Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sarah Childress Polk's Civil War

Case Antiques in Tennessee sold this puff or biscuit silk quilt last year.

It went for a lot more than any regular old late-Victorian puff quilt in poor shape
because of its historical associations.
"Tennessee pieced quilt, honeycomb or mosaic pattern, comprised of cotton and velvet pieces with wide black satin border and backing. A signed letter accompanying this lot states that this was a "lap quilt" which once belonged to First Lady Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1891) and descended through the family of Ethel Baily and Adair Lyon Childress."

Sarah Childress Polk 1803 –1891
Portrait by George P.A. Healy, 1846
Polk Home Museum 
Sarah's husband was President 1845-1849

Here's a later version of the same technique, three-dimensional squares
filled with batting. This one is tacked in the center.
No tacking stitches in the Polk quilt.

How accurate could that provenance be? Is this bedcover's story, like a crazy quilt linked to Mary Lincoln,  just inflated family tales without historical basis? Did Sarah Polk live long enough to have owned a biscuit quilt?

Sarah lived into her late 80s, until 1891, so was undoubtedly aware of the fashion for silk scrap quilts in the 1880's. This particular puff pattern was never as popular as crazy quilts were but was published about the same time. English authors Sophia Caulfeild and Blanche Saward included instructions for a Raised or Swiss Patchwork quilt in their 1882 book  The Dictionary of Needlework, 
"Raised [patchwork]. — This is also known as Swiss Patchwork, and is made by stuffing the patches out with wadding so that they are well puffed up. The shapes selected for the patches should be either good sized hexagons or diamonds, and only one shape should be used, as intricate patterns made by combining various sized pieces render the work troublesome."
It's totally plausible that Sarah Polk owned this lap quilt in her Nashville home.

That looks like a crazy quilt on the sofa here in her parlor.

One of Sarah's silk dresses. She spent quite a bit
of  her family money on her White House wardrobe.
This one is on view at the Tennessee State Museum.

Sarah's first biographer Anson Nelson mentioned that in her later years:

"Many letters came to her from strangers, making divers requests:... would [she] give items of information regarding some one she had known sixty years ago; that she would grant the favor of a few pieces for a crazy quilt, etc., etc."

Eastman House Museum
Three first ladies in one photograph

An American treasure, this 1848 photograph focuses on Sarah and her circle with James Polk while he was President. At left the woman is Harriet Lane, James Buchanan's niece. The girl is Joanna Rucker, Sarah's niece, and the woman who moved on the right is her friend, a blurred Dolley Madison.

Sarah's jewelry and a reticule (bag)
Photo: Samuel H. Gottscho, Library of Congress

Sarah Childress Polk was a child of Tennessee privilege, daughter of slaveholders and supported by a Mississippi cotton plantation in the antebellum years and through the Civil War. A new biography 
Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk by Amy S. Greenberg gives us much information about her marriage to politician James Knox Polk who served one term in the White House.

Polk annexing Texas

The Polks were Southerners and slave holders whose lasting legacy was the Mexican War and subsequent grab of southwestern territory for new Southern agriculture based on a slave economy.

At the time the Democrats' symbol was a rooster.

James Polk died of cholera just three months after leaving the presidency and Sarah at 46 assumed the role of the Victorian widow, dressed perpetually in black, eschewing social events and seeing visitors primarily at home at their retirement house Polk Place.

Nashville in 1856

Sarah and James in 1846
Collection of Polk Home

When the Civil War began Sarah became President of the Nashville Ladies' Aid Society in a Confederate city, but the Union Army soon occupied the Tennessee capitol and Sarah assumed the role of an official neutral, although Union troops were suspicious of her and her Ladies' Aid. An 1863 book about the capture of Nashville had no kind words to say about her:
" There lives a lady in Nashville...extensively known in city and general circles, Mrs. Ex-President Polk. She is a woman of note, wealthy, smart (that is a better term than “talented” in this instance), and was rather at the head of the female sex of that region as regards all the social bearings. Mrs. Polk was a true rebel. She was too shrewd to be violent, however, and too well-bred to evince her dislike openly to even the humblest member of our army. Severely cool and reticent, she was unmolested, and, when necessary for her to approach the military authorities for a pass or other requisites, she was sufficiently bending and gracious to gain her point.
Sarah's home on Vine Street with her husband's tomb in the front yard. 
The house was destroyed in the early 20th century.
"She has no children: she took to nursing the rebellion of the Southern aristocracy. Her influence upon the wealthy females of her city must have been almost unbounded. She was the President of the Nashville Ladies' Southern Aid Society, and occupied much of her time in duties pertaining to that position. The society met at her house occasionally, and at other private houses upon special occasions; but its general place of meeting was at the Masonic Hall. It is stated upon good authority that Mrs. Polk was greatly intent upon urging the men of Nashville to enter the rebel army, and that she advised the young ladies of that city to send petticoats and hoop-skirts to young men who had proved backward in volunteering. Since the permanent occupation of Tennessee by our army, this lady has been entirely unmolested in person and property. When the stables of the town were swept of every serviceable horse for army use, General Rosecrans ordered hers to be exempted, from a proper respect to the past. She now reposes amid comfort and elegance, while desolation sits brooding around her over the face of a once happy and prospering country."    Annals of the Army of the Cumberlands.

Sarah's hands look so arthritic one would doubt she was
stitching any quilts towards the end of her life.

After the war Sarah was in a difficult place as both a symbol of Southern ideals and an honored former First Lady. Greenburg quotes President Grant's opinion that the Mexican War was "one of the most unjust ever waged" and the Civil war was punishment. As a political sophisticate Sarah Polk worked with Republicans to maintain her husband's reputation. She worked to be a symbol of reconciliation, supporting friend Frances Willard's national W.C.T.U. and becoming a vice-president of the D.A.R. that hoped to bring Americans together with pride over an earlier war against a foreign enemy.

Bettie Childress Brown's husband was Governor of Tennessee

But her Tennessee family members were also founders of the KuKluxKlan and niece Bettie Childress Brown was the first President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1895, continuing the myth and divisiveness of a "lost cause."

Read a preview of Amy S. Greenberg's biography Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk:

And read more about Sarah Polk's wonderful wardrobe here. She might have had a lot of silk scraps around the house.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hospital Sketches #4: Cockscombs & Currants - Field Hospitals

 #4 Cockscombs & Currants by Becky Brown

Cockscombs & Currants recalls the Union field hospitals,in particular those established after the Battle of Antietem. Smoketown Hospital was laid out after a 12-hour battle on Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. September 17, 1862 is considered the worst day for casualties in an American war when 23,000 soldiers were wounded, captured or killed, carnage impossible to grasp.

Field hospital of tents, September, 1862

Smoketown Hospital, literally a hospital in a field, cared for
500 patients some staying into the winter.

The woman in the tent ward is probably Maria Hall.

Maria M. C. Hall Richards (1836-1912). 
Photo from the Brady Studios. Library of Congress

Cockscombs & Currants by Marty Wesbster

Smoketown was one of over a hundred hospitals in the Sharpsburg neighborhood treating wounded after Antietam. 

Philip and Elizabeth Pry's house was seized for General McClellan's headquarters and a hospital for officers. Some enlisted men were treated in their barn. See a post on the Pry House Hospital here:
Smith's Barn near Keedysville was used as a hospital..
Alexander Gardner Photograph. Library of Congress

Churches, barns and pastures were set up as make-shift treatment centers and morgues with post-battle medical treatment adding to the disaster. Medical Inspector W.R. Mosely deplored conditions:
"All the churches used for hospitals in Sharpsburg are in a dilapidated condition, and filthy, and unfit for the purpose for which they are used....a spectacle of misery and poverty.” One exception: Locust Spring hospital with 24 beds and comfortable bedding: “straw in good sacks, with sheets, quilts, and blankets placed on bedsteads.”
Union surgeon Anson Hurd of Indiana treating 
Confederate wounded in makeshift tents behind the Smith's barn.
Alexander Gardner Photograph. Library of Congress

Getting supplies to the hospitals was a nightmare in that first full year of war. The Sanitary Commission and smaller organizations would become more efficient as war dragged on but agents bungled transportation and disbursement after Antietam. Concerned families responded to the horror stories by sending volunteers from individual states to the front with supplies.

Cockscombs & Currants by Bettina Havig
Harriet Hope Agnes Bacon Eaton (1818-1885)

The Maine Camp Hospital Association hired 42-year-old Harriet Bacon Eaton from Portland as their Relief Agent in the field. A widowed minister's wife with a son in the Maine volunteers, Eaton left two daughters with friends to act as nurse and provisioner, according to biographer Jane Schultz who edited her diary. Eaton described her supply work as differing "materially from that of a nurse in the Army."

This photo of two women in a flatboat after Antietam has been labeled a picnic,
a rather frivolous view of a lunch of hardtack. 
Is that Harriet Eaton on the left?

This enlargement of the Gardner photo is from John Banks's blog:

Eaton's diaries in the collection of the University of North Carolina have been recently published as
This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton by Oxford University Press.

She was a great one for listing everything:
"Crackers, fish, pickles, currant shrub and rhubarb wine, apple sauce, blackberry cordial, blackberry preserves, current jelly, dried apples, a jar of raspberry preserves, one of shrub, a bottle of currant wine, soft crackers, farina, chocolate, one can chicken, one doz. combs..."
Cockscombs & Currants by Janet Perkins

Currant shrub (a vinegar-based drink?) and currant wine....
Improvements in the Union supply chain are shown in Eaton's second tour of duty in fall of 1864 when she camped out at City Point in Virginia. She described several quilt deliveries---some not to the patients---but to the doctors who seem to have favored Maine quilts and signed albums in particular.

In October she arranged a trade:  The doctors "begged so hard for album quilts that we finally gave them on condition that they made it up to us in blankets."

Capt. Plummer took a can of peaches, a can of tomatoes, two pillows and a quilt. "Capt. Fogler of the 20th...was highly delighted to receive a quilt marked with his wife's name...."  His wife was 
Caroline (Carrie) E. Hull Fogler (1838-1902) of  Union, Maine.

25-year-old Captain Prentiss Fogler (1838-1897)
 suffered from sunstroke at City Point.

November. "Uncle Richard came for a quilt for ....the new Medical Director. Maine has got a great name for quilts."

And it still does.
Quilt attributed to Cornelia M. Dow of Portland, Maine
during the Civil War.

The Block

The block was an applique fad in the 1850s.

This one with a variation of the vessel, vine and floral border
is dated 1852. Made by a woman named Dixon in Knox County, Illinois,
it's the earliest dated example I've found.

Published names include Flowering Almond, Poinsettia, Chestnut Berry, Oak Leaf, Grapes and Oak Leaf, Spray & Buds---in addition to Cockscombs and Currants.

See a post about the pattern's history here:

To Print:

Create a word file or a new empty JPG file.
Click on the image above.
Right click on it and save it to your file.
Print that file. Be sure the square is about 1" in size.

For the background cut a square 18-1/2".
Add seam allowances to the pattern pieces if you are doing traditional applique.


How many currants?
From a sampler in Julie Silber's Inventory

Cockscomb & Currants by Barbara Brackman
20 is quite fine.

Vintage block

1 Each of A, B, C & E
3 of F
1/2” Finished bias stem

Denniele added more dots.
I'm reminding us that hers finish to 9".

And then she decided the dark blue dot was too big
so a revision.

After the War

Maria Hall married Lucas Richards in 1872 and lived in Unionville, Connecticut, raising three children. She occasionally published memories of the Civil War, including a two-part article in the Springfield Republican in 1886. Long after she died in 1912 a memoir of nursing Tad Lincoln in the White House was published in the Delineator magazine in 1921.

Harriet Eaton also went back to New England. When she died in Hartford, Connecticut she was remembered with a two-sentence obituary only as the wife of her late husband. Unlike other matrons and nurses who published their memoirs she faded into woman's sphere.

Sampler attributed to North Carolina
Read more about the pattern here:

Block #4 has four-way symmetry so is not directional. It goes on the North/South axis.

Extra Reading:

This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton. Ed. Jane E. Schultz. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

John Banks on Maria Hall:

See a letter from Eaton published in the Portland Daily Press in 1863

Cockscombs & Currants by Kathryn Jones

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Newark Album in the American Museum in Britain

The American Museum in Britain in Bath, England owns
an album quilt top with this image of Miss Liberty.
It's dated 1862 and she looks like she is fighting a war.

Twenty-five blocks include two American patriotic images.
(All their quilts are American)

This block looks more like a memorial block than an 
album signature block

"Henry L. Ketchum?
August 25th 1862
Newark NJ
He Giveth His Beloved sleep."

The photos on their website are large enough to read. 
Could that be Nancy L. Hitchens or Ketcham?
The patriotic image inclines one to think it is a soldier's memorial.
But Henry/Nancy has no rank or regiment.

Nearly every block is inked.
The website has excellent photos of some of the blocks.

The central block is beautifully embroidered and appliqued.
The Bible has a printed version of the 23rd Psalm
beginning with "The Lord is my shepherd" and ending with
"I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

From the online catalog:
"The central block is by far the finest. The Bible pages are printed with Psalm 23, with the page edges delineated by tight lines of embroidered stitches. Embroidery threads have been used to shape the appliqu├ęd flowers, with the fuchsias above the Bible enhanced further by applied pieces of pink velvet."

"I laid me down and slept; I awakened
For the Lord sustained me.
July 2? 1862
Newark N.J.
William L Hitchens (?) Ketcham (?)"

Another Psalm
Another Ketcham?
"The theme of sleep is common to many blocks on this quilt top. Quotations from several sleep-related psalms, often used at funerals, suggest that this quilt was made to commemorate someone who had died. The date of 1862 on certain blocks and the inclusion of Lady Liberty holding the Union flag could imply that the deceased was a casualty of the Civil War – perhaps a soldier fighting for the Union or someone sympathetic to its goals."
William's block

The name on this one has bled so badly that it's difficult
to read in a photo. Could those words have to do with a soldier's

At the top
"To a Friend from a friend."

Martha L. Conger's block has butterflies, a bird
and odd inscriptions:

"Martha L? or S? Conger
New Jersey
Tired mother. 
Sweet Mother
B???? Sleep"

Interwoven basket signed Emily P.H.(?) Stackhouse

I did some cursory searching for these people in Newark with more success than usual. I found an Emily Stackhouse listed as a dressmaker with a shop at Quitman & Spruce in an 1875 directory. And William S. and Nancy L may indeed be Ketchams, married in 1839.

William & Nancy Estile Ketcham lived into the 1890s. They were members of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Newark and buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Newark, as is Martha S. Conger (1834-1890), Emily P. Stackhouse (?-1914) and others mentioned on the quilt. 

Mt. Pleasant is a prestigious, large cemetery in Newark.

Amelia S. Taylor
Amelia Taylor (1818-?) is also at Mt. Pleasant 

Julia T. Marshall

Mrs.? Cornelia Putnam
Buried at Mt. Pleasant d. 1924

No inking on this block.

It certainly looks as if this was made for some deceased honoree but the graveyard information indicates that everybody I could find was hale and hearty in 1862 and lived another thirty or more years.