Saturday, November 29, 2014

Threads of Memory 11: St. Charles Star for Louisa Alexander

#11 St. Charles Star for Louisa Alexander
 by Jean Stanclift

The patterns were free online for two years but now I am offering them for sale in two formats
at my Etsy shop. Buy a PDF or a Paper Pattern through the mail here:

In the fall of 1863, as Union troops and Confederate sympathizers skirmished in the countryside near St. Louis, a woman sent a letter to her husband who had escaped from slavery and run away to the city.
St. Louis in 1859

There Archer Alexander found shelter from people who also offered to donate money to buy his wife out of slavery. In reply to that welcome news Louisa Alexander dictated a response:

MY DEAR HUSBAND,--I received your letter yesterday, and lost no time in asking Mr. Jim if he would sell me, and what he would take for me. He flew at me, and said I would never get free only at the point of the Baynot, and there was no use in my ever speaking to him any more about it. I don't see how I can ever get away except you get soldiers to take me from the house, as he is watching me night and day. If I can get away I will, but the people here are all afraid to take me away. He is always abusing Lincoln, and calls him a old Rascoll. He is the greatest rebel under heaven. It is a sin to have him loose. He says if he had hold of Lincoln he would chop him up into mincemeat. I had good courage all along until now, but now I am almost heart-broken. Answer this letter as soon as possible. I am your affectionate wife, LOUISA ALEXANDER
Louisa lived near a settlement called Naylor's Store in St. Charles County where "Mr. Jim" Hollman owned her and her family. Naylor's Store is now a ghost town, but was located 20 miles north of the city of St. Charles, according to an 1855 reference.

St. Louis is the larger arrow on the right; St. Charles city the smaller arrow,
and Naylor's Store is north on the flood plains about half way
 between the Missouri River (diagonal green line) 
and the Mississippi River that curves around St. Charles County
and south to St. Louis.

Missouri, first settled by the Illiniwek tribes, then by the French and in the 19th century by Southern immigrants, was a slave state that never joined the Confederacy.

"Old Frenchtown" in St. Louis by the Mississippi River

St. Louis was its Union heart, home to Federal troops and recent German settlers opposed to slavery. St. Charles County was one of the many rural areas where Southern sympathies reigned.

Friedrich Paul Wilhelm's watercolor 
of a boat towed by slaves on the Missouri
River across from St. Charles, ca. 1825

Louisa and Archer had enjoyed a relatively stable married life for an enslaved couple, living together for thirty years and raising ten children. After their marriage, Archer's owners sold him to Louisa's master rather than take him out of the state.

Black Union troops

By the time Louisa sent her letter, only 13-year-old Nellie lived with her. Three of their girls had escaped to St. Louis and a son was fighting in the Union Army. Archer had disappeared six months earlier.
Slave holder Jim Hollman and his neighbors were characterized as "Haystack Secessionists," men who helped the Southern cause in small ways by burning bridges and blocking roads to endanger Federal patrols. Archer heard of a planned attack on a wooden bridge and alerted Union sympathizing neighbors.
Archer Alexander in later life

Knowing he'd be punished, he made his way across the Missouri River to St. Louis, where he was fortunate to meet William Greenleaf Eliot, a Unitarian minister with abolitionist sympathies. Eliot hired him and made the offer to buy Louisa.
William Greenleaf Eliot, about 1850,
from the collection of the Missouri History Museum

But "the greatest Rebel under heaven" refused to negotiate, as Louisa dictated in the letter that one of her German-born neighbors carried to St. Louis. Archer, the Eliots and the German farmers formed other plans. The Eliots offered to hide Louisa and Nellie. A farmer agreed to carry them in his oxcart to the city for payment of $20.

Typical everyday wear for enslaved women during the Civil War

Clad only in day dresses without bonnets or shawls so as not to raise suspicion they were planning to travel, Louisa and Nellie sauntered to the road near their cabin where they'd agreed to meet the farmer. After hiding them under the cornshucks in his wagon, their driver casually walked along, leading his oxen.

A hay wagon could hide quite a bit

Soon one of the Hollmans rode up demanding to know if he'd seen a woman and girl. The farmer honestly confessed, "Yes, I saw them at the crossing, as I came along, standing, and looking scared-like, as if they were waiting for somebody; but I have not seen them since." The italic emphasis is in William Eliot's published account of the escape. He added, "Literal truth is sometimes the most ingenious falsehood."

The Eliot home
Collection of Washington University

Louisa enjoyed freedom under the Eliot's roof with her loving husband and several children for only a year. In early 1865, after slavery was finally abolished in Missouri her former master sent word she could return to Naylor's Store to retrieve her things, which Eliot described:
her "bed [bedding] and clothes, and little matters of furniture….We advised her not to go, as they were not worth much, and there might be some risk involved; but she 'honed' for them, and went. Two days after getting there, she was suddenly taken sick and died. The particulars could not be learned, but 'the things' were sent down by the family."

St. Charles Star by Becky Brown

St. Charles Star combines a traditional star with an easy-to-piece curve to create a star atop a circular shape. The block reminds us of St. Charles County along the Mississippi River where Haystack Secessionists, slaves, Federal troops, and antislavery farmers were neighbors during the Civil War.

What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Louisa Alexander's Story

Louisa's letter is a rare example of an enslaved woman's words. She probably was unable to write, but she dictated her letter. Her German-born neighbors held slavery in such contempt they were willing to serve as an informal and illegal post office.

We often think of illiterate people as deprived of any written communication (a possible reason for all the stories about secret visual codes) but we should realize many social systems assisted people who could not write or read. Friendship often meant helping with communication. Store keepers and postmasters wrote and read letters for a fee. Scribe-written notes about the Underground Railroad might have been far more numerous than we realize. Most correspondents must have obeyed the advice: "Burn this letter."

Read William Greenleaf Eliot's account of the Alexanders' escapes in his book The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom (Boston: Cupples, Upham and Company, 1885). The book, which includes Louisa's letter, is available online at the website "Documenting the American South" sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Click on this link:

Read more about the Alexanders and the Eliots here at this post:

St. Charles Star by Becky Brown
Becky changed the center here to 4 squares cut 2-1/2"
and fussy cut a fancy stripe.

Make a Quilt a Month

Choose high contrast coloring to evoke the night sky in a 45" wall quilt, Moon and Stars. Sash four of the St. Charles Star blocks with 3" finished strips. Add a 2" finished inner border and a 4" finished outer border.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sherman's Neckties-150th Anniversary Quilt

Sherman's Neckties

Here's a sketch for a 98" square quilt using a variety
of blue prints with gray-blue neutrals. I drew it
in EQ7 in my Union Blues repro collection for Moda,
which will be in shops about March 1.

In November and December, 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led 60,000 Yankee soldiers on a march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia.

The march covered nearly 300 miles and took about 6 weeks
from November 15, 1864 till just before Christmas.

Their major goal was to destroy the Confederate infrastructure---the bridges and railroads that connected Atlanta, a major rail terminal, with Savannah, a major seaport. Troops pried up wooden railroad ties and metal rails. To insure that the Georgians couldn't immediately rebuild the track they burned the ties.

You can see the bonfire in the background in this illustration
from about 1895.

The soldiers laid the steel rails atop the bonfires till they were red hot
in the center and twisted them around a nearby tree to cool.

The story is that the rail beds from Atlanta to Savannah
were lined with the unusable twisted metal.

In the late 19th century several histories of the war reported that the damaged rails were called Sherman's Neckties, Sherman's Bowties, or Jeff Davis's Neckties. Other names were Sherman's Hairpins or Mrs. Lincoln's Hairpins.

Sherman's March was a significant step in ending the Civil War. The Union Army shocked the Georgia civilians by confiscating their recent harvest and their livestock as they traveled through. The Yankees carried no provisions and lived by stealing the food stored in the women's larders and pens. 

Sherman's Bummers were undisciplined looters who followed the troops.

The civilians were mostly women because the men of Georgia were fighting in Virginia. Sherman's tactic was a new and effective way of war.

Another way of shading using grayish taupes and
Union blues.

Making large blocks 12" x 12" will give you a 98" quilt. You'll need two blocks, one for the center field and one for the border.

BlockBase #1376

The center requires 36 Necktie blocks, given the name in Ruth Finley's 1929 book
Old Quilts and the Women Who Made Them

BlockBase #1646a

The border is 40 blocks in a pattern given the
name Sherman's March in a 1930s Capper's Weekly magazine column.

Cutting the 12" Necktie Block:

A & B - Cut 2 light and 2 dark squares 6-1/2" for each block.

C - Cut 1 square 3-7/8". Cut in half with a diagonal cut.

You need 2 triangles.


Cutting the 12" Sherman's March block:
A - Cut 4 squares 4-7/8". Cut each in half with a diagonal cut.

You need 8 triangles.

B - Cut 8 rectangles 4-1/2" x 2-1/2".

C - Cut 1 square 4-1/2".


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Inside Willoughby Babcock's Tent

General Willoughby Babcock  (1832-1864) standing
in front of a tent during the Civil War.

New Yorker Willoughby Babcock joined the Union Army soon after the beginning of the war. By winter of 1861 he was camping at Fort Pickens, Florida.

Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola

He kept in touch with his wife back in Albany through many letters that have been preserved.

In December, 1861 he told her of his accommodations:
"I have one large tent by myself (I am entitled to two) which is all I want or can use. It is neatly framed and floored, and I have for furniture, my camp bed, a good pine table, a wash cupboard, shelves and nails for all my books, notions, and clothes. My bed is a cot, over which for a mattress I have a thick quilt doubled, a quilt for a pillow and my blanket and another nice quilt for bed clothing."

Willoughby Babcock

Before the war a friend described him: 
"He has the heart of fun under a most sober exterior." 

We occasionally get a glimpse of the bedding inside the soldier's tent 

President Abraham Lincoln visits General George McClellan
in his tent at Antietam in Maryland, 1862.
Alexander Gardner photo, Library of Congress.

McClellan seems to have a Union flag and a captured Confederate flag in his tent. His bedcovering is a woven coverlet.

Dr. A.J. Myers had a plaid woolen blanket in his tent
at  Union Signal Corps Headquarters in Virginia, July,1862.

Pencil drawing by Edwin Forbes in 1863 of the interior
of a Union soldier's Virginia tent 

General Babcock's letters were collected by his grandson.

Selections from the letters and diaries of Brevet-Brigadier General Willoughby Babcock of the Seventy-fifth New York Volunteers: a study of camp life in the Union armies during the Civil War, by Willoughby M. Babcock, Jr.

See digital versions at the Hathi Digital Library by clicking here:

Connecticut & New York Sampler: 1866-67

Union shield in the center of a post-Civil-War sampler

Summer Spread Sampler Album
with blocks dated 1866, 1867 and 1875.
Recently sold by Old Hope Antiques
Their copy:

"This Friendship Quilt has 42 signed stitched-squares w/a vine border. Several squares are dated 1866, 1867, 1875 and stitched “Stamford, Conn” or Brooklyn L.I.” Many signatures include “Clayton”, “Thomson”, and “Wilson” families, along with a square depicting the dog, “Prince”. Perhaps the shield with the name “George W. Clayton” and date “1866″ reflects his service in the Civil War."
The photos are so good one can see the dates on many.

And you can see the fabric well too.
It looks like the blocks were stitched in 1866 and '67...

In Connecticut and Brooklyn

Each block is joined to the next with a corded or possibly a
flat welt.  There is no quilting.

The blocks available in closeup appear to have
been made right after the Civil War. Perhaps
a few were added when it was made into a spread
in 1875.
Has the color faded from the tan joining strips, indicating
they were added in the 1870s, when unstable synthetic dyes became
the standard?

See large photos at Olde Hope Antiques:

Saturday, November 8, 2014

M.T. Hollander and the Abolitionist Baby Quilt

Last week I posted about the quilt displayed at the
back of Mrs. Hollander's display box at the 1853-4
Crystal Palace exhibit in New York.

Merikay Waldvogel curated a 1994 show of quilts from
the Historic New England collection. I helped her
document some of those in storage.

In her notes she described it:
 Top fabric silk; unquilted; 31 stars linked by chenille chain; flag, shield and eagle are also chenille; George Washington's face is painted on silk; outer 2-inch border is red and white silk pieced stripes and corded;

Mystery:  Top is unquilted, but backing is hand-quilted in diamond crosshatching using gold thread.  There's also a quilting design of a star visible from the back...with quilting thread of black and red.  [Is there] a star quilt inside?

The article I referred to last week makes it clear that the quilt was stitched and inked by an unknown embroiderer,a woman who "had  received a medal at the London exhibition of needlework," presumably the 1851 Crystal Palace exposition. Mrs. Hollander paid her $100.

Our default thinking is always one quilt/one woman---start to finish. It's part
of quilt mythology as in this picture of an anonymous great grandmother
who appears to be stitching her sorrows into a log cabin quilt.

In the case of the Hollander quilt we are surprised to find that the woman now
credited with making the quilt had purchased the handwork.

Who was Mrs. Hollander?

She is often referred to as M.T. Hollander of Boston, another surprise. Mid-19th-century women from Boston did not use their own initials and did not omit the Miss or Mrs. before their names.
Maria Theresa Baldwin Hollander had an independent streak.

She was born in New York, in 1820, a daughter of Charles North Baldwin who had fought in the War of 1812.

UPDATE: Charlotte's comment has cleared up this mystery:

I checked the 1870 census on It seems Jacob L was Maria's husband (60, born in Prussia) while Louis P is probably their oldest son (27, born in NY).

 She married either Jacob L. Hollander or Louis P. Hollander, brothers in the clothing business. Apparently her husband's New York business failed in the 1840s. I am guessing Mr. Hollander's brother had a clothing business in Boston and they moved there to start again. Possibly due to his financial problems she is always listed as the 1848 founder of L.P. Hollander, a Boston institution. Or perhaps she insisted on using her own name.

In the 1868 Boston directory, Maria is affiliated with Louis P. Hollander and he with her in businesses at 10 Temple Place. Jacob is in business at 18 Province Court as a furrier and cap manufacturer. This may be her brother-in-law or her son named for him.

She may have been married to Louis with Jacob her brother-in-law or vice versa. Reports conflict (another indication of how independent she was.) I haven't seen her referred to as Mrs. (Husband) Hollander.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has
several pieces of Hollander's children's
clothing in their collection.

Maria Hollander's specialty was well-made children's clothing. Rather than hiring seamstresses to come to their homes, Boston's ladies began taking the children to L.P. Hollander's to order clothing or perhaps to buy it off the rack.

L.P Hollander & Company thrived, adding more clothing specialties as
they grew. 

Branches were opened in Newport, Palm Beach, Pasadena and New York.


Maria and her husband lived in Somerville near Boston, 
success evident in their address on Boston Street.

Boston Street today

She and members of her family were included in the 1888 book Twenty Thousand Rich New Englanders.

Maria's sons eventually took over the business and she devoted her time to charity work and women's rights. About 1878 she and a friend organized the Somerville Woman's Education Union, which became the Somerville Suffrage League. 

National Suffrage meeting in Omaha, 1890

Her papers at the Schlesinger Library include letters from leaders in the woman suffrage movement.
A local history written a decade after her death in 1885 recalled her as "a lady of extraordinary executive ability and progressive thought."

"The stain to [erase] that tarnishes the South...."

That progressive thought in the 1850s included making a public statement about slavery in her commercial exhibit at the Crystal Palace exhibit.

Ad in the New Yorker magazine about 1930.

Maria's son Theodore sold the New York branch of L. P. Hollander in 1929. The new owner embarked on an art deco building finished in 1930. The Great Depression put pressure on L. P. Hollander & Company and the firm went bankrupt in 1932, although they continued in business for several years.

The name lives on in the L.P. Hollander Building at 552 Fifth Avenue, which is a historic landmark.