Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Southern Quilt Linking North and South

Cut-out Chintz Album Quilt
Kansas Museum of History

About ten years ago Betty saw a photo of this quilt in my book Quilts from the Civil War.

At the time we knew something about the quilt. It was the first quilt in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society, women's work accepted only because of its link to the Civil War. Needlework was not really of much interest until the validation of material culture and women's history in the late 20th century.

Those of us working at the Museum in the late 20th century could tell by the style and the story that it was a Southern quilt made before the Civil War. The signatures told us that it was likely a Mellichamp family quilt.

In 1924 Ann Prentice Holyoke donated it to the Society telling curators that her husband Union soldier George T. Holyoke had come across it during the war in Louisiana or Mississippi. He bought it from another soldier and shipped it to his wife in Illinois. At the time Ann was raising her young son Albert while George served from September, 1862 till the end of the War. 

The Holyoke tombstone
"Husband & Wife
Faithful & Devoted"
There is no death date for Ann.

Both George and Ann are buried in Galesburg, Illinois where they lived much of their lives as farmers. She and George had married in 1850. George's father William Holyoke also lived in Galesburg and is recorded as a member of  Illinois Anti-slavery Societies in the 1830s and '40s. Members of the Holyoke family were active abolitionists before the war.

George was a private in Company K of the 45th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry, according to researcher William S. Scott. His Regiment fought under Sherman in the march from Savannah through the Carolinas so he might have bought the quilt not far from its original owners.

The quilt is in Kansas because the Holyokes moved to Kansas where George died in Topeka in 1894. Ann appreciated the quilt's beauty and tried to find the rightful owners. She hoped the society would continue the search.

In the 21st century Betty recognized the name Mellichamp in the caption in my book and her letter helped a group of volunteer researchers find out much more. Merikay Waldvogel and Bets Ramsey published more information in their book Southern Quilts: Surviving Relics of the Civil War.

William S. Scott concluded that most of the signers lived in the St. Andrews community on James Island just south of Charleston in South Carolina and some lived in Charleston. A likely date for the quilt's making was after 1845, which is consistent with the block-style chintz applique.

48 inscribed names include Mellichamps, 
Cromwells, Hintons and Rivers, all James Island families.

Betty's great-great grandfather was Joseph Hinton Mellichamp whose inked signature is on the quilt. Dr. Mellichamp (1829 - 1903) was a well-known botanist and physician who was from James Island. Mellichamps had been residents of James Island since the American Revolution.

Map of James Island in the collection of the Charleston Museum
possibly drawn by Robert Eliott Mellichamp (1836-1919) 
who also signed the quilt. Robert served in Manigault's Battalion.
Charleston is the grid at the top. 

Mellichamp watched a pitcher plant consume an insect
in his kitchen.

Dr. Mellichamp's life is well-documented as his botanical work was innovative. He is known for having observed that the pitcher plant is actually carnivorous. He moved south to Bluffton in Beaufort County on the Georgia border where he practiced medicine and coastal botany. He married Sarah E. Pope in 1848 and she may have signed the quilt too as "Sarah A. Mellichamp" is one of the signatures. During the war he served as a surgeon in the Confederate army and was one of the few Mellichamps of his generation to survive the war.

Betty's great-grandmother Mary Adams Mellichamp's home was occupied by Union troops, according to her family story. Bluffton was first occupied by Confederate forces and then in 1863 attacked by Union troops. Two-thirds of the town's buildings were destroyed, including the doctor's house.

At least two deer were on the quilt. One has deteriorated.

The Mellichamps who remained on James Island fared no better. Fort Sumter is on the northeastern edge of the Island. Victoria Alice Mellichamp Burch (1852-1928) whose father Edward Henry Mellichamp died in a Union prison camp in Maryland, left a memoir of a childhood spent under bombardment.
"We were then living at Fort Johnson on James Island, and thus witnessed the firing upon of the "Star of the West" [at Fort Sumter, the first battle between North and South] ....Shortly after this, as a military necessity, we were obliged to vacate our house, it being a good site for a mortar battery, so we went further up the island, and our house was blown up just before the battle of Fort Sumter, as it interfered with the range of the guns....From James Island we moved to Charleston, remaining there until December, 1861, when with many others we were burned out in the great fire which swept the city from water's edge to water's edge, destroying about one-half. We lost all our household goods, saving but little more than our clothing....
"After this we refugeed in Sumter, where we lived about two years before going out into the country about five miles from the town, staying there until the close of the war. One afternoon, most unexpectedly, a negro boy came galloping past yelling: "The Yankees are coming!" In a moment all was confusion, all trying to secrete their valuables, silver, jewelry, provisions, everything that they supposed would be destroyed. I became possessed with the idea that the Yankees would certainly want my dolls, so I got a box, in which I packed the dolls and their clothing and then buried them so securely that they never could be found again."
It's difficult to trace the quilt from its Charleston area home to Yankee hands, but its survival among all the destruction is remarkable.

 Alice Mellichamp Burch's memoir "A Child's Recollections of the War" was published in South Carolina Women's Narratives. Read it here on page 155.

Read about the quilt here at the Kansas Historical Society's webpage.

1 comment:

Becky in VA said...

So glad this grand quilt and its amazing history are in the safe-keeping of the Kansas Historical Society. I've read this post several times - what a treasure of information documenting the events from a tumultuous time in our history! Thanks for sharing such a great piece of our history.