April 1, 2016

A Final Glimpse of Eliza Naudain Corbit

Our last two posts concerned Eliza Naudain Corbit, her husband Daniel, and his second wife Mary Wilson Corbit.  These posts were inspired by a quilt of blocks that Eliza made and distributed to her friends and family for annotation.  This quilt is a holding of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library in Winterthur, Delaware.

The Historic Odessa Foundation in Odessa, Delaware, also has one of Eliza's creations.  This is a quilt top, backed in floral fabric, un-quilted, containing the green printed fabric seen in the Winterthur quilt as well as a variety of other fabrics.  The top is comprised of 8 1/2 X 8 1/2 inch blocks, nine across and nine down for a total of eighty-one blocks.  The blocks are separated by pieces of three-inch-wide brown printed sashing and display the names of various family members and friends as well as a lengthy verse about the coming of death on a centrally placed block.  The date of the quilt is 1844, the year of Eliza's death.

Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt Top.  The top measures approximately
61 1/2 X 72 1/2 inches.  The block displaying the lengthy verse is in the fifth row down,
the fifth block across, surrounded by blocks with darker green fabrics.  Photograph
courtesy of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
 
Jessica F. Nicoll, in her book Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855, discussed signature quilts of the Delaware Valley and commented that Quaker signature quilts "[...] exhibit stylistic and organizational preferences that were both shaped by and expressive of Quaker beliefs."  She further quotes historian Howard Brinton as citing what he believes as "[...] the four basic testimonies of Quakerism: simplicity, equality, peace, and community."  (Nicoll, 14.)  While others cite different testimonies as most basic to Quakers, such as worship, honesty, and recognizing that of God in everyone, community was central to the everyday life of most historical Quakers.  This was exemplified by their close-knit families, their movements from Quaker meeting to Quaker meeting as they migrated from place to place, their prodigious recordkeeping of family life events, and their adoption of signature quilts as a means to represent, document, preserve, and hold close their community of family and friends, whether living or dead.
 
Eliza's great granddaughter, Mrs. D. Meredith Reese, revealed to Jessica Nicoll that Eliza had suffered from a "lingering illness" which left her an invalid during her last two years of life.  Eliza, in fact, began making quilt blocks in 1842 and finished enough of them by the time of her death in 1844 to make the Winterthur quilt and the quilt top at the Historic Odessa Foundation.
 
Central block of the Eliza Naudain Corbit Quilt Top.  Use of photograph
courtesy of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
 
The central block of the quilt top contains a verse from a hymn written by Isaac Watts.  It appeared in Hymns and Spiritual Songs published in 1707.  Its reflections on death and the temporal nature of life is, in retrospect, poignant in light of how soon Eliza died in relation to the date of the quilt top.  The verse reads:
 
"Thus far the Lord hath led me on,
Thus far his power prolongs my days,
And every evening shall make known
Some fresh memorial of his grace.
Much of my time has run to waste,
And perhaps am near my home,
But he forgives my follies past,
And gives me strength for days to come.
I lay my body down to sleep,
Peace is the pillow for my head,
While well-appointed angels keep
Their watchful stations round my bed.
Thus when the night of death shall come,
My flesh shall rest beneath the ground,
And wait thy voice to touch my tomb,
With sweet salvation in the sound."
 
Drawing of Eliza Naudain Corbit in the collections of the
Historic Odessa Foundation.  Permission to use the image courtesy
of the Historic Odessa Foundation, Odessa, Delaware.
 
Eliza Naudain Corbit passed away on December 18,1844, undoubtedly surrounded by her family and perhaps some of her close friends.  Not all who loved her would have been at her death-bed but the many friends and family members who inscribed their names on her quilt blocks were there at least in spirit.  As Jessica Nicoll pointed out when discussing Eliza's quilt top, Eliza had symbolically gathered around her these members of her beloved community as she readied herself for death.  (Nicoll, 13.)
 
Sources:
 
Our thanks to Brian Miller of the Historic Odessa Foundation for providing the object record of Eliza's quilt top and for use of the Foundation's photographs.
 
Nicoll, Jessica F.  Quilted for Friends, Delaware Valley Signature Quilts, 1840-1855.  Winterthur, DE: The Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1986.
 
Object record for item 1971.1317, Historic Odessa Foundation.
 
"Thus Far the Lord Hath Led Me On", online at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/h/thusfarl.htm accessed March 29, 2016.
 
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.
 

 
 


 

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. Bless her heart. She knew her death was coming and yet embraced it.

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