Saturday, December 29, 2018

Another Underground Railroad Tale

A well-worn quilt seen online. In setting and quilting style, fabrics and color it seems a typical late-19th-century Southern quilt, quite charming in its naive interpretation of a popular pattern, stitched in the inexpensive, gauzy, likely-to-fade-cottons from post-Civil-War Southern mills. Is that a linsey stripe along the bottom or just an all-cotton red and white ticking kind of fabric?

Typical colors often seen in Southern quilts from the era include the plain chrome orange and a brown. That brown might have been red once, but plain brown is also typical of late-century Southern quilts. 

Here's the block, a variation of a popular pattern often called Peony or Cleveland Tulip after President Grover Cleveland who was president twice from 1885–1889 and 1893–1897, which is probably when this quilt was made: 1885-1900.

Several pattern companies sold the design. Is obvious that the quilt above 
was not a "book pattern" although it may have been inspired by a commercial design.

Variations on the design go back to the 1840s

Similar pattern documented in the Tennessee project,
from the Weaver family of Knox County. 
Collection of the East Tennessee Museum.

Solid colors, same block, but placed on point.

The quilt at the top of the page was on display at a museum in Gaffney, South Carolina (a town about 20 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina). The photos were taken about 6 years ago.

Here is the label, indicating it was made in the mid-19th century by a Blackfoot woman named Bluesparrow (1797-1905) who lived in North Carolina and later in Kansas. The label indicates the blues were hand dyed with indigo (possible) and some of the reds "possibly with beet juice." Not plausible. Beet juice will not color cotton red in any washable fashion. The quilt is probably not hand-dyed but stitched from local fabrics dyed in local mills.

Bright red cottons that remain so bright were probably
commercially dyed with a synthetic Turkey red as in this similar
quilt from the late 19th century. The yellow orange was the
mineral dye chrome orange. The green???

What is even more implausible---and unfortunate---is the story that the quilt is an "escape code" quilt:
"Legend has it that Bluesparrow would take slave children, put them in her laundry basket, and cover them with this quilt. She would then walk out to the perimeter of the woods, where their parents would retrieve them and escape. It has also been said that Bluesparrow would hang these quilts on the drying line with the patchwork posies growing in one direction, while one patch would point out the direction of their trail or escape route."
The pattern name they say is  "Freedom Flowers."

"Legend" may have it---but there is absolutely no truth to such a story. The quilt was made about 25 years after slavery was abolished. And even if this quilt were as old as 1850 the underground railroad link is untrue. No one has ever come up with any plausible evidence that any quilt "pointed in the direction" of an escape route. It makes no sense.

Collection of Kathy Sullivan
The heavy sashing bars (a late-19th-century Southern style characteristic)
have faded to a pale tan here.

It's a poetic tale, but untrue. Now, why do I care about quaint legends on museum quilt labels perpetuating myths? Because we know nothing of the true story of Bluesparrow, of this quilt and far too little about quilts made in the Cherokee nation either during the Civil War or after. Re-telling and re-hashing stories like the underground railroad quilt code legend absolves museum personnel of researching any kind of actual, accurate local history.

Tell them Betsy Ross sewed a flag and we've done our bit for women's history; tell them escaped slaves used quilts as maps and we've covered Black History month (why does it only get a month?)
Don't get me started.

Here's a Southern beauty from Pepper Cory's collection.
Freedom Flowers, my foot.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Antebellum Album #12: A Double Life

Antebellum Album #12: A Double Life by Becky Brown
Our last block in the Antebellum Album series
recalls Emily Wharton Sinkler.

Philadelphia's Navy Asylum housed the Naval Academy

In the antebellum period Philadelphia was the center for American education, not only in its elite French Schools for women but also for men's academies and colleges, among them the predecessor of the U.S. Naval Academy. Charles Sinkler of South Carolina attended classes there in 1841 training to be a Midshipman.

Emily Wharton Sinkler (1823-1875)

After his year in Philadelphia he forged a long-term Northern connection, marrying 19-year-old Emily Wharton daughter of a real estate lawyer. Philadelphia snob Sidney George Fisher was not fond of the women in Emily's family. Her mother and older sister "are at the head of the blue school of mawkish, sentimental, would be literary ladies lately got up here. They are more darkly, deeply blue than the rest." By blue he meant well-read and educated.

We can imagine how a couple of attractive and well-bred young people, a naval officer and a Philadelphia belle (if a little blue), may have met and courted.

St. Stephen's Church where Emily married
 still stands in Philadelphia.

A Southern planter and a woman descended from Quaker Philadelphia's founders might face conflicts often seen in mixed marriages like the union between actress Fanny Kemble and slave-holder Pierce Butler. By the time of Emily's 1842 marriage the battling Butlers were the talk of Philadelphia.

Butler and Kemble divorced in 1849

Surely someone must have pointed to the Butlers as a cautionary tale before Emily wed and sailed south to live in Orangeburg County on the Santee River.

1911 map with plantation areas in pink and the city of Charleston
at the red arrow. Much of their neighborhood is now under Lakes Moultrie & Marion.

Eutaw, 1939, from the Library of Congress, 
a Sinkler cotton plantation where Emily joined the family in 1842.
These Lowcountry plantation homes were not mansions
 imagined in movie sets of Tara.

Yet, Emily and Charles's marriage was a success, not only at the personal level but also because it affected so many family members in positive fashion. A prime reason for that success was shared social class. As Daniel Kilbride pointed out in his book An American Aristocracy: Southern Planters in Philadelphia, antebellum families like the Wharton and Sinklers valued membership in an American aristocracy as more important than any North/South cultural differences. Emily would have raised far more eyebrows had she married a middling Philadelphian.

A second factor was Emily's personality. She was no prima donna but a sunny, energetic woman who grew to love her in-laws. A third important contributor was the young Sinklers decision to split their year between two cultures.

Twice a year Emily traveled by ship between her two homes.
 Fall trips back to South Carolina during
hurricane season caused much anxiety.

The Sinklers were comfortable in their double life, spending October through March in South Carolina Lowcountry and spring and summer, the sickly season, in Philadelphia. Her parents' Pennsylvania home and later one of their own provided a refuge from Carolina's climate and a cosmopolitan cycle to their antebellum years.

Center of a Carolina Lowcountry white work quilt attributed
to Charlotte Evance Cordes (1767-1826) in
the collection of the D.A.R. Museum

Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, in 1856. 
L.J. Levy & Sons is on the corner at left.
Chestnut Street was the place to promenade and Levy's the place to shop.

Emily may have spent many months every year in a rural backwater but she did not lack for civilization's blessings. The Whartons sent Philadelphia newspapers, English magazines, novels---and fabric. She kept up with fashion through Godey's and Peterson's.

Summer trips to Philadelphia included shopping on Chestnut Street. When at the the plantations she often asked her family to purchase fabric at Levy's. In 1848 she wrote sister Mary: 
"I enclosed a note asking you to see about some furniture chintz for me....I wish you would inquire the price in Philadelphia and let me know in your next letter. Don't forget this." 
Levy's interior could not have been as magnificent as
this lithograph claims but it was the fashionable yard goods store.

In 1852 Mary sent fabric swatches. "The patterns gave me great satisfaction," wrote Emily. At first I guessed she meant dress patterns but I realize she was talking about the print fabrics as patterns.

Charles "was keen for getting four dresses of the sort but I thinking that, rather too much of one good thing, am contented with getting one. Will you therefore get me 10 yards of the blue and [sister-in-law] Anna 10 yards of the brown.....Please get me some patterns of whatever they have pretty at Levy's in the way of Spring and Summer best dresses...."

The Block

A Double Life by Mark Lauer

The star inside another star (a good idea) is not that common in antique quilts.
Here's one that looks to be about 1900 from a Quilters Newsletter cover.

BlockBase #2167.
The Ladies' Art Company called it Stars & Squares about 1890;
Ruth Finley Rising Star in 1929. 

This album found in the Connecticut project has
Turkey red blocks dated 1847 to 1855, set together with
a gold print.

The double star recalls Emily's two homes and two families.

A Double Life by Pat Styring

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A - Cut 5 squares 3-1/2".
B - Cut 1 square 7-1/4". Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 4 triangles.

 C - Cut 4 squares 3-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

D - Cut 4 squares 2".
E - Cut 1 square 4-1/4". Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 4 triangles.

F - Cut 1 square 2-3/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.



A Double Life by Denniele Bohannon

Giant vintage double star medallion
from Laura Fisher's inventory

A Sentiment for December

Here's a 3" wide version of Hannah Dubree's signature
in a music book from a star block in the collection of 
the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

During the War & After

Sailing between homes in Philadelphia and Charleston came to an end after the battle of Fort Sumter in Charleston's bay in 1861. Emily and Charles remained in South Carolina throughout the war. With his conflicted loyalties Charles did not enlist but eldest son Wharton Sinkler (1845-1910) joined the South Carolina Cavalry when he was 17.

2nd South Carolina Cavalry in camp

Confederate troops brought slaves to do chores like cooking and laundry. Wharton Sinkler
was accompanied by Mingo Rivers (1829-1880). Both Wharton and Mingo survived the war. Wharton attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and remained a Philadelphian for the rest of his life. Mingo returned to South Carolina where he is buried in the plantations' burial grounds. Emily is there too in a cemetery now an island in Lake Marion, which diverted the Santee River and Eutaw Creek and flooded the Sinkler plantations in the 1940s.

A Double Life by Mark Lauer

Emily's descendants have documented her life well. Read her antebellum letters in the book Between North and South: The Letters of Emily Wharton Sinkler, 1842–1865. Edited by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq.
See a preview here:

And see more about her here:

A Double Life by Denniele Bohannon

We are finished!
12 blocks.
Becky Brown's beautiful top.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

1861 Quilt for Carrie F. Foster: "Life's Sorrows"

Quilt presented to Carrie F. Foster Folsom (1835-1866), 
West Henniker, New Hampshire in 1861.
Collection of the New England Quilt Museum
Gift of Patricia R. Nelson, 1988.02

In the center of the quilt is a block on point with an inscription in a circle.
In the center:
Carrie F. Foster
West Henniker 
In the circle:
"Please accept this quilt, my dear friend
to atone for a loss we cannot amend
And let troubles pass by fraught with despair
And learn with a light heart life's sorrows to bear."
The quilt is dated 1861, the first year of the Civil War. It looks much like other New England friendship quilts at the time. Curators at the New England Quilt Museum and the people of Henniker have wondered what loss this inscription refers to. Caroline, age 26, was married that year to William Odland Folsom, also of Henniker, the same age as she. His biography mentions that  he was "reared to farm life and in 1861 had charge of Horace Greeley's farm at Chappaqua, New York."

"The Chappaqua Farmer," Horace Greeley

Greeley, famous editor of the Tribune in New York City, spent summers at his farm, and one can assume that in the year Carrie married him, William was resident caretaker. 

He then taught school for many years, and that may have been his occupation during their marriage. Carrie died in Henniker in 1865, leaving no children that have been documented. Her husband remarried in 1869 and two years later he and Julia Whitney Folsom had a daughter named Carrie F. Folsom for his first wife.

No family deaths are recorded in 1861 so the quilt's inscription remains a mystery, but I wonder if it is a joke. The major event in Carrie's life that year was her loss of the single state. Did her friends tease her about "life's sorrows" as a wife? Was single blessedness the loss they couldn't amend?

Henniker about 100 years after Carrie's birth

See the Quilt Index file on Carrie's quilt here:

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Denniele's Innovative Set

Next week: The Last Block

Denniele has made two sets of blocks for the Antebellum Album. She's set her blue version medallion-style, a square in a square: 12 blocks in the center plus and empty square (for an inscription or some fancy quilting?)

Strips on the design wall

Then a chain of triangles around the edge in the Lexington Belle pattern, Block 9.

Lexington Belle

Shaded in reverse
Here are her directions.

On her design wall.

Here's the finished top on the design floor.

It's at the quilters now.
Becky Collis is doing some beautiful work.

A little artistic Photoshopping

See her Louanna Mary FaceBook page: