Saturday, May 20, 2017

Free Labor Fabrics & A Few Quaker Quilts

Detail of a silk patchwork quilt by 
Quaker Rachel Goodwin Woodnut,
Salem, New Jersey, 1827-1828
Collection of the Winterthur Museum.

In 1832 poet Elizabeth Margaret Chandler wrote about a quilting party in Tecumseh,  Michigan.
"I was at a quilting last week. There were about twenty girls besides myself and in the evening about the same number of men."
Elizabeth Chandler  1807-1834

Elizabeth, a Philadelphia Quaker, took antislavery sentiments with her to the Michigan frontier. These included a boycott of slave-grown cotton. She had promised a gift to her Aunt Jane Howell, but in 1833 apologized:
"I should like to have sent you thy patchwork by this opportunity, but have not yet got it finished, as sewing cotton run[s] low with us, and I felt unwilling unless compelled by actual necessity to purchase any of the slave manufacture.....I shall not be able to make it the full size as I shall not have pieces enough. It will I expect require a border, perhaps the width or a breadth of furniture calico."

C was for cotton-field in the 1846 Anti-Slavery Alphabet book

Free produce cotton, as it was called, was in short supply in the Michigan Territory, She was looking for chintz (furniture calico) and sewing thread not produced in the Americas where slaves suffered to supply the western world with the newly popular fabric.

Another early silk quilt from the Winterthur's Collection,
The maker of this strip quilt is unknown but she was likely a Quaker
who dressed in silks and wools rather than slave-grown cotton.

Elizabeth might have made her aunt a silk quilt instead, using the European fabrics that many antislavery Quakers preferred for clothing and patchwork. It was difficult to find free-labor cotton in Michigan or for that matter in Philadelphia, the nation's third largest city.

Free Labor Store in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio. 
Quakers maintained a store here
at 3 different locations from 1848 to 1857.

Antislavery shoppers could find free-labor sugar, rice, fabrics and other goods at Free Labor Stores. Benjamin Lundy's newspaper the Genius of Universal Emancipation discussed free labor stores in 1832. 

Above a list of fabric for sale at Lydia White's Dry Goods Store, 42 N 4th  Street in Philadelphia. She "has caused to be manufactured a number of bales of cotton ---the production of free labor---from North Carolina." Lundy also mentioned Jane Webb's Free Grocery Store in Wilmington, Delaware.

 Free Labor Store supposed to be Benjamin Lundy's in
Baltimore, often said to be the "first", although claims of "firsts" are always dubious.

I've never seen a cotton quilt with the story that it was made of free-labor cottons, but many silk Quaker quilts survive.

Center of a wholecloth silk quilt made by Philadelphia Quakers
Hannah Callender, Sarah Smith and Catherine Smith,
Dated 1761
Collection of Independence Hall

The Smith/Callender quilt is one of the earliest reliably dated American quilts.

Silk medallion quilt, collection: Smithsonian Institution, mid-19th century

A note with this quilt indicated it had been pieced of 
“Wedding and ‘Second Day’ dresses" from the wardrobe of 
Clarissa or Clara Tarleton Penn , St. Mary’s County, 
Maryland, who married March 7, 1809.

Read more about Elizabeth Chandler and Free Labor Stores here at Quaker Quilt History:

James & Lucretia Mott also managed a Free Labor Store

Read more about the Smith/Callender quilt:

Marsha J. Heringa Mason. Remember the Distance that Divides Us, The Family Letters of Philadelphia Quaker Abolitionist and Michigan Pioneer Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, 1830-1842. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004.


Jacqueline said...

I love reading your posts. Thank you sew much for taking the time to inform, educate and entertain us with history.

Barbara Brackman said...

So glad there are readers!

Anonymous said...

I am sure that there are many readers who, like me, don't have the requisite accounts with which to log in an comment. Many bloggers use tools that force one to log in, and I rarely notice the bloggers who allow anonymous comments. I love your blog, and have made several of your quilts. Thank you for your work. Y from Australia

Rina Spina said...

I agree with Jacqueline in saying that you are entertaining us with such interesting historical facts! Even though I'm not American, I do love the stories that made your country great and proud! Some of my relatives immigrated in America in early 1900 and now my son is married with a sweet American girl. So the world is really small, and in some way we are all connected.
Thank you, Barbara, to let me be part of this!