Soldier's Aid Society quilt
Organized by Susannah Corey Pullen (1816-1871)
Susannah Pullen's Civil War quilt is in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, donated in 1936. We might recognize it as a Civil War quilt because of the way it is constructed ---block-by-block with bound edges, what we call potholder quilts today.
The reverse of the quilt shows the binding around each block
which is harder to see on the front.
When Susannah's granddaughter donated the quilt she sent a file of paperwork, with two letters
from soldiers, one dated Nov. 22, 1863:
"Dear Madam I have had the pleasure of seeing the beautiful 'Quilt' sent by you to cheer and comfort the Maine Soldiers. I have read the mottoes, sentiments, etc., inscribed thereon with much pleasure and profit."
There are no mottoes inscribed on the quilt today. There is nothing visible on the quilt in the photos---but the contradiction is explained in the museum catalog's last paragraph. The quilt was on public display in the Augusta public library for many years. The front was covered with inked inscriptions and must have made an entertaining exhibit. But the light faded the ink (or perhaps time changed the ink's chemistry) and the inking is gone.
One inscription read:
“The commencement of this war took place Apr. 12th 1861. The first gun was fired from Fort Sumter. God speed the time when we can tell when, and where, the last gun was fired; & ‘we shall learn war no more.’ If this quilt survives the war we would like to have it returned to Mrs. Gilbert Pullen, Augusta, Me . . . This quilt completed Sept. 1st 1863.”
"We have many dear friends connected with the army & any proper letters from any persons embraced in the defense of our country, received by any whose names are on this quilt shall have a reply. Tell us if nothing more its destination. We meet with many others to sew for you every Wednesday and your letters would prompt us to more exertions for our patriots."
Another of the over 150 inscriptions:
"If you are good looking send me your photograph. Direct to the name in the large square. E.G.D."
Before the years of exhibition faded the inscriptions completely, someone transcribed all of them.
The next time a possible museum donor requests that you keep her quilt on permanent display you might direct her to the National Museum of American History's page on this quilt. It's a cautionary tale.
Read much more about the quilt in Virginia Eisemon's, "Sunday School Scholars Quilt: Civil War Textile Document," Uncoverings: 2004, The Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, Volume 25