Saturday, May 14, 2016

Seven Sisters/Seven Stars 3---More Thoughts on Symbolism?

Quilt documented in the Quilts of Tennessee project.
Photo from the Quilt Index
A unique setting arrangement of the Seven Stars design

By Sarah Jane Myers
Another example from Quilts of Tennessee with an unusual shading.

From the Michigan Project
The pattern has been quite popular with quilters who have
created some original compositions using various sets and colorings.

From the Nebraska Project

From the Connecticut Project, 
set with a string star.

I've been interested in the patchwork pattern for years because
I wondered if it represented any Confederate nostalgia during the last
half of the 19th-century.

For the first few months of the Civil War the Confederate flag
had 3 stripes and 7 stars to represent the first seven seceding states

1861 flag at the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum captured
in Charleston, South Carolina

Similar flag raised over Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April, 1861

The seven-star flag was the official flag of the Confederacy from March 4, 1861 through May 21, 1861, after which more seceding states were represented. 

Confederate envelope mailed from Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, December, 1861

See this envelope and others with the same flag at the Brandon Collection of Confederate Patriotics

In  September, 1861 Harper's Weekly published an engraving of a Confederate sympathizer wearing a rebellious apron in Baltimore. 

Seven stars on a flag apron

The seven-star flag lasted for two or three months in a five-year war.

But I can't really find any written links
to the quilt pattern and the Civil War.

Seven Stars Block set with plain white hexagons and red diamonds.

I can hardly find any connections between the image of seven sisters and the Confederate flag.
Here's a poetic link:

A song with music by John Hill Hewitt (1801-1890) and lyrics by E. V. Sharp called Flag of the Sunny South was published perhaps in 1864.

Hail, symbol of the Sunny South!
 Bright Banner of the free! 
Our Southern hearts swell high with joy, 
 When glory points to thee. 
Thy Stars are like the Pleiades; 
 Undim'd by Tyrant's power; 
They'll deck thy Heav'n-dyed field of blue 
 Till freedom's latest hour.

Everyone with a minimal classical education in the mid-19th century would know that the song compared the flag's field to the Pleiades, a constellation named after Greek mythology.

The Pleiades by Elihu Vedder, 1885

The constellation is supposed to represent seven sisters in the night sky.

Favorite Greek Myths By Lilian Stoughton Hyde

The myth of the Seven Sisters has inspired poets, prose writers and geographers. Innumerable geographic features grouped into seven include the chalk cliffs at Seaford in England and seven Mississippi coastal cities, Biloxi to Waveland.

What might the words Seven Sisters have meant to Americans in the years 1860-1900?

During the Civil War the strongest reference North and South may have been a play produced by and starring celebrity Laura Keene. Her theatrical production "The Seven Sisters" was quite popular at the beginning of the War, popular primarily because of low necklines and legs in tights---early burlesque.

Laura Keene by the Brady Studio.
Her play Our American Cousin
was on stage when Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater.

The story line involved seven sisters, daughters of Pluto king of the underworld, visiting New York City (out of the frying pan---into the fire???).

An 1863 ad on the road

The name The Seven Sisters was soon appropriated for an upscale New York brothel.

Lisa Simpson dreams in cliches of elite colleges

The image of Seven Sisters continues useful with more recent symbolism including Seven Sisters as a group of Northeastern women's colleges and a organization of oil-producing nations connected through OPEC.

It would seem that making any connection between the Seven Stars pattern and a Confederate sentiment is going too far. The pattern doesn't seem to have been called that in the 19th century or even the early 20th, and the image of the flag with seven stars, while apparent, is rather minor in war-time imagery.

Read an early 20th century retelling of the Greek myth of the Seven Sisters and how they were turned into stars in Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde at Google Books:


Suzanne A said...

I've always wondered why the Confederates would have hung on to an image referencing only 7 states when they were most anxious to increase the size of the Confederacy, making many attempts to take Missouri and Kentucky away from the Union throughout the War. Perhaps they didn't hang on to this image at all.

Nann said...

"Seven sisters" and Pleiades references catch my attention, but not because of the Civil War. I'm a member of P.E.O., founded in 1869. The seven women who created the sisterhood chose a gold star as the emblem (badge). I recall reading that they contemplated using the names of the stars in the Pleiades for chapter names (and, apparently, star names for subsequent chapters) but instead they use letters of the alphabet. I have made several quilts for P.E.O. occasions using seven-something, though I have yet to make the Seven Sisters block.
( for current information)

Monica said...

I think you are right that there have been too many associations with the Pleiades over the years, and that a specific Confederate meaning would not have outlasted the Civil War. In your last post, with the resurgence of the design in the 20th century, it felt to me more like an "education for women," or even "accessible education for all classes," position. An 18th and 19th century education in Classics was reserved for a moneyed and male student, so I still think there may have been a somewhat assertive and radical meaning for a women quilting the Pleiades around 1920.

Lizzy D said...

Nann, forgive my ignorance, what is a PEO?

Daphne said...


I, too, am a P.E.O.
I just sent you an email with more details.