January 1, 2016

An Old Robinson Family Quilt

Robinson Family Quilt, c. 1840, on display at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical
Society.  Collection of the family of J. Kenneth Robinson.  All photographs of this quilt by
Mary Holton Robare.
This eight-pointed star quilt, estimated c. 1840, was handed down for generations with a note attached describing it as an "old Robinson family quilt."  The quilt measures 93.5 X 95.5 inches including its 5 inch-wide border.  The blocks measure 7 X 7 inches, and the back, consisting of 35 inch-wide muslin panels, was rolled to the front to form a binding.  The quilting is done in double and triple rows.
Like many quilts this old, there is staining and deterioration of fabric, yet it still provides windows into history.
The Robinsons are a fascinating and powerful family in the history of Winchester and Frederick County, Virginia.  They appear frequently in the Quaker records of Hopewell Monthly and Centre Meeting.  The father of the current owner was James Kenneth Robinson (1916-1990).  A prominent orchardist and businessman, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Virginia State Senator for many years.
Friends Meeting at Winchester, Virginia, 6/3/1928.  The meeting house is on the corner
 of Piccadilly and Washington Streets. J. Kenneth Robinson as a child is seen farthest
right, front row.  Source of image: The Robert MacKay Clan family history website.
J. Kenneth was the son of Ray (1883-1948) and Ida Helen (Robinson) Robinson.  They shared a last name and were distant cousins, so the quilt could have been made by any number of Robinson ancestors. Some explanation for the prevalence of the Robinson surname rests with the sheer number of descendants who stayed in one locale.  Here is some family information from a history, titled The Robinson Family, published in 1909.
"From the very earliest settlement of the Valley, this family name appears.  Some trace of their entrance to this Shenandoah section, from the head springs of Robinsons River, which are found East of the Blue Ridge, referred to in Lord Fairfax's grant as his starting point.  The family is of Irish origin; and some have thought they came with the immigration that came direct from Ireland through the influence of the Scotch Irish element that settled in the Valley in 1734-8.  The ancestor of this branch of the family was James Robinson, who was a noted Irish weaver.  There are so many descendants of this old emigrant that we will only mention a few names familiar in the Back Creek section during the 19th Century, commencing with Andrew A. Robinson, who was born in this section 1781.  He was the father of Archibald, Jackson, James, Jonathan, Mary Jane, David, Josiah, Joseph, Andrew A., and William, and perhaps more.  Following the various lines, we find the name quite numerous.  Nearly all those named are dead, having filled out their useful lives principally as farmers, noted for their good management.  Their homes were attractive and unstinted hospitality prevailed.  Connected with the Society of Friends, they were non-combatants during all wars, though several of this name appear during the Revolutionary War as soldiers.  During the Civil War, they were for the Union."   (Cartmell, 473.)
This detail of the Robinson Family Quilt shows one of the quilt's four pinwheel corners.
While there are too many Robinson ancestors in the line to count, we can trace at least one direct line to a known quilt maker.  J. Kenneth's father, Ray Robinson, was the son of James Langley Robinson (1844-1915) and Sallie Gertrude (Robinson) Robinson (1861-1944) - again, these spouses shared the Robinson surname.  Sallie's mother, Mary Jane (Clevenger) Robinson (1831-1904) made several quilts, including a quilt we featured in our post of February 15, 2013.
Mary J. Clevenger Quilt, c. 1850.  Detail of block stamped with her name.
Collection of Barbara Harner Suhay.  Photograph by Carroll DeWeese.
In fact, the names of closely-related mid-nineteenth-century Robinsons also appear inscribed or stamped on the Holllingsworth Family Album Quilt, c. 1858 (collection of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society) and the Cather-Robinson Quilt, c. 1848 (collection of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University).
Despite condition, we feel that any quilt that has been saved in one family for 175 years has some stories to tell, in both its fabrics as well as the histories of the people who owned it.
Cartmell, Thomas Kemp.  Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia.  Winchester, VA: The Eddy Press Corporation, 1909.
Personal interviews with Robinson family members. 
"The Robert MacKay Clan" family history website at http://www.robertmackayclan.com/steergen/steerpic/meeting.html.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.



  1. Well done!! If anyone is interested in seeing more of the Robinson family mentioned in this article, click on this link: Margaret Jackson Record.

    1. Thank you, Michael, for this reference to additional genealogical information about the Robinson family!