May 16, 2016

Remembering Family and Friends by Name

Friendship quilts bearing inscribed names, verses, and art work appeared in America in the 1840s, peaked in popularity in the 1850s, and then slowly declined as a favored quilt-type through the 1870s.  By that time, the deprivation caused by the Civil War had begun to turn to prosperity and women turned to new fads in quilt making, especially the crazy-quilt that featured richer fabrics than cottons and were often embellished with ribbons, lace, beads, and embroidery.  The cotton friendship quilt did not disappear, however, and is made to this day for special occasions and fund raising purposes.

Single-pattern friendship quilt dated 1869 from Belmont County, Ohio.
The quilt measures 79 1/2 X 89 inches.  Names are inscribed on the cross-bars
of all of the blocks.  "Forget Me Not" is inscribed on a block bearing the name of
Ann Davis from Sulphur Springs, Perry County, Ohio.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Close-up of the block bearing the name Ann Davis.  The sentiment "Forget Me
Not" is inscribed on the lower left and is underlined by the inscriber.
 
The popularity of the inscribed friendship quilt during the nineteenth century was caused, in part, by the sense of community these quilts conveyed.  They provided a way for family and friends to gather together to make something for a loved and respected member of their community - something that documented and commemorated that community and acknowledged significant life events such as marriage or the departure of families from their communities.  Members of the Religious Society of Friends, in particular, documented family and community relationships and events in this way.
 
The inscriptions of names on friendship quilts was accomplished by writing directly on quilt blocks in ink, stamping names or using name stencils applied by ink, or stitching names on blocks using embroidery or cross-stitch.
 
Hand-written name (Hannah Starr) and town (Newfield) on a friendship quilt from upstate
New York, ca. 1840-1850.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Example of the imprint of a metal stamp, first inked and then applied to a friendship
quilt block for later signature within the decorative motif.  Type could also be set in
metal stamps like this, providing the name at the same time the stamp was applied.
Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Typeset or stenciled name on a signature quilt made about 1875 in Bethlehem,
New Hampshire.  Collection of Pamela Weeks.  Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Writing directly on fabric with ink using quill or steel pens was a skill often taught to girls in schools of the early to mid-nineteenth century.  It is difficult to do without smudging or causing the ink to pool or run because of inconsistent ink application and the fabric density of weave.  Not surprisingly, many nineteenth century signature quilts were inscribed by only one trained and experienced hand.  The name or names to be applied to each quilt block were written on paper and basted to the block.  These annotated blocks were then given to the experienced inscriber who added the names.
 
Block with name (Sarah Hoover) written on paper and basted to the block.  Collection of
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
Example of an inexperienced hand.  A block inscribed by Mary Ann Curtis of Newfield, New York.
Hard-to-read inscriptions such as this can often be clarified using photo editing software to lighten
the ink spread, increase the sharpness of the signature image, and remove "fuzziness."
 
Badly smudged or indecipherable signatures cannot be attributed only to those who were inexperienced in writing on fabric with ink.  The inks, themselves, were often to blame.  Up until the 1840s and the advent of indelible carbon and silver nitrate inks, most permanent inks were made from nutgalls, which contain tannic acid, and ferrous sulfate.  These inks were commercially manufactured but could also be made at home and they continued to be homemade products, of inconsistent quality, well into the nineteenth century.
 
Cellulose materials, which include paper, cotton, and linen, undergo a chemical reaction called hydrolysis when they come into contact with acids.  This reaction causes the fibers of linen and cotton to become brittle and break over time, disintegrating the areas on a quilt where a signature or other writing had been placed.  In addition, holes and deterioration in printed fabrics of the nineteenth century, especially those with brown or black design elements, is usually caused by acids in the mordant used in the dyeing process.
 
A striking example of fabric deterioration from the use of acidic ink is provided by a quilt top in the collections of the Litchfield Historical Society in Litchfield, Connecticut.  The quilt top was made in 1857 by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell (1765-1862) for Mary Pierce.  Mrs. Cogswell was ninety-three years old at the time she inscribed verses from the Old Testament on four of the quilt tops corner blocks using iron gall ink.  Sadly, indelible carbon inks were available commercially at the time and would not have produced the deterioration shown below.
 
Quilt top made by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell, 1857.  Collection of the Litchfield
Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.  Object number 1920-02-1.  Photograph
courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.
 
Full photograph of the quilt top made by Mrs. Ruth Pierce Cogswell.  Size of top is
87 1/2 X 87 1/2 inches.  Collection of the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield,
Connecticut.  Photograph courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.
 
We are fortunate that so many inscribed friendship quilts have survived from the nineteenth century.  By remembering people by name, these quilts provide fertile research opportunities for us to gain insight into the relationships and the social and historical context of lives lived over a century ago.  It is always regretful when a life that could have been known through research is "lost" because the ink used to remember that life disintegrated the fabric leaving nothing behind.
 
Sources:
 
Our thanks to Alex Dubois of the Litchfield Historical Society for the photographs of the Cogswell quilt top.
 
Calvalho, David.  Forty Centuries of Ink.  Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2006.
 
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt:  A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press, 2009.
 
Fox, Sandi.  For Purpose and Pleasure, Quilting Together in Nineteenth Century America.  Nashville: The Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.
 
Ordonez, Margaret T.  "Ink Damage on Nineteenth Century Cotton Signature Quilts." In Uncoverings 1992, 148-168.  San Francisco:  American Quilt Study Group, 1993.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 

May 1, 2016

Naming Names

Anyone who has tried to research people named on nineteenth-century inscribed quilts can attest to the difficulty, at times, of determining just who is who.  This difficulty comes from the existence of more than one quilt block displaying the same first and last name.  Sometimes this is because one person made and inscribed her name on multiple blocks for the same quilt.  Commonly, however, several members of the same family, some bearing the same first and last names, appear on the quilt's blocks. The challenge, in this case, is to do sufficient genealogical research to understand the family relationships and generations represented on the quilt.

Emigrants to America in the eighteenth-century brought with them established child naming traditions from the various countries, and within countries the various regions, in which they had lived.  While these traditions changed and evolved over time, they often resulted in the reuse of the same family first names, and the use of family surnames as middle names, down through the generations.

Chosen first and middle names frequently reflected the desire to honor prior family members from both the mother's and father's lines.  Sometimes, rather than a family connection, chosen first or middle names were selected from Hebrew or biblical sources, especially for girls, to reinforce religious convictions or precepts.  These names then passed down through the generations as subsequent children were named to honor a former family member who had received such a name.  In nineteenth-century America, some parents also chose to name children after a famous person from the worlds of literature, politics, art, or social action.  The one constant, regardless of historical naming tradition, was that these traditions were not followed rigidly and cannot be relied upon to decipher family relationships.
 
 In her study of child naming traditions in early New England, Gloria L. Main found it was common practice to name children after a preceding relative or, in the case of some religions, after a godparent (who was often a grandparent).  What differed among groups from different regions in New England was the family member from whom a name was chosen for the first born boy and girl, and for subsequent children.
 
 
 
According to David Hackett Fischer, the Quakers settling in America had a naming tradition that honored both the father's and mother's line in equal measure.
 
First born boy was named after the mother's father.
Second born boy was named after the father's father.
Third born boy was named after the father.
 
First born girl was named after the father's mother.
Second born girl was named after the mother's mother.
Third born girl was named after the mother.
 
It was also common practice among the Quakers to adopt the maiden name of either the father's or mother's mother as part of girls' names.  These naming traditions, however, were not always followed by members of the Religious Society of Friends, providing flexibility in the choice of names given to many Quaker children.  They were followed often enough, however, to account for people bearing the same names down through the generations.
 
Center of Philena Cooper Hambleton's quilt, 1853, bearing the names of her six
sisters-and-brothers-in-law.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth.  Photograph
by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
 
The Benjamin Hambleton family of Columbiana County, Ohio, provides an interesting example of both traditional and non-traditional child naming in a single, early nineteenth-century Quaker family.
 
Benjamin Hambleton married Ann Hanna, the great-aunt of Senator Marcus Hanna of Ohio, in June of 1815 and had nine children by her, seven of whom survived.
 
Ann Hanna (1797-1867) and Benjamin (1789-1865) Hambleton.
All photographs of the Hambleton family courtesy of the Jerome Walker family.
 
Their first child was a daughter whom they named Rachel after Benjamin's mother.  Rachel was born in 1816.
 
Their fourth child and second girl was named Catherine Hanna after Ann's mother Catherine and Ann's maiden name.  Catherine was born in 1822.
 
Catherine Hanna Hambleton (1822-1893).
 
Their ninth child and third surviving girl was named Martha Kester, Kester being the maiden name of Benjamin's mother.  Martha was born in 1833.
 
Martha Kester Hambleton (1833-1923),
 
All three of their surviving daughters were named according to Quaker naming traditions.  But then we get to the sons!
 
The Hambletons were vociferous and active abolitionists whose home in Butler Township, Columbiana County, Ohio, was a station on the Underground Railroad leading north to Lake Erie.  Benjamin, his oldest daughter Rachel, and his oldest son Osborn, were members of the local New Garden Anti-Slavery Society.  His son Osborn founded the Forest Home Anti-Slavery Society in Poweshiek County, Iowa, after he and his wife Philena moved west in 1854-55.
 
The flexibility in choosing names for Quaker children is aptly illustrated by the names given to Ann's and Benjamin's sons.
 
Their first born son was named Osborn after Charles Osborn, a local abolitionist and editor of the Lisbon, Ohio, anti-slavery newspaper The Philanthropist.
 
Osborn Hambleton (1818-1882).
 
Their second son was named Levi after the noted abolitionist Levi Coffin.
 
Levi Hambleton (1820-1899).
 
Their third son was named Joel Garretson after another Midwestern abolitionist.
 
Joel Garretson Hambleton (1824-1912).
 
Their fourth son was named Thomas Clarkson after the Englishman Thomas Clarkson who founded the British Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade in 1787.
 
Thomas Clarkson Hambleton ((1831-1903).
 
None of the Hambleton boys were named according to the Quaker naming tradition cited earlier, but all of the girls were.  Perhaps like many Puritan families who chose to give their children biblical names based on their religious convictions, the Hambletons chose to select the names for their male children based on social and political convictions that were compatible with their religious beliefs in equality and social justice.
 
Sources:
 
Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.
 
Fischer, David Hackett.  Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America.  New York: 1989.
 
Hambleton, Chalkley.  Genealogical Record of the Hambleton Family.  Chicago: Published for the author, 1887.
 
Main, Gloria L.  "Naming Children in Early New England" in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXVII:I (Summer 1996), 1-27.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.