Saturday, June 12, 2021

Sarah Stilwell's Civil War


Applique quilt signed Sarah Stilwell, 1863, documented in the New York Quilt Project. Made in New Paltz, Ulster County. Sarah, born in 1833, was thirty when she finished this quilt.

Sarah's great-grand niece brought the unusual
quilt to be recorded. She knew quite a bit about
the maker---

Family history remembered Sarah as a professional seamstress. "She and her sister had a millinery and dressmaking shop." We can find out quite a bit more about her and her family.

During the year the quilt was signed Sarah (1833-1908) and her older sister Maria Blandina Stilwell (1827-1898) advertised a dressmaker and "tailoress" business under Maria's name. They sold Mme. Demorest's magazine and undoubtedly made clothing in the latest fashion. They also offered pinking and stamping for braid work. Stamping was a common way to transfer patterns of all kinds. Pinking might refer to cutting a pinked edge but it also might have something to do with perforating paper, another way to transfer pattern.

The Stilwell sisters were daughters of Stephen Stilwell and Catherine Hasbrouck Stilwell, farmers who lived on the west side of the Wallkill before they moved to town.

The Civil War seemed to have had little impact on their lives, so far from the fighting. None of their brothers looks to have enlisted; we don't know how many friends of their generation were lost. Their lives continued much the same after the war.

The 1870 census finds them living with their parents and sister Eliza,
a teacher. Anne Sutton was a boarder; probably an employee in the
dressmaking business.

1871 City Directory

Maria also sold Howe Sewing Machines.

Not many quilts dated during the Civil War have survived. Fabric was scarce and many bedcovers went to hospitals. Calico seems to have been available in New Paltz at several general stores, if a bit expensive compared to pre-war prices.

There were two Hasbrouck dry goods stores nearby, one run by Charles B. Hasbrouck whose wife was 
also a professional seamstress and milliner. Hasbrouck was a common name and all were related to their mother.

I found no mention of the Stilwell sisters handiwork in local fair records but just before the war a curious reference to their father entering bedcovers into the Ulster County Fair of 1860, a flannel blanket for which he won a $2 prize and a "calico hemwork quilt" (applique?) for which he won a second place diploma. He also won $1 on knit woolen stockings. Now Stephen Stilwell might have spent his retirement years quilting and knitting but it seems more likely his daughters or wife were the actual needleworkers.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Hands All Around: #6: Open Window for May Alcott Niericker


#6 Open Window for May Alcott by Dorry Emmer

Open Window recalls Abigail May Alcott
who left Massachusetts for Europe and an artist's life.

Abigail May Alcott Nieriker (1840-1879)
Portrait by her Paris roommate Rosa Peckham Danielson 1877
Collection of Orchard House
When the painting arrived in May, 1877 mother Abba was thrilled:
"Great day for the Alcotts. Picture arrived from Paris...
Miss Peckham has caught May's air and pose."

Abigail May, littlest of the Little Women, was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1840. The Alcott family who spoiled her always believed she'd been born under a lucky star. They'd just lost an infant boy and baby May gave them joy after their grief.

Named for her Marmee she went by the name Abby as a child but by the time she was 15 the family was calling her May, three letters her sister rearranged to create Amy in Little Women.

Illustration by British artist 
Mary Vermuyden Wheelhouse (1871-1947)
May's lucky star bestowed  strawberry-blonde curls on her & the fictional Amy.

Open Window by Pat Styring

“Amy has all the fun, and I have all the work,” complained Jo but the real-life Louisa loved giving May the fun and the education she never had.

May's Civil War years when she was in her early 20s seem to have been spent taking local art classes. 
Her Civil War activities probably included a table at a fundraising fair much like one described in the novel in which the youngest of the Little Women and a rival duel over fair "tables," Amy was in charge of a floral table that friends and family conspired to outshine the rival's art table.

Laurie and the boys made Amy's table "the liveliest in the room." 

Open Window by Addison

Like her older sister Louisa, May had a talent but hers was for the visual arts, a field where she was successful according to many measures. After studying art in London and Paris for several years after the war (funded by Louisa's Little Women royalties) May showed paintings at the prestigious Paris Salon in 1877 and 1879 where friend Mary Cassatt was rejected.

May's still life in traditional style was accepted into the 
1877 annual exhibit of the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

Dan French, ten years younger, remembered May in her late 20s as no beauty by "classical standards" but praised her "liveliness of expression...intelligence and gaiety that shone," her "wavy chestnut hair, luxuriant and glistening" and her figure.

French's introduction to a 1928 memoir by Caroline Ticknor

French, failing in engineering school, had a natural talent for sculpture recognized by May who was  teaching art classes in Concord after the Civil War. His career under her first influence might be rated her biggest long-term success.

Daniel Chester French on the left with
his sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial in 1922
His first commission was Concord's iconic
Minute Man statue.

Open Window by Becky Brown

The Block

Color variations on this block have many names under the number 1176 in the Encyclopedia & BlockBase---most of which could relate to May's transatlantic voyages.

Open Window
Port & Starboard
Fox & Geese
And Envelope---many letters traveled the ocean back and forth.

Cutting: There's only one piece. The HST triangle C.

8” Block (2-Inch Grid) C—Cut 16 squares 2-7/8”. Cut each into 2 triangles with one diagonal cut. You need 32 of different shades.

12” Block (3” Grid)

16” Block (4” Grid) - 4-7/8"

Open Window by Dorry Emmer

 Stellar Set

Lucky Stars Set

This month's set alternates a small star, representing May's lucky star. 13 small stars + 12 sampler stars, shown above with stars 1 to 6. We are half finished. If you stitched 12" squares your finished patchwork field would be 60" x 60".

The small star is the same one in Block #4 Eight Hands Around.


D -  Cut 4 small squares
8” - 1-1/2”
12” 2”
16” - 2-1/2"

E - Cut 4 squares. Cut into 2 triangles with 1 diagonal cut. You need 8. 

8” - 1-7/8”
12” - 2-3/8”
16” - 2-7/8”

F - Cut 1 square. Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 4.

8” - 3-1/4”
12” - 4-1/4”
16” - 5-1/4”

G - Cut 2 rectangles 

8" - 2-1/2" x 4-1/2"
12" - 3-1/2" x 6-1/2"
16" - 4-1/2" x 8-1/2"

- Cut 2 rectangles
8" - 2-1/2" x 8-1/2"
12" - 3-1/2" x 12-1/2"
16" - 4-1/2" x 16-1/2"

Post Script

May's luck extended to finding a compatible husband while living in Europe (Not Laurie---sorry, kids.)  In 1878 she made a happy marriage to Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss 13 years younger. Married life in Paris was followed by the birth of a baby girl named Louisa for her sister. But May's luck ran out at Lulu's birth. 

Louisa Nieriker Rasim (1879-1975)
She lived most of her life in Germany

Like every prudent, pregnant 19th-century woman May made out instructions for raising her baby lest she die giving birth. Sadly she did in December, 1879, six weeks after Lulu's birth likely of a puerperal fever infection . Lulu went to Massachusetts to live with her Aunt Louisa who was happy to have one more Little Woman to spoil.

May's portrait oil of a young model was accepted
 into the 1879 Paris Salon.
Further Reading

Read Caroline Ticknor's 1928 book May Alcott: A Memoir at Google Books:
The book is about more than May; Ticknor includes many letters and journal references from the Alcott family.

May Alcott Niericker’s 1879 book Studying Art Abroad and How to Do It Cheaply, was a guide book written for the American artist who was "no gay tourist ...but a thoroughly earnest worker, a lady and poor."

And Listening:

Hear online readings of snippets of Little Women:

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Amarian's Escape from Slavery

Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key (1784-1859)
Summer Spread, DAR Museum
Maryland's Scott/Key/Tayloe/Lloyd family 
left several quilts over the generations.
See more at the Quilt Index:

One could tell America's story through one family--- tales of each generation and their chronological contexts. A prime example would be the Key/Lloyd/Tayloe/Scotts, including stories of the first Phillip Barton Key who remained loyal to the British in the Revolution to his nephew Philip Barton Key II, murdered by Dan Sickles, later a Major General in the Union Army, and ending with novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first half of the 20th century.

Here is one more chapter. We don't know much about an escapee from slavery named Amarian. She was born about 1836 in Maryland to another Amarian whom she recalled as being named Amarian Ballad of Hagerstown. In 1857 she'd had enough of slavery and took off by herself (she reported) for free Philadelphia, where she sought assistance from the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, which ran an agency dedicated to helping people like her.

Historical Society of Philadelphia
William Still is at bottom right.

The Philadelphia Vigilance Committee's chair and salaried clerk William Still, born a free black in New Jersey, was quite methodical in his record keeping. He noted Amarian was medium size, light colored and smart (a word that meant more than intelligent---perhaps fashionable and pert) and had a "prepossessing countenance," which also meant attractive. Amarian who gave no last name could read and write and play the piano. She was not the usual type of female runaway whom Still encountered.

Typical entry from Still's account book.

He and the Vigilant Committee (as it is also spelled) asked their clients how they'd been treated in slavery and he often recorded the final insult that inspired them to flee. Amarian told the Committee that she had "always been used very well; have had it good all my life," which "staggered" them, so used to hearing horror stories of violence, rape, terror and family disruption. They thought she might be misleading them about her past but decided to "give her the benefit of the doubt."

William Still (1821-1902)

Still also methodically recorded the names and locations of the slaveowners and wrote: "From a child Amarian had been owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Key Scott, who resided near Braceville, but at the time of her flight she was living at Westminster, in the family of a man named 'Boile,' said to be the clerk of the court." Although spelling was variable we can easily find the people who held Amarian in bondage for 21 years, more obscure members of the Key & Scott extended families.

DAR Museum
Silk quilt, attributed to Maria Louia Harris Key (1804-1879) 
St. Mary's County, second wife of Henry Greenfield Sothoron Key. 
Her father-in-law was Philip Barton Key I.

The Keys and the Scotts were Maryland elite. We're most familiar with Francis Scott Key (1799-1843), the Baltimore lawyer who wrote the American national anthem. His wife Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key made the quilt at the top of the page. Francis was cousin to Amarian's slaveowner Elizabeth Key Bruce (1778-1862) . 

Amarian's homes in Westminster & Bruceville, Carroll County
 before her escape

Elizabeth married John Daniel Scott. Their home was not Braceville but Bruceville, named for Elizabeth's father's family. The Scotts and Amarian lived near Bruceville at a place called Good Intent in a large stone house on the north side of Pipe Creek.

Good Intent in 2002

John Daniel and Elizabeth had a daughter, another Elizabeth (1812-1876). In 1832 Elizabeth Maynadier Scott married John Brooke Boyle and these are probably the "Boiles," the people Amarian escaped. The 1850 census records John Boyle as a clerk with a family of six children from 17 down to infant John.

I did not find any runaway ads for
Amarian or the Boyles in the 1857 newspapers

Why did Amarian leave? Transition from one Elizabeth Scott family to another may have been unpleasant. Many runaways were wary of being passed from one generation to a new family (with whom they might recall contentious experiences.)

 We can imagine the Scott's and Boyle's indignation at finding Amarian gone. Laments like: We treated her well; she was happy; better off with us than free and on her own, etc. Apparently Amarian did not agree.

We have no information about Amarian after she left the offices of the Vigilance Committee. William Still sometimes recorded letters from now-free people in Canada and free states but nothing from Amarian. Did she keep that unusual name? 

Quilt from the family of Rebecca Lloyd Nicholson
Perhaps 1820-1840
Freeman Auction

Rebecca Lloyd Nicholson (1771-1847)
Her brother was Governor right before the War of 1812.
Read more about the quilts in this branch of the family here:

William Still published his account books in 1872

Read it online at Google Books:

And read a preview of William C. Kashatus's biography and analysis of Still's records, which begins with an amazing story of the Underground Railroad. (Why do people make things up when the true stories are so compelling?)

Amarian's story is so intriguing I think her experiences in Philadelphia should frame the 2022 applique block of the month quilt here. Check back next year.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Ladies Legacy Fabric Give-Away


My ship has come in!
And maybe yours too.

SUZANNE on Crescent Lake
I've sent them emails and will be shipping
precuts to their street address.

My Ladies' Legacy reproduction fabric is finally in shops.
In the pandemic year(s) we can't really complain about minor things so we will ignore the overseas shipping delays.

Layer Cake
And celebrate the fact that it has arrived with a give-away.

Jelly Roll


If you don't win you can always buy yardage and precut packs at your
favorite quilt shop. Or do a web search for
Ladies' Legacy Moda

Becky Brown is using Ladies Legacy for the
model for our Ladies' Aid Sampler this year.
It's very 1860s.