Saturday, August 28, 2021

Family Quilts North & South

Paper templates dated 1813 and 19.....

The University of Rhode Island has a treasure for textile historians in their Cushman Collection, a donation of three paper-pieced hexagon quilt tops plus 500 other items from a Rhode Island family, children of Emily Williams & William Jenkins Harris of Providence.

The Cushman siblings. 

The donation began as trunks packed for Susan McPherson Sibley William Crouch in South Carolina about 1837 when she returned to her childhood home in Rhode Island after husband Hasell Wilkinson Crouch died. 

Photos are all from the University of Rhode Island.
See links below.

The contents, reportedly undisturbed for 80 years until 1917, must have held bittersweet memories for Susan who lost her 2-year-old son to a head injury in May, 1836 and then her 28-year-old doctor husband to yellow fever the day after Christmas. She soon left Charleston with baby Emily Hasell Crouch (1836-1926) for Providence Rhode Island, living with her parents until their deaths during the Civil War. 

The family home at 102 George Street, Providence
Built in 1795, the house was torn down between 1917 & 1925.

The 1880 census shows Susan and Emily in the family home running a boarding house
for (Brown University?) students on George Street in a neighborhood of women.
 Irish-born servant Mary McGee also lives with them. Emily was a drawing teacher; 
several of her watercolors are in the Cushman Collection.

Center of Quilt Top #149

The three quilt tops, as you can see from the papers at the top of the page,
were a work in progress, what we might call a multi-generational quilt.

The trunks contained a partially-finished top hexagon mosaic top and the fabric that Susan planned to use to complete her quilt. (And probably rosette blocks). Her younger relatives, particularly great-nephew Franklin Cushman, reworked the original hexagon top, creating three tops of old and new stitchery. Dates on the paper templates: 1775 - 1940.


Susan and Hasell married on October 11, 1832, and this is considered the occasion for which Susan began the original top. Charleston native Hasell graduated from Rhode Island's Brown University where he must have met Susan and her brothers. After he earned a medical degree at the University of South Carolina, he returned to Rhode Island to marry Susan.

 Hasell is said to have helped with
design and piecing in South Carolina.

Franklin R. Cushman (1870-1952) of the younger generation taught
history and industrial design. He made scrapbooks with notations
from the family collection and donated those along with the three tops he'd
reworked, garments, etc. to URI.

Franklin added other fabrics to his collection.

The abundance of pre-1837 fabrics in the trunk is amazing. Like many quiltmakers, the original stitcher Susan Crouch had family in the fabric business. Her father Jason Williams (1774-1863) was in the oceanic shipping trade for a short time and a Rhode Island merchant. The fabric must also reflect Charleston's spot as a leading port for English cotton prints.


We don't know what Susan and Hasell planned for their mosaic design as the top has been re-stitched, but the choice of a paper-template mosaic is typical of Charleston at the time. Notes on the collection refer to quilt historian Laurel Horton's observation that early-19th-century Charlestonians from “families of wealth, education and influence” favored the design. In the Cushman collection are letters telling of Susan Crouch's Charleston sisters-in-laws working on similar needlework (and probably exchanging prints.)


This top has later papers behind the hexagons and is thought
to have been continued into the 1930s.

#150 center

The Cushman textiles in context offer many opportunities to look at history. The University's Textile Department and graduate Rachel May have viewed Susan Williams Crouch's life North and South from the perspective of the slavery she lived with in Charleston and the New England cotton trade's "unholy union of the Lord of the Lash and the Lord of the Loom" as Charles Sumner termed it.


A search for Cushman in the URI Textile Collection:

URI Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design Forum & 2018 exhibit inspired by Rachel May’s book ‘An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery.’  
Forum: Tales of North and South in Antebellum America: A Complicated Web

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery, 2018.
"May envisions the world of the urban enslaved women owned by the Cushman ancestors in Charleston, South Carolina, and explores the oft-silenced connections and economic benefits of slavery to [northerners.]"

Rachel May & Linda Welters, The Cushman Quilt Tops: A Tale of North and South:

Hasell W. Crouch's grave:

Susan Williamson Crouch's grave:

Quilt Index Files for the three tops:

Susan never remarried. Her 1902
death certificate from FamilySearch.


QuiltGranma said...

This is a very interesting find with papers still in and the history shared! So sad for her double loss that year so long ago. Somehow I didn't realize that hexi's were so old a pattern. Guess old age is taking its toll on my mind.

JustGail said...

It's interesting that some of the oldest templates are right next to some of the newest. In the first photo, I wonder is that a photograph cut up, a bit cut from a color magazine picture, or ???