Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #7: Maggie Howell's Wild Rose

Cassandra's Circle #7, Wild Rose for Margaret Graham Howell by Pat Styring

Margaret Graham Howell (1842-1930) 
Collection of the American Civil War Museum
One of her nieces or nephews has written
"Auntie (Margaret Howell)" on this portrait

Mary Boykin Chesnut, never able to have children, enjoyed lively adolescents in the house, inviting nieces and nephews and the children of friends to become part of her family circle.

When she lived in Richmond, Virginia and in South Carolina's capitol at various times during the war, she invited her sister's girls to stay where they might have more fun than in their small hometown. She also invited Confederate First Lady Varina Davis's younger sister Maggie Howell, who was about the same age as the Williams nieces.

Varina's note:
" 'Thank you, a thousand times, my dear friend, for your more than maternal kindness to my dear child.' " Mary added, "That is what she calls her sister, Maggie Howell."
Margaret Graham Howell was the ninth child of Varina's mother Margaret K. Howell and financially hapless father William Burr Howell. After Varina married into a more prosperous family she and her husband essentially adopted the girl when she was about 8. Maggie went to Washington with the Davises and when the war began accompanied them to Richmond.

McCord Museum Collection
Varina Davis's four surviving birth children in Montreal, 1867. 
Varina lost two young boys; only her girls survived her. 
The eldest here was named Margaret Howell Davis, 
after her grandmother and her young aunt.

Wild Rose by Susannah Pangelinan

Discipline at Varina's household seems to have been loose. Mary Chesnut recalled an unstructured carriage ride with the family in 1864.
"Drove with Mrs. Davis and all her infant family; wonderfully clever and precocious children, with unbroken wills. At one time there was a sudden uprising of the nursery contingent. They laughed, fought, and screamed. Bedlam broke loose. Mrs. Davis scolded, laughed, and cried."
Joseph Davis (1859-1864)

And indeed 5-year-old Joseph Davis fell to his death at their Richmond home while unsupervised. "This second boy, gentle and lovable, fell from the balusters into the back court of the home and was almost instantly killed," recalled Thomas Cooper DeLeon in 1907. Mary and Maggie Howell were on a carriage ride near Richmond when the news was broken abruptly.
"Maggie and I drove two long miles in silence except for Maggie's hysterical sobs. She was wild with terror."
The Confederate White House, designed by Robert Mills, built in 1818.
 Today this is the rear garden of the house. Did Joe fall from that 3rd story roof?

Mary's first encounters with the teen-aged Maggie at Richmond's Spotswood Hotel reflected Maggie's reputation for rebellion (much like Mary and Varina in that respect.)

"Miss Howell is the rudest, most ill bred girl I ever saw." July, 1861.

Secretary of the Confederate Navy 
Stephen R. Mallory (1812-1873)

Mallory, former U.S. Senator from Florida, agreed. During the same month at the Spotswood he described the Howell sisters. Varina "lacked refinement and judgment---has a riotous sense of humor. Mimics."
"Ill-bred & underbred, & her training of her sister Maggie is making her like herself. – Mag seems to be constantly in an ill-humor & morose. – I cannot share in her ridicule of persons with whom I daily associate, & am condemned almost to silence at the table. She annoys [Jefferson Davis] terribly by her indiscreet, ill-timed & tart remarks."
Mary's opinion of Maggie changed---after all, Cassandra valued tart remarks. At a Christmas day reception in 1863 Maggie sat by Mary whispering about the guests. "A man came in....[Maggie's analysis] Rich, sentimental, traveled and a fool."

Wild Rose by Becky Brown

After Joe died in 1864 and Varina's new baby was born at the Confederate White House the 22-year-old Maggie stayed with the Chesnuts in South Carolina. She returned to her foster parents for the fall of Richmond, escaping south with the Davises where the President of the Confederacy was arrested in May, 1865 in Georgia.

Margaret Kempe Howell (1806-1867), Varina & Maggie's mother,
 was not well and died in Montreal at 61. Her supervision seems
to have been lax.

Varina then sent her children with Maggie and Margaret Kempe Howell to exile in Canada. They arrived in August. Joan Cashin in her biography of Varina Davis reveals that Maggie became pregnant in the fall by a man whose name is unknown. She gave birth to a son in June, 1866. He may have been adopted by another family as the baby disappears from the records.

When Jefferson Davis was released on bail from his Virginia prison the family fled to Europe, welcomed in Liverpool by members of the Southern Club, an international group of merchants who had spent the war years lobbying unsuccessfully for English recognition of the Confederacy.

Charles William Peter de Wechmar Stoess (1821-1891)
Stoess was an amateur Egyptologist

Maggie, now Margaret, was courted by Southern Club member Charles de Wechmar Stoess, a widowed German businessman who was Bavarian consul. Varina gave her sister away (Jefferson Davis was back in the U.S.) at their London wedding in 1870.

St Peter's church in Bellsize Park

The 49-year-old Chevalier (a Spanish title) seems to have been enamored of Jefferson Davis's pretty sister-in-law. Maggie's feelings were not recorded. 

Collection of the American Civil War Museum in the Confederate White House,
 probably a wedding photo of the 28-year-old Maggie

Varina liked Stoess and thought him a good match but rued that there was no romance on Maggie's side. Charles (Carl) had one almost-grown son Charles Anthony (1852-1916) and Maggie gave birth to two children in England, Christine Ida de Wechmar Stoess (1872-1935) and Philip Carl Stoess (1873-1942).

Madame de Wechmar Stoess enjoyed English society in Liverpool and London, but her husband declared bankruptcy in 1878 and thereafter they must have been dependent on friends sympathetic to her Confederate history. Varina sent them money. When Charles died in 1891 he left the family nothing.

Charles died at their Liverpool home

Madame de Wechmar Stoess in the early 20th century

Maggie and her children moved to America in the 1890s, first living in Vancouver and then Washington state where Christine gave music lessons and performed as a violinist. Both of Stoess's sons were engineers. The women eventually settled in the Los Angeles area. Maggie died in Long Beach in 1930 and Christine followed in 1935.

The Block

Wild Rose

A wild rose has five simple petals.
Maggie was never simple.

Maggie's rose is based closely on a mid-19th-century 
Ohio quilt attributed to Isabel Andrews Wilson (1812-1883) 
pictured in Hornback & Thompson's Quilts in Red & Green & 
the Women Who Made Them.

Applique to an 18-1/2" square or cut it larger and trim later.
Cut two 3/8" finished bias stems too. Either straight (5" long) or longer (10") for curvy.

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.

Detail of Becky's Wild Rose

Lisa Erlandson owns a mid-20th-century quilt in the
exact pattern as Isabel Wilson's. There must have
been a connection. 

The Davises were rose gardeners. Sister Varina wrote a letter to her own mother about young Maggie's garden at the Brierfield Plantation
"Tell Maggie her little bed is covered with mignonette and purple, and Crimson verbena, and that her cloth of gold rose nearly covers the side of the arbor, and that she had better come back, and get some, and work in her garden."
Cloth of Gold, a hybrid rose

Becky's pretty set. Over half done.

Extra Reading
Maggies husband, the Chevalier, was an organizer of Liverpool's Southern Relief Bazaar in 1864. See a post here:

And read about the Southern Club:

See a preview of Joan E. Cashin's First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis’s Civil War:


Teresa H said...

Aren't we supposed to cut 2 stems? Do we make bias stems for some of the flowers? it is not marked on the pattern. Thanks, Teresa Heinze

Barbara Brackman said...

Yes cut two bias stems. Forgot them.