Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Union Quilt: Definitions & Descriptions

"Union" on a quilt about 1860

In 1863 nurse Adeline M. Walker thanked the ladies of Portland, Maine, for their "Union Quilt" donated to the hospital in Annapolis. What did she mean by a Union quilt?
See the post here:

Unknown woman wearing a Union banner

 The name was in the air during the Civil War.

Jennie Hamilton of Harrison County, Ohio, won a 25 cent prize
for a Union Quilt at the county fair after the war in 1865.

In 1861 Ellen M. Nelson of West Newbury, Massachusetts, won a $2 second prize for "a Union Quilt, with five hundred and fifty pieces, made in six weeks" at the Essex County Fair.

Perhaps this Ellen M. Nelson Poore (1843 - 1918) buried in West Newbury.

In 1864, Mrs. William Paul of Dedham, Massachusetts, won a diploma at the Norfolk County Fair for her "union quilt, 1895 pieces."

These last two Union quilts seem to have a notable number of pieces. Perhaps the words Union quilt meant something like a charm quilt or postage stamp quilt with many small pieces.

Quilt dated 1862

Robert Barry Coffin, writing under the name Barry Gray, published a humorous magazine sketch of "Model Young Ladies" during the war, which was republished in his Castles in the Air: And Other Phantasies in 1871. The model ladies included "The Union Young Lady:"
"Her 'fancy work' is embroidering presentation flags for departing regiments, and quilting a 'Union quilt,' formed of red, white and blue silk; but as she refuses to disclose the name of the happy individual who is destined to sleep under it, we will not seek to penetrate the secret."
Here a Union quilt means a silk quilt in flag colors.

Perhaps something like this one, about which I can find nothing
other than a photo floating around on the internet.

In 1866 the periodical United States Sanitary Commission Bulletin discussed a flag quilt/Union quilt.
"Sometime in April [1865], we received from a county town a quilt made in the form of a flag---red and white stripes and a blue field with the white stars sewed on, all nicely quilted....a note attached requesting the solider who had the comfort of sleeping under this Union quilt to acknowledge it."
J.B. from the 202nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers did acknowledge the gift in May, 1865:
"The first night the flag quilt was spread over me, I did dream of the loved ones far away..."

The phrase continued after the War. 

In 1892, the Ohio Practical Farmer's "Exchanges" column included a request: "Will Ilka who gave pattern of Union quilt last October, say how large the blocks are and what pattern she usually outlines on the white blocks; also how many blocks for the quilt? M. L. Venice, O." I haven't found Ilka's pattern or any reply to the request yet.

In 1880 Annie Saffer of Philadelphia won a $2.50 award at the Pennsylvania State Fair for a "Union motto quilt, stars and stripes quilt."

And then there is this style of four-block eagle, called a "Union Quilt" by Ruth Finley in a 1929 magazine article. Finley, born in 1884, may have heard the term growing up in Ohio.

I think the only conclusion we can come to is that the words Union Quilt were in use during the war and after and that the definition was diverse.

Detail of a quilt by Elizabeth Holmes in 1869


Suzanne A said...

Perhaps a Union Quilt could be a quilt of any design made to honor the Union cause as a fund raiser, donation to a soldier, for public display or just as personal expression? The phrase Union Quilt is one I wasn't aware of before -- wouldn't it be fun to make one and name it My (or Our) Union Quilt? The phrase has such resonance applied to quilts because quilts, like the federal union, are discrete pieces joined together for one purpose, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Thanks for another thought provoking post!

Yvone said...

I have been thinking of making a quilt out of Civil War reproduction prints with the names & regiment numbers of all of my many great-gr uncles & grandfathers that served (and some died) in the Civil War...all of whom were in the Union Army, mostly from Ohio and Iowa. This blog post gives me some wonderful ideas. Thank you!

Barbara Brackman said...

Yvone---get started and send pictures!

Nancy A. Bekofske said...

The photo from a magazine of a Union Quilt looks like one I shared at
from an article Old Quilts by Florence Peto that appeared in American Home in 1939. She wrote, "Union Quilt is typical Pennsylvania-German design of Civil War period. This bold, vivid example was made c. 1861 by Mrs. Charles Burk. Owned and shown by Mrs. C. Knepper.