still, and a good hunter/provider."  (By "see spirit", Penny means that when she visualizes Frances's Medicine Spirit, she sees her as a White Crane.)
 
The second quilt, titled Frances Slocum's Totem, captures the child's memories of her abduction.
 
Frances Slocum's Totem.  Maker: Penny Sisto. Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
Use of photograph courtesy of Penny Sisto and Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana.
 
In Penny's words:  "The totem quilt shows the child Frances Slocum remembering her kidnapping as a child would, in a series of vignettes - the men on horseback, bright flashes of color and faces against the moon lit sky.  Her adopted Grandmother speaking to her about the snowy white Medicine deer, the visions she saw in the tipi by the fire, Grandmother morphing to Sacred Bear, Leaping Salmon in the rivers.  The memories stack one atop the other forming a totem."
 
We are grateful to Penny for sharing her thoughts and for helping us introduce you to her remarkable quilts.
 
Sources:
 
Ancestry.com Public Member Trees, Stauton/Stanton Family Tree, accessed 10/25/2015.
 
Cottman, George S.  "Sketch of Frances Slocum" in The Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1905.
 
 
 
McKinney, Helen E.  "Frances Slocum: White Woman In a Native American Culture" in Pioneer Times USA, An Online Journal of Living History, at http://www.graphicenterprises.net/html/frances_slocum.html.
 
Personal correspondence with Penny Sisto.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.