Saturday, July 28, 2018

Boston's City Donation Room, Pincushions & Eliza Boardman Otis

20,000 Pincushions came into this Boston building to be given to
 20,000 Massachusetts soldiers in one ten-month period during the Civil War.

Evans House at Tremont & Mason Streets

This obtuse Civil War statistic came to my attention while
pursuing the story behind an intriguing certificate,
 sold at Skinner's Auctions. 

"City of Boston. Boston 1861 This certifies that Mrs. Jonas Munroe has given 1 quilt & work for the soldiers who leave Boston under the requisition of the President of the United States., (signed) Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis,"

Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis must have been quite a personality if
we can judge by her signature, which was printed on the certificates.

Here's a blank version
and one given to Mrs. Appleton in thanks for 19 pair of mittens.

A little poking around Boston's Civil War history told me a lot about Eliza Otis and her donation certificates.

Eliza Henderson Boardman Otis (1796-1873)

Eliza Boardman was born in the first years of the American nation in Boston, daughter of "a wealthy merchant of the India and China trade." In May of 1817 she married the son of Boston's mayor, one of many men named Harrison Gray Otis.

Eliza about the time of her marriage

Her Mr. Otis, a lawyer, died in his thirties in 1827 leaving her with five children and a lot of money, some from her family, some from his. She took the children to Europe for several years and returned to Boston where she was a renowned society hostess, famous for her Washington's Birthday parties. In 1854 she published a novel The Barclays of Boston.

20,000 pincushions in ten months...
extrapolated to a 5 year war....
The mind is boggled.

When the Civil War broke out she was in her mid-60s. The "indefatigable Mrs. Otis" became the manager of the Committee on Military Donations, which ran a City Donation Room, a Soldiers' Aid Society. The whole idea may have been hers.

A good excuse to show some pincushions, most made
after the war.

In discussing women's aid for the Union Army we are most familiar with the national Sanitary Commission, which took over soldiers' aid societies across the Union, but Eliza Otis was apparently not to be taken over. Her City Donation Room continued as an independent local charity throughout  the war, focused on the healthy soldier, his family and the ex-soldier rather than on the hospitalized man. According to a history of the Donation Committee, she took over the Evans House on April 29, 1861:
 "Making it a general depot for receiving and distributing conveniences and necessaries to the soldiers of Massachusetts....She receives anything and everything for the soldiers--
shirts drawers
sleeping caps
groceries, teas
...distributed, to her order only, to all the soldiers who apply. They come from the camps and get complete outfits....Each person who makes a donation receives a printed certificate, with the signature of the agent and an acknowledgment through the newspapers."

Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863)

Robert Gould Shaw was a beneficiary of the Donation Room on his way to fight in late May, 1861. He wrote his mother:
"Annie Agassiz... gave me a needle & thread &c case ....The next day she sent me 2 flannel shirts, 2 prs. woolen stockings & 2 hdkchfs which came from Mrs. H. G. Otis who represented some Society or other."
Bedding, quilts, comforters, coverlets and pillows were also distributed. They handed out cash for things they couldn't supply.

Back to the certificate given to Mrs. Jonas Munroe for her donation of 1 quilt & work (probably needlework): She was perhaps associated with the Jonas Munroe family in Lexington, Massachusetts who ran a tavern (a hotel).

The Munroe family operated this 18th-century tavern, which still stands.

When it was decorated in high Colonial Revival style shown in this vintage postcard
there was a white work bedcover on display.

Pincushions and certificates: All in all, a little remembered aspect of women's work in the Civil War. 

Robert Gould Shaw's letter about Mrs. Otis is in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Read The Barclays of Boston by Eliza Otis here:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Antebellum Album #7: Chimney Sweep

Antebellum Album #7 Chimney Sweep by Becky Brown

Southerners anxious to establish schools in the antebellum years had difficulty finding qualified teachers, so they were motivated to offer handsome salaries to well-educated Northerners who agreed to emigrate. Caroline Matilda Seabury, a single 27-year-old with a good New England education, accepted a position teaching French at the Columbus Female Institute in northeastern Mississippi.

Caroline Russell Seabury (1827 -1893)

Brooklyn, New York to Columbus, Mississippi

Caroline had been living with her few surviving relatives, sister Martha and brother Channing, in their uncle's Brooklyn home. The family was prosperous (Uncle Edwin was a dry goods wholesaler) but cursed by tuberculosis. After Mary's father and most of her siblings died of the disease her despairing mother Caroline Plimpton Seabury committed suicide. 

Caroline left Brooklyn in fall, 1854 seeking an independent life, a difficult step.

Columbus Female Institute
about 1880 when it became a woman's college
"O, the loneliness of that great half furnished place, it overpowered us both. Miss S. who had just left school & for the first time tried a life among strangers---far from home---I with no home felt----both of us utterly heartsick." Sister Martha joined her but Martha was ill too and would soon die.
Caroline made friends in Columbus, earning local minor celebrity for her brave care of a young small pox victim in 1857. She maintained ties with some of those friends over her lifetime.

 Chimney Sweep by Mark Lauer

The Block
Chimney Sweep

Variations on this block must be the most popular friendship pattern.

Quilt dated 1852.
"The Quilt of Friendship"

"The quilt of Freenbship"

Mrs. Cowperthwaite wasn't much of a speller
but we are glad she tried.

You can construct the block in many ways. BlockBase #3266
is easy to cut and piece in diagonal strips.

Cutting a 12" Block

A-  Cut 2 squares 2-3/8". Cut each in half with one diagonal cut. You need 4 small triangles.

B- Cut 3 squares. 4-1/4".  Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 12 triangles.

C- Cut 6 rectangles 4-3/4" X 2-5/8".
D- Cut 3 rectangles 6-7/8" X 2-5/8".
E- Cut 4 squares 2-5/8"--- 2 light/2 dark.

Chimney Sweep by Denniele Bohannon

A Sentiment for July

You have a little more room in this block so here's an
extravagant flourish---perhaps a music book.

Chimney Sweep by Pat Styring

During the War & After

When Civil War came Caroline stayed at her position in Columbus, ambivalent as to where she belonged.
"When will this agony be over?—From the hour when I first saw the Confederate flag flying to this evening there has been a conflict of feeling—personal attachments struggling against inborn principles."
She'd made friends in Mississippi; she was dependent on her salary; her sister was buried there. To some degree she'd become a Southerner but never a secessionist. Through her war years she always saw the folly of the Confederate cause and the fallacies in Confederate propaganda, ideas she could confide only to her diary.

In 1862 the Vermont-born principal, wary of Northern-born teachers, fired her. She found work tutoring the daughters of George Hampton Young at Waverley Plantation, seven miles from town on the Tombigbee River. 

Mid-20th century photo of Waverley's Plantation House built in 1852.
"My home is pleasant with two little girls to teach---plenty of time for sewing, reading, walking or riding---a great deal too much for thinking..."
A year later:
"This summer time hangs heavily on my hands...with nothing to sew, because there is no material to be had...Even after learning to twist on a 'great [spinning] wheel' there is nothing left to twist...I have been reduced to the last semblance of occupation---patch-work---in company with my friends here---a last resort in the hour of extremity."

 Chimney Sweep by Mark Lauer

She yearned to go North but could not get a pass to legally cross the lines. In late July, 1863 after the fall of Vicksburg, friends arranged an "opportunity," an undercover wagon ride northwest across the state to Union-held Mississippi River banks with four men, four mules and some cattle.

Edwin Forbes's drawing of a four-mule team with an 
African-American driver, similar to the wagon that took Caroline northwest 
across Mississippi.  Her driver was named Jack.
Library of Congress.

Caroline's account of the two-week trip through ravaged Mississippi is a classic adventure tale. Her saviors deposited her on Buck Island on the Arkansas side of  the river where she feared remaining "a prisoner condemned without a trial." How to catch the attention of the Union army?
"A thought came to me---that in my trunk were some pieces of red white & blue silk---remnants of a Union flag....I made as large a flag as I could with them, cut paper stars out of a blank leaf in my note-book---and soon had a Star spangld---though small-sized--national emblem---With a cotton-wood stick for staff, it was tied on---the stars down---in token of distress."

Mississippi river steamboat with paroled prisoners aboard, 1865

She waved her flag at a passing boat carrying Union troops from Vicksburg. They stopped and picked her up. She made it to Cincinnati and then back to New York.

Channing Seabury's late-19th-century house in St. Paul

Caroline's life is known through her diary and her post-war letters, which were included with the papers of her brother Channing, a gilded-age success in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Seabury papers were donated by Channing's wife to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Channing Seabury taking the first shovel of dirt at the ground-
breaking ceremony for the new Minnesota capitol in 1896.
Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society

Caroline died in Washington D.C. in 1893 and is buried with her brother and his wife in St. Paul.

The Diary of Caroline Seabury, 1854–1863, edited by Suzanne L. Bunkers is still available from the University of Wisconsin Press. See more here:
Sarah Elizabeth McKinley's flourish
on the 1852 quilt of friendship above

Turkey red and white sampler from French72 
Antiques with five examples of this month's album block

One happy ending in Caroline's story:  Waverley's resurrection.
It's been restored to its antebellum glory. Here is where she was reduced
 to "the last semblance of occupation---patch-work."

 Chimney Sweep by Denniele Bohannon

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Quilt Buried With the Silver: Sarah Wilfong Ramseur's Chintz Panel Quilt

Lincolnton, Cabarrus County, North Carolina,
North Carolina Museum of History

There is a tendency in the Southern oral tradition to attribute every stain in an antique quilt to a subterranean stay during a Yankee raid, but there is also much oral tradition that quilts were indeed  buried by families on both sides. Sallie Rochester Ford's account of Raids & Romance of Morgan and His Men tells of  "Unionists" in the path of John Hunt Morgan's Confederate army "bidding a hurried adieu to their homes."
"Ladies gathered together their silver and other valuables, and boxing them up, dispatched them, post-haste, to a place of safety in the country. They buried their linen and bedding...."
Staining in the quilt's center

This chintz quilt that survived the Civil War was handed down in a family with a variation on the story. It was hidden from General Sherman's Union troops under a leaky roof in Concord, North Carolina. The stain around the central panel is attributed to the leaks.

Interior of the Forney house in Lincolnton, photographed by
Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1938. Library of Congress.
Classical style reflected in architecture and the quilt.

Concord is in Cabarrus County, northeast of Charlotte. The quilt is from the Ramseur family of Lincolnton, northwest of Charlotte. In March, 1865, a month before the Confederate surrender, General William T. Sherman's army was marching north towards Richmond. Citizens of Mecklenburg & Cabarrus County were threatened although the majority of the Union troops remained east of the area. Hiding such a beautiful quilt in an attic would have been a prudent move.

The quilt was donated to the North Carolina Museum of History in 1926 by Sarah Pfifer Williamson of Chicago who attributed it to a woman named Sarah Wilfong Ramseur. At a time when objects such as quilts were valued primarily by their associations with famous men, Williamson noted that Sarah Ramseur was the grandmother of  Confederate General Stephen Dodson Ramseur.

Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur
He fought most of the war without the use of an injured arm.

There are many Sarah Wilfongs in the family but the Sallie in question seems to have been Sarah Salome Wilfong Ramsour (1788-1837) of Lincolnton. Sarah married David Carpenter Ramsour (1775-1842) and they had a boy Jacob Able Ramseur and two girls Cynthia (Hoyle) and Mary Adeline (Phifer.) Mary Adeline's daughter Sarah Phifer Williamson (1859-1937) donated the quilt she attributed to her grandmother to the museum.

The quilt looks to be from the 1820s or '30s so could have been made by Sarah Salome late in her life. Her son Jacob and wife Lucy Mayfield Dodson had nine children. Their second son Stephen Dodson Ramseur is the Major General mentioned in the gift. Born in 1837 he attended West Point and when the Civil War erupted he resigned his U.S. Army commission to fight for the South. 

Ellen Richmond Ramseur (1840-1900) as a girl before the war.
North Carolina Museum of History

Dodson Ramseur earned a reputation as a brash fighter. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia a few days after his wife and cousin Ellen Richmond Ramseur gave birth to a daughter in October, 1864.

Ramseur family members at Dodson Ramseur's memorial dedication
in 1920. The monument is at Belle Grove Plantation in Virginia where he died.
Collection of the North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill.

The central chintz in this beautiful quilt is cut from a panel,
a floral bouquet tied with a blue ribbon. Marguerite Ickis published
a black & white photo of this quilt in her 1949 Standard Book of Quiltmaking
(pg. 109) but did not have much to say about it.

Panel #14
Merikay Waldvogel and I are discussing this particular panel on our chintz panel blog this week.

Here's a link: