Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cornelia Smith Henry's Quilts

Cornelia Catherine Smith Henry (1836-1917 )
Her 1855 wedding photograph.

A few weeks ago I did a post on Atheline Henry, an enslaved girl in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Her short life is recorded in the diary of the slave owner Cornelia Catherine Smith Henry. Cornelia and Atheline made quilts together and Cornelia wrote about them as part of her everyday housework.

We can thank Cornelia for being so specific in describing the style or name of her quilt. She mentioned a "cactus quilt." We have no idea what it looked like but I added some photos of possibilities.

From the Massachusetts Project and the Quilt Index

Cornelia's enjoyment in making quilts comes through in her writing and gives us a little insight into the process in a Southern home during and after the Civil War. In March, 1861, as the war began:

"I worked some quilt pieces in evening for Atheline to piece me a rag quilt."

They struggled with a new sewing machine that year.

1861  Willcox and Gibbs sewing machine

October 1, 1861. I cut Willie out some dresses but sewed but little....I will have them to make with my fingers as all very fine machine needles are broken.

October 26, 1861. Got the sewing machine needles yesterday 8 for $1.

From a sampler

November 11, 1861. I made Zona  [daughter Mary Arizona] a quilt.

September 17, 1862. I sew up a lining for a quilt. I want to quilt it soon (my cactus quilt.)
[I wish I knew what that cactus quilt looked like!]

September 24, 1862. I have been carding bats today to put in my cactus quilt. Atheline helped some. I got it in & quilted a little on it.

September 30, 1862. I have quilted all day. I can't quilt more than half a side a day. It is very tedious work. Atheline does the cooking. Hanes attends to Willie.

Buncombe County is in blue in this map of North Carolina

October 4, 1862. I quilted till dinner & got ready to roll and after dinner Mr. Henry helped me to roll. [husband William L. Henry 1823-1900]

See more about his pattern at this post:

October 22, 1862. I finished my quilt today. I have been four weeks lacking one day at work on it. I have not quilted every day. I have missed four days besides several pieces of days as it has been so cool for the last three day.

October 27, 1862. I have bound my new quilt today with red. It looks very well.

July 30, 1863. I began Zona a bonnet today making it of yellow quilt calico.

August 1, 1863. I have been gloomy all day. My spirits are below zero smartly....Nothing new from the war. I finished Zona's bonnet yesterday & began one for myself of green quilt calico.

A block

In April, 1864, her husband is off fighting.
I began to piece up a quilt today of old dresses, mine & the children's.

I cut some quilt pieces today of old dress skirts. Atheline will piece it if she gets able.

I cut some quilt pieces today till dinner& then lay down as I had the headache. When I woke about 3 o'clock Mr. Henry was standing by me. I was so glad to see him.

June 13, 1864. Sewed some on a quilt. It is of old dresses & other odds & ends.

June 15, 1864. Sewed some on my quilt, got all the squares done.

June 16, 1864. I tore out the squares for my quilt to put it together but sewed but few of them.

June 20, 1864. I pieced my quilt today. It is pieced in single irish chain.

June 21, 1864.I sewed on my quilt today & finished it & intend piecing two like it for the crib.

June 22, 1864. I sewed on the crib quilts today.

June 23, 1864. I finished both cradle quilts today before dinner.

July 4, 1864. [Sister] Matt & I quilted one of the cradle quilts today. I bound it this evening.

July 5, 1864. We quilted the other cradle quilt today. I bind it this evening.

August 28, 1864 I finished my quilt today & Matt & I bound it this evening.

After the war:

Aug 21, 1865 Betsy and I washed out some five quilts this morning. They are damaged a good deal in the way of stain. Old Mull [a neighbor] is the cause of that. I hope he may get his just reward some day.

August 14, 1868. I put in a quilt and got it laid off in diamonds. Pinck and Zona both helped some. They done very well for beginners. [Mary Arizona was born in 1859; Robert Pinckney in 1856, so they were about 9 and 12 years old.]

August 28, 1868. Rene is carding me some bats for a quilt. I must make some this fall.

September 16, 1868. I am getting on finely with my quilt. Pinck & Zona help. They make long stitches and crooked lines. It will learn them and keep them out of mischief.

Indiana Project & the Quilt Index

Read Cornelia's diary:
Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journal and Letters of the Henry Family. Clinard, Karen L. and Russell, Richard, eds. (Asheville, NC: Reminiscing Books, 2008).


The Civil War Quilter said...

I just love reading old diaries. These snippets were great. I've never heard of or seen a cactus quilt either. The pictures you shared could be cactus blocks. Maybe you'll discover one someday and share with us.

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

Nice diary entries. The machine is a Willcox and Gibbs, not a Woolcott. I have one that is dated 1880.

Unknown said...

Thank you Barbara for this look into the lives of a Southern woman during the Civil War period.

Just was caught by the date she passed away - 1919? WOWOW imagine what changes in our country and in lives during this time... radios, airplanes, WWI - she would be a history book in herself.

Please post, should you find the cactus quilt.


Phyllis in Iowa said...

I am quite sure that the sewing machine pictured is a Willcox & Gibbs chain stitch machine. These sewing machines are initially a bit tricky to thread, but are great fun to use. This sewing machine makes a chain stitch on the bottom side and what appears to be a regular stitch on the top side with a single thread. No bobbins needed.a

Summer said...

The blocks are very beautiful. Cute post- Happy Monday ♥

Barbara Brackman said...

I fixed the reference to Willcox & Gibbs. Thank you sewing machine experts. The idea of no bobbin is always appealing but I'm not trading my Bernina.