Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cradle Quilt from Historic New England Collection

Abolitionist Crib Quilt
Collection of Historic New England

This small star quilt is in the exhibit telling the story of the American Civil War now at the Shelburne Museum. Above, the framed quilt is shown at the New York venue of Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War.
Gift of Mrs. Edward M. Harris.
Accession number: 1923.597

Sixty-three small stars make up the quilt
which is 36" wide, making each star
block about 5" square.

In the center block is inked a poem:

Mother! when around your child

You clasp your arms in love, 

And when with grateful joy you raise 

Your eyes to God above,

Think of the negro mother, when

Her child is torn away, 

Sold for a little slave, — oh then 

Thirty years ago quilt historian Cuesta Benberry called our attention to this piece of history in the collection of what was then called Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA). She was interested in quilts having to do with slavery and abolition but there was so little reliable information available in 1981 she was thrilled to find this well-documented example.

(Cuesta Benberry A Quilt Research Surprise." Quilters Newsletter Magazine, July/August 1981, pp 34-35.)

I saw snapshots of the quilt's details and in 1996 Terry Thompson and I made a copy. We were just finding reproduction prints available and thought this would be a good project to use our small stash of early-to-mid-19th-century repros. We had no idea how many blocks it had and how the edges were finished out...

so we used our own taste and our largest chintzes (not very large)
to add two borders.

I inked the poem.

Since then several researchers have done work on the quilt. One important find was an article in the antislavery newspaper The Liberator describing articles for sale at the Boston Antislavery Fair held December 22, 1836.
“The Ladies’ Fair” from The Liberator, January 2, 1837 
A cradle-quilt was made of patchwork in small stars; and on the central star was written with indelible ink:
 ‘Mother! When around your child..."
See a transcription of that article here:

In Historic New England magazine (Spring, 2012) Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections, wrote about the quilt in an article "Comfort for a Cause," giving some background as to how the quilt came to be in the organization's collections.

Francis Jackson (1789-1861)
Photo from the Boston Public Library collection.

They believe that Francis Jackson, president of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society bought the quilt at that 1836 fair. It was passed through his daughter Eliza Francis Jackson Eddy to her daughter, the donor, Mrs. Edward M. Harris (Amy Eddy Harris).

In the catalog for Homefront & Battlefield the authors add the information that Jackson bought the quilt for his daughter who'd recently married and that the quilt is attributed to well-known Massachusetts abolitionist Lydia Maria Child. In a January, 1837 letter to a friend Child wrote, "You have doubtless learned the success of our Fair . . . My cradle-quilt sold for $5." (Letter is in the collection of Brown University.)

Lydia Maria Francis Child (1802-1880)
She was about 34 at the time of the 1836 fair.

More evidence that Lydia Maria Child made the quilt in question:

Throughout her papers she mentions doing needlework for the cause. Martin H. Blatt, ‎David R. Roediger in their 1999 book The Meaning of Slavery in the North write that Child "noted many times that she was 'stitching for the Fair every spare moment.' "

I've found two other documents from Child discussing star crib quilts.

In the 1861 letter above she writes that despite her "irrepressible anxiety about public affairs" during the first summer of the Civil War:
"I made, and quilted on my lap, the prettiest little crib-quilt you ever saw. The outside had ninety-nine little pink stars of French calico, on a white ground, with a rose-wreath trimming all round for a border; and the lining was a very delicate rose-colored French brilliant. It took one month of industrious sewing to complete it. I sent it to my dear friend, Mrs. S., in honor of her first grand-daughter. It was really a relief to my mind to be doing something for an innocent little baby in these dreadful times."
This letter was published in an 1883 collection of her letters, printed after her death. Read it here:

The second reference is in an 1864 list of her accomplishments in which she mentions one quilt:
"Made a starred crib quilt, and quilted it; one fortnights work."
Part of Child's long list

The list has been published in Gerda Lerner's The Female Experience: An American Documentary.

Child seems to have returned to the pattern several times to make crib or cradle quilts.

The poem has been attributed to Child too, but there is doubt about this. More posts on this quilt in the next few weeks.


WoolenSails said...

What a beautiful quilt and an interesting story behind it.


Suzanne A said...

What a lovely quilt and interesting life. Amazing sewing output. I wonder if she had a sewing machine. Thanks for this lively post.

Samplings from Spring Creek said...

Civil War Quilts and Civil War fabric are just my favorite--thanks for sharing