Saturday, June 27, 2020

Hannah Reynolds's Civil War

Hannah Elizabeth Reynolds 1851

The cross-stitched name of Hannah E. Welch Reynolds (1822-1890) is on a block in an appliqued album quilt in the collection of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. In 1851 she was 29 years old, mother of five living children and probably pregnant with her eighth.

The floral blocks are done in a curious, organic style and look to be the design, if not the stitching, of one hand. Hannah's contribution to the quilt is hard to determine. Did she sew a block or stitch her name?

Perhaps this was a fundraiser and she sponsored a block. The story accompanying the quilt indicates it was made for a wedding at Hannah's home in 1851, so maybe her name on a block was a gesture of good will and best wishes.

The blocks and the names are quite large.
The quilt is named for Hannah's home, Mount Ida.

Ann. Wallace. Shelby. 1851
This may be Willie Ann Wallace Welch, born in 1843

Walker E. Reynolds (1799-1871) 

Hannah was the second wife of a rich man in Talladega, Alabama. Her husband, a cotton planter, politician and railroad investor, was in his early fifties when the quilt was made.

Mt. Ida or Rendalia plantation house, begun about 1840
Sylacauga, Talladega County. The porch was added in 1859.
Photographed in 1935 by Alex Bush, Library of Congress

Hannah's father, a Baptist preacher, brought the family and a group of Virginians to the former Creek Indian territory in 1832 soon after the tribe gave up their rights.

When the Civil War began Hannah's husband owned land worth $62,000 and personal property worth $370,000, including hundreds of slaves. They'd just built a four-room addition to the house, adding the Greek-revival style porch and decorating with new furniture chosen in a New York shopping trip.

Her husband was too old to fight, her only son too young so Hannah's life in the war years was relatively stable. Maude, the last of her ten children, was born in 1862. Confederate soldier John W. Headley traveled through the country in 1863 on the railroad with troops and horses riding in the cars.
"There were no marks of war in this section, and everything indicated a prosperous population of planters. We were passing elegant homes all along the road from Talladega."

They stopped at the Reynolds's house.
"We enjoyed every attention and comfort here and the family seemed to appreciate the acquaintance of volunteers from Kentucky....Mrs. Reynolds invited us to remain until after dinner and we accepted. During the forenoon we were delightfully entertained by her daughters, Misses Eppie, Pink, and Bessie, who were about twenty, sixteen and fourteen years of age...the first day of real pleasure...after our troublous wanderings."
Walker Reynolds's railroad carrying Confederate troops and supplies became a target of Union raids in summer, 1864. Talladega was occupied, the railroad depot burned, track destroyed and food and other supplies confiscated. More of the town was burned in a second raid as the war ended.

The quilt is bordered with a Turkey red stripe.

Talladega in 1875.
University of Alabama Libraries

The Reynoldses were undoubtedly affected by the Confederate loss but they managed to hold on to the plantation till Hannah died in 1890. The 1870 census indicates Walker's net worth was almost $53,000. He died the following year.

Great-niece Mary Welch Lee remembered visiting the women who lived at Mt. Ida after the war. 
"On the upper floor, the 'ladies rooms' were on the front with a solid wall separating them from the rear of the house, where the men stayed, and which of course has a separate stairway up from the backporch. Still another stair goes up in Aunt Hannah’s room to the room above where the girls stayed until they were considered 'young ladies'. Later it was occupied, in turn, by two widowed daughters who returned to the old home: Cousin Eppie McGraw and Cousin Maude McLure."

Hannah's obituary

Her house was struck by lightning in 1956 and burned to the ground, leaving
only the columns.

The quilt known as the Mt. Ida Wedding Quilt was shown in 2017
at the Montgomery Museum of Art.

Sarah Bliss Wright and friends have recently made their own version.

See Mary Welch's Lee's story and more of the 1935 photos by Alex Bush here:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #6: Varina Howell Davis's Briar Rose

Cassandra's Circle, Block# 6, Briar Rose by Becky Brown

The rose with thorns remembers one of Mary Chesnut's closest friends during and after the Civil War, Varina Howell Davis, married to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Varina Banks Howell Davis (1826-1906)
Collection of the Libraries at Louisiana State University
Her brooch pictures a dog. See another view below.
"Mrs. Davis was as nice as the luncheon. When she is in the mood, I do not know so pleasant a person. She is awfully clever, always." Mary Chesnut
Mary's husband James Chesnut spent time as President Davis's assistant in the Confederate capitol of Richmond. They had known each other when Chesnut and Davis were U.S. Senators in Washington representing South Carolina and Mississippi. Jefferson Davis had long been a spokesman for slavery and secession.

 Davis was a "Secessionist Square," Secretary of War in
President Franklin Pierce's cabinet, according to an 1853 newspaper
article comparing the cabinet to a quilt with Free Soil and Secessionist
Squares but no Union blocks.

There was infighting in 1861 when they all arrived first in Montgomery and then Richmond to begin their experiment in Confederate government.
"I think it provokes Mrs. [Davis] that such men praise me so. What a place this is; how every one hates each other...Mrs. Davis & Jeff Davis proving themselves any thing but [well bred by their talk.]" Mary Chesnut, July 3, 1861.
"The reason Mrs. Davis don't like me that I take up with the Wigfalls----& besides that, wherever I sit I am some how in the way! The president was excessively complimentary." Fourth of July, 1861.
Portraits of the Davises attributed to Jesse H. Whitehurst, Washington.
 John O’Brien collection
The Davises were an important part of Cassandra's Circle.

Varina may have been jealous or just irritated with the way Mary attracted a crowd of men to her conversation, creating bottlenecks at receptions. Another problem was Mary's friendship with Charlotte Wigfall, whose volatile husband despised Davis. (See last month's block.) Charlotte was reported by Mary to have called Varina "a coarse Western woman" --- Natchez, Mississippi being the West.

Briar Rose by Pat Styring
(with a few more berries)

 Mary wasn't any too fond of Jefferson Davis at first. His cool aloofness made her anxious.

But: "Mrs. Davis & I had a touching reconciliation."
"She was so kind!" Mary added later to that July 4th entry. And the Davises became close friends.

Varina with her namesake and 
youngest child born in June, 1864
After the war: "One perfect bliss have I. The baby..."

The women had much in common. They were of the same class, close in age, Varina three years younger. Both had been educated at French boarding schools (Varina's in Philadelphia, Mary's in Charleston); both were bright and rebellious and they might have amused each other with tales they'd heard about relatives greeting George Washington at the bridge in Trenton in 1779. Varina's Grandmother Keziah Burr Howell and her aunt Sarah Howell Agnew were among the New Jersey socialites dressed in white with Mary's mother-in-law Mary Cox Chesnut. (See Block #1 Washington's Plume.)

The Briars, 1904, Library of Congress
Varina grew up at The Briars in Natchez, her family supported by relatives

Varina's father William Burr Howell was son of Keziah and husband Richard Howell, Governor of New Jersey from 1793-1801. William sought his elusive fortune in Mississippi and found it in Margaret Kempe, heir to 2,000 Mississippi acres and sixty slaves, assets that disappeared over her marriage as her husband went bankrupt.

Margaret Kempe Howell (1806-1867)
At times Varina's mother took in sewing to support her family.

Varina's wedding photo, 1845
Altered versions of this photo float around the internet.
Don't believe everything you see there.

The Kempes and the Howells were friends with the Davis family. After visiting the Mississippi planters 18-year-old Varina married the widowed Jefferson Davis, twice her age.

The 1860 census shows the Davises with their three children
in Mississippi at their Brierfield plantation

"Dined at President Davis's...Mrs. Davis so witty." Mary Chesnut, May, 1861

1849 miniature on ivory of Varina Davis by
 New Yorker John Wood Dodge. 
National Portrait Gallery
Note the dog brooch.

Painter Dodge and his mother Margaret collaborated on some Union quilts during the war.

Mary Chesnut and Varina agreed on many things but Varina never shared South Carolina optimism about the Confederacy's eventual success and did not hesitate to show her feelings. The First Lady scandalized the South by abruptly leaving her husband's inaugural ceremony, a scene she later described as watching Davis as "a willing victim going to his funeral pyre."

In exile in Canada four years after defeat

Yet Mary defended both Davises for life.
"I will not sit still and hear Jeff Davis abused....And would think to hear them he found her yesterday in a Mississippi swamp."
Shortly after defeat refugee Varina visited Mary in Chester, South Carolina:
"She left here at five o'clock. My heart was like lead, but we did not give way. She was as calm and smiling as dear Mrs. Davis...under altered skies."
The Block

Briar Rose

A rose with thorns symbolizes Varina's girlhood home "The Briars" and certainly her thorny experiences as Mrs. Jefferson Davis, the less than enthusiastic First Lady of the South. Varina recalled that she and her husband were gardening among their roses at the Mississippi plantation Brierfield when a messenger arrived with the news that Davis had been elected president of a provisional Confederacy.

Detail of a four-block rose by Susan Stayman made in Illinois in the 1850s,
 in the collection of the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.

Briar Rose is drawn from this impressive quilt called Moss Rose by the family. Several similar four-block quilts exist so the pattern must have been passed around.

Briar Rose by Susannah Pangelinan

Applique to an 18-1/2" square or cut it larger and trim later. Susannah's finishes to 12".

The Patterns
One Way to print these JPGS:

· Create or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11" or a word file.
· Click on the image above.
· Right click on it and save it to your file.
· Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
· Adjust the printed page size if necessary. Do not use tools like "Fit to page."
· Make templates.
. Add seams when cutting fabric.

A little fussy cutting in the rosebud by Becky

My 9" block. I had to squeeze the pieces up
to fit. And that's regular old applique in the green smiley shapes.

But reverse applique is the traditional method.

Pat Styring's Blocks 1-6
Almost half done.

Extra Reading

Joan Cashin's First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War. 

See more about the four-block Moss Rose quilts here:

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Godey's Unionist Patterns

Godey's 1857

Account of a Missouri Fair, 1854

Mrs. E.C. Davis of St Joseph, Missouri won a prize with a silk quilt in the Buchanan County Fair in 1854. "The design of this quilt was the 'American Confederacy,' as represented in its constellation of stars, the States of the Union. Its pattern was after the style of quilted and knotted work. (See Godey for September.)"

This is a description of a quilt named American Confederacy seven years before the Civil War but Mrs. Davis must have been referring to the Union rather than the seceded states. Her quilt seems to have been stars representing the 33 states of the Union (Kansas, soon to be the 34th, had just been opened for Territorial settlement near St. Joseph.)

Her husband may have been a Dr. E.C. Davis who seems to have lived in various Missouri counties in the second half of the 19th century.

The reference to Godey's must be to this pattern published
in the September, 1854 issue of Godey's Lady's Book
(from the Internet Archive which has many issues online.)

We can assume the quilt was a silk star mosaic something like this, a style popular at the time. Perhaps the names of the states were embroidered in the stars.


Godey's was quite influential at the time but not so much in the world of patchwork. Their patterns were often rather odd, undoubtedly meant to be pieced over papers. Nobody seems to have ever done so on the patterns above.

They published all kinds of needlework including this
"National Cushion" in 1858.

Two applique designs. The lower one
a variation of Caesar's Crown, which was
often made---but how were those stars supposed to fit in there?

Editor Sarah Josepha Hale was fond of stars and as the war approached published some Union ornaments. A fierce Unionist, I'd guess she didn't know much about sewing patchwork. Her other needlework patterns look more practical.

Little beaded bags to hold your coins.

Godey's American Slipper
Berlinwork slippers (needlepoint) were a popular
gift at the time.

Louise Wigfall is wearing a similar hair ornament
in this Civil-War-era portrait.

 Don't tell Mrs. Hale but Louise was a staunch Confederate, daughter of a well-known Southern fire-eater.
See more pictures of these headdresses here:
And more about Louise's family:

The rest of the account of the 1854 Missouri fair,
more description than one usually finds.