February 24, 2017

A Serendipitous Find

We spend a lot of our time looking for Quaker quilts that we can research and write about.  Several months ago, one such quilt "fell into our laps" when one of our blog viewers left a message on a post about Quaker causes, woman's rights, and suffrage.  Our post lamented that there seemed to be few suffragette quilts, partially because quilt making was considered a domestic activity rather than one that represented the growing movement for woman's rights and the vote.  The note posted by Judy Kerr said in reference to the quilt we described: "I have one in my closet."  This was followed by her phone number.

Lynda called her immediately and found that Judy lived in Ashland, Oregon.  She is a direct descendant of the Coates family of Pennsylvania - a noted Quaker family based in and near Philadelphia whose male members were merchants, in the shipping business, and farmers.  The "quilt in her closet" displays fifty-three names of family members and friends, and forty-five inscriptions, one of which is illegible.

The Esther Coates Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Judy Kerr.

The quilt measures 114 X 116 1/2 inches and is comprised of eighty-one alternating pieced and single fabric blocks that measure approximately 12 1/2 inches square.  The pattern of the pieced blocks has various names cited in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns including Grandmother's Pride, Nine Patch Checkerboard, Old Mail, The Queen's Favorite, and Checkerboard.  (Brackman, 303.)  The checkerboard blocks are comprised of small triangles (half squares cut on the diagonal) and 2 3/4 inch whole squares.  The names and inscriptions are found on the center square of the checkerboard blocks.

Block bearing an inscription of part of a poem titled "Remember Me" by Quaker
poetess Elizabeth Margaret Chandler (1807-1834) along with the name
Margaret Coates.  Photograph courtesy of Judy Kerr.
 
The quilt was made by family and friends for Esther Coates, daughter of Samuel and Margaret Cherrington Coates of Chester County, Pennsylvania, and active members of the Bradford Monthly Meeting.  The quilt was a gift for Esther in celebration of her marriage, in 1844, to Abram G. Wileman of Stark County, Ohio.
 
During conversations about this quilt with Judy, Lynda expressed interest in seeing it in-person and transcribing the names and inscriptions displayed on it.  It turned out that Judy had a friend who was coming to California to visit friends in a town close to where Lynda lives.  Judy arranged for her friend to bring the quilt with her and Lynda was able to pick it up and bring it home for study.  With Judy's permission, Lynda has had the quilt in her possession for close to three months during which she has been able to decipher all but one of the names on the quilt as well as most of the inscriptions.
This work has revealed the quilt to be an important social and historic record.
 
There is a great deal to be written about Esther, her family members, her friends in Chester and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and the inscriptions recorded on her quilt.  This will be forthcoming in articles, future blog posts, and perhaps eventually a book.  For now we simply want you to know about this historic treasure that represents a time and community activities that helped shape the history of this country.
 
Sources:
 
Brackman, Barbara.  Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  Paducah, KY: American Quilters Society, 1984.
 
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2017