Saturday, February 3, 2018

Buried with the Silver: Temperance Smoot's Quilt & A Sad Tale

Quilt attributed to Temperance Neely Smoot by
her great-granddaughter in 1986.
Temperance Smoot's descendant brough this quilt
to a documentation day in Alamance County, North Carolina.

Update: Museum curator Diana Bell-Kite has done
more research on the quilt.

The pattern is known locally as cotton boll.
North Carolina documenters saw several.

Is that a chrome orange plain-colored cotton in the applique and sashing?

The family story passed on with the quilt was that it was "hidden with other valuables in a trunk in a swamp during the Civil War." Documenter Erma Kirkpatrick thought it had never been washed. We can see there are two large stains on it, perhaps water stains, which might have been caused by being stashed in a swamp.

See the file here:

Thirty-one years later we've seen a lot more antique quilts and I have to say I doubt this one was buried with the silver to keep it from marauding Yankees---mainly because it looks to have been made after the Civil War.

The major clues to a post-1870 date are the inexpensive, fugitive, plain-colored cottons typical of Carolina and other Southern quilts in the last decades of the 19th century and into the twentieth.

Similar construction in a pieced 4-block quilt
made in North Carolina by Thelma Drake
about 1935. North Carolina project & the Quilt Index.

The triple strip sashing and border with a nine-patch cornerstone is also a post-war style characteristic not seen so much before the war.

Tempy Smoot's block
Chrome orange was common in post war Southern quilts.

I thought I might be able to find corroborating information about the life of Temperance Neely Smoot as the name is so odd, but I was surprised to find it's not unusual in Rowan and Davie Counties.

This grave in Mocksville, North Carolina has been misread as Temperance Nefly Smoot but that's not an F, it's an E. If this is our Temperance she would have been of a good age to have made such a quilt about 1890 to 1910. She was born and died in Calahaln, southwest of Winston-Salem. Tempy Smoot is her maiden name. According to Find-A-Grave she never married.

Davie County Court House in Mocksville, about 1925

There are many members of the Smoot family in the area then and now. Another Temperance Neely Smoot was born in 1810. Temperance Neely of Salem in Davie County married Alexander Smoot in the 1820s. She died in either 1887 or 1897 so could  have made the quilt before or after the War. The family story that accompanied the quilt recalled the seamstress as married to Sanford Smoot, another re-occurring name in the area. Perhaps Alexander was mis-remembered as Sanford.

This Temperance and Alexander had a daughter Rebecca Providence Smoot (1837-1890) about which more later.

A Temperance Elizabeth Smoot seems to have died as a child before the Civil War in Tennessee. And Tempie Jane Smoot was born and died in Texas (1886-1951). She was probably related but is unlikely to have been the seamstress. And then there is a Temperance Neely Smoot born in 1891---leaving very few records. 

Temperance Elizabeth Neely (1830-1922) of Rowan County married a man named Gustavus Aldophus Bingham. I believe she was Rebecca Providence Smoot Neely's daughter. A little poking around found a very sad story.

Unidentified woman and daughter

Two months after the Civil War ended Temperance Elizabeth shot a freedwoman who had once been a slave on the Neely plantation. Twenty-four year old Galina had not been free long enough to have a last name. She was in a difficult place on July 1, 1865. Having recently learned she was free she hoped to leave the Neelys but persuasion from the white women, particularly Temperance, discouraged her from striking out on her own with her children, so she stayed (she had five children including ten-year-old Ellen.)

Women at the Fripp plantation after the war. 
Library of Congress photo.
Galina's family and the Neelys could not persist in the old ways but they had no experience in the new. Temperance Neely's mother, known as Providence, became furious when Ellen refused to follow instructions as if she were still a slave. Providence sharpened a switch and began to beat Ellen.

Escapees (contraband) women during the war

Galina jumped to protect her child. Temperance ran into the house and grabbed a pistol kept on the fireplace mantel. "We were helpless women," testified Providence later, "We kept a pistol there to defend ourselves." Temperance shot a bullet over Galina's head. The second shot hit her in the chest. Galina ran for help, saying "Miss Temperance has shot me." She died that day.

Temperance Neely probably could have avoided any disciplinary action at all for shooting Galina had she killed her a few months earlier when Galina was a slave. But the case became an example of post-war justice. As the New York Times phrased it in August, 1865:
"A new era has dawned... The trial of Miss TEMPERANCE NEELY, of Davie County, in this State, for the murder of a negro woman, GALINA, formerly her slave, has just been concluded before a military commission, convened at this place by order of Brevet Brig.-Gen. G.W. SCHOFIELD."
Temperance was convicted in a military court. The Times continued:
"Miss NEELY is in town awaiting sentence....In case of conviction involving anything beyond fine, a strong effort is to be made to secure a pardon from President JOHNSON. Little doubt is entertained by the rebels of obtaining this. "
The sentence was a fine of $1,000, which Temperance apparently had no difficulty paying. Confederate sympathizer President Andrew Johnson did not have to pardon her.

Read the New York Times story here:

And see more about cotton boll quilts here:


Anonymous said...

A gripping blog post. Thank you for this.

Jeanne said...

Just this week I read "Twelve Years A Slave" ... not many happy endings.

Interesting that there were more than one Temperance Smoot!

Judy said...

To have her freedom, only to die, is so sad. I’m sure it happened more than once. Our US has a bleak, ugly, past.

Nann said...

Thank you for this story, Barbara. The grave marker looked like Nefley to me, too.
When I read the name Smoot I thought immediately of two famous Smoots: the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, but Sen. Reed Smoot was from Utah (descendant of Kentuckians) and the MIT "smoot," an eponynous unit of measurement (67")

Danice G said...

Really sad story. The quilt is very nice, even though I agree and would doubt that it was in a swamp for many years.

Suzanne A said...

Sad story, the hasty and vengeful killing of the former slave. Even today we're still trying to convince people that Black lives matter. Sort of the same thing.

Re the quilt, I vote for your post Civil War date. There's an applique quilt that descended in my son-in-law's Southern family with faded solid fabric and a three-strip sashing that dates to the late 19th Century according to the family identification of its South Carolina maker which seems to be correct. Your theory is consistent with that example.

Lady Locust said...

Quite the history~ would you happen to know a source for the pattern? I love it! I will have to scour my books or possibly draw my own. It is simply stunning stains and all. I'm slow so it would be a long term project for sure. Thank you for sharing.