Saturday, March 21, 2020

Martha Washington Souvenir Quilt Top

Quilt top attributed to Martha Washington Dandridge Halyburton (ca. 1760-1857)
Collection of the Ladies' Mt. Vernon Association.

The medallion is pieced of a number of interesting fabrics....(Detail shots come from DAR Museum Textile Curator Alden O'Brien who visited Mount Vernon to look at the Washington quilts a few months ago.)

....Fabrics probably not chosen for aesthetic reasons but as a document. 

According to the donor, this rather small quilt was believed to have been made from Martha Custis Washington's dresses by her niece Martha Halyburton.

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1732-1802)
Miniature portrait on ivory by Charles Willson Peale
Collection of Yale University

Martha Washington was wife of our first president and quite a celebrity at the time,
as well as a well-loved aunt and grandmother.

Textile experts Lynne Bassett & Deborah Kraak also examined the quilt top.

How the patchwork piece came to Mount Vernon is actually a Civil War story
rather than a Revolutionary War tale.

Martha Halyburton was a Virginian born into an elite and wealthy family of planters. She lived a long life, dying in her nineties a few years before the Civil War began. Named for her aunt, Martha was the daughter of Bartholomew Dandridge (1737-1785), the elder Martha's brother. 

Martha Halyburton and husband William had nine children; one was James Dandridge Halyburton  born on February 23, 1803 in New Kent County, Virginia. While she was pregnant with James Martha must have been saddened by her aunt's death in May, 1802. 

Current cataloguing information about the top is that the younger Martha gathered pieces of her aunt's wardrobe and stitched this quilt, meant for her new baby James who never knew his great aunt. At one time it was believed that the elder Martha Washington actually sewed it (she was quite the needleworker and other quilts are attributed to her.)

James Dandridge Halyburton (1803-1879)

In any case James was custodian of the artifact. His wife Ann Giles Halyburton realized it's value and passed on the story that Martha Washington had pieced it. Ann Elizabeth Giles (1816-1883), James's second wife, was also Virginia aristocracy. Her father William B. Giles was a Jeffersonian politician, a U.S. Senator before her birth; during her childhood he was Governor of Virginia for three years.

Ann was born in Amelia, Virginia at her father's home The Wig-Wam,
which still stands. A biography says there were 28 rooms.

Ann's mother Frances Gwynn Giles was Giles's second wife, a cousin to his first wife, married when she was 17.  She died at 27 in 1821 leaving Ann (called Nannie) motherless at about 5. Her father died when she was 14. Ten years later she married James Halyburton.

James had graduated from Harvard in 1823, a student impressed by professor Edward Everett who taught Greek literature before his political fame. After law school in Virginia James enjoyed a career as a federal judge in Richmond, Virginia, nominated by President John Tyler in 1844. Tyler's first wife Letitia Christian Tyler was apparently a Halyburton cousin. James and Nannie moved to Richmond with their three children Martha, William and Fanny (there were eventually nine.)

During the 1850s the Halyburtons rented this house at 100 East Main,
still standing, called the Crozet House or the Curtis Carter House

According to the 1850 census the quiltmaker Martha Washington Halyburton
was living with her son and his family of five children in Richmond

The slave schedule for 1850 lists 8 for James Halyburton
from an 80 year old black man to a 2-year-old mixed-race boy.

Richmond's Custom House/Court House was one of the
few government buildings to survive the Civil War.

In 1861 James followed his Virginia loyalties, resigning from the Federal government and taking a similar office in the Confederate States Court in the same city and same building.

When the war began Ann was raising seven boys ages 7 to 19, presumably with the help of her two daughters, eldest Martha born in 1833 and Fanny born in 1844, neither of whom ever married. During the war the Halyburton family lived on Marshall Street between 8th & 9th, near the Davis's home, the Confederate White House, according to a descendant's book. Shirlee Morris Haizlip writes: "The neighborhood was known as Court End because it was populated mostly by lawyers and judges."

 The 1860 census lists only four slaves on Marshall Street; three were women, two 65 and one woman 45 who Haizlip believes to be her great-great grandmother. Her great-great grandfather, she thinks, is James Halyburton through his enslaved son Edward Everett Morris, named for his father's Greek professor at Harvard. That mulatto boy recorded in the 1850 census is no longer at the home in 1860. At 12 he may have been working elsewhere.

William Howell Davis (1861-1872)

Ann Halyburton was apparently not near the center of Varina Davis and Mary Chesnut's circle of powerful women. Neither Chesnut nor Davis mention Ann or her husband in their writings. But the story that accompanied the quilt is that when Varina gave birth to her son William Howell Davis in December, 1861, Ann and James gave the Washington quilt top to the Davises for Billy.  The connection to the Washington and Dandridge family was important in Confederate imagination, linking the first revolution to their second rebellion, so the quilt top was quite an appropriate gift.

William died at 11 in 1872. Towards the end of her life, his mother Varina gave the quilt top to Mount Vernon in 1899, returning it to the Washington shrine in 1899.

James Halyburton's most notable judicial action for the Confederacy was administering the oath of office in Richmond to Jefferson Davis on February 22, 1862. No photos of this second ceremony survive. Davis's wife abruptly left the scene. Varina could not bear to watch" a willing victim going to his funeral pyre."

Richmond 1865

Varina was right; it was all a funeral. When Union troops threatened Richmond in the last weeks of the war James was elected to a Committee of Citizens to welcome the victors but he thought better of that idea and escaped the city, apparently accompanying Jefferson Davis and hundreds of other Confederate officials, taking trains to Danville, Virginia. Did Ann and the children leave too?

Richmond after Union occupation.
Library of Congress
The courthouse is in the center below the horizon in this photo.

The Halyburtons lost everything.  To support the family Ann and daughter Fanny opened a school at the corner of Grace and Adams in the fall of 1867.

James received a pardon for his treasonous activities in January, 1867
with 19 recommendations.

He opened a law office with Ann's brother Thomas but Halyburton & Giles did not bring in the necessary income. James also taught law. In the mid 1870s he was afflicted with a debilitating attack of paralysis, possibly a stroke. He died in 1879.
A short obituary mentioning Edward Everett
wrongly mentioned as his classmate. Everett was his teacher.

Edward Everett (1794 – 1865)

Everett must have been quite important to Halyburton to name his illegitimate son for him.

Ann died four years after her husband.

She also left two daughters, not mentioned in her obituary.

Read Shirlee Taylor Haizlip's book about here family: The Sweeter the Juice : A Family Memoir in Black and White.

1 comment:

QuiltGranma said...

I read, in various places, where the young women never married... during and after the war. Would it be safe to assume it was because they had no men around left that they would want to marry, or that they were perhaps traumatized by what had happened to and around them during the war?