Saturday, March 6, 2021

Elizabeth Siler's Civil War on the Western Frontier

Quilt signed in ink on the reverse E. Siler, 
probably made in Berkeley County, Virginia
 (now West Virginia) 1820-1840

I bought this quilt decades ago at a flea market in Platte County, Missouri. The seller told me it had been made in Virginia and brought to Missouri. 

The seller knew the inking said E. Siler. It's just a smudge now.

The name inked on the reverse was unusual enough that I could learn something about her, finding she immigrated from Berkeley County with her husband Philip Siler.

The scrappy patches are a mix of monochrome toiles in pink and brown
with smaller calicoes mostly browns (or at least they are brown today)
and notably some indigo blues that haven't faded. Quilting is wreaths
between the nine patches.

It is so faded and damaged it's hard to see her scrapbag.

A lot of fabric loss due to the iron mordants in the browns.

The pink toile here may be scraps from a pillar print.

The border is a red and brown stripe
The patchwork we might call Shoo Fly.

Now years later with today's terrific genealogy resources I can find out much about the maker, Elizabeth Robinson Siler born in Berkeley County in 1815 or so. She married neighbor Philip Siler in 1840 when they were in their twenties. They apparently lived in a small community called Tomahawk between Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs.
 

Tomahawk and Berkeley County are now in West Virginia but before 1863 the area was in the northern part of the state of Virginia. In 1846 the Silers took their two young children John William and Jane Rebecca to western Missouri, accompanied by Philip's brother Elias, his wife and children. 

Weston, 1853

They settled about ten miles north of Weston, a thriving Missouri River town.


You may notice the river is south of Weston on this map. It removed itself in the 19th century finding another channel, leaving Weston high and dry and retro charming today.

The Silers settled in Marshall township in a hilly area not far from the Missouri River and east of the boundary to what was Indian Territory in the 1840s. The hills are rather remarkable for the Kansas City area--- a place often considered flat by the uninformed.


Mount Bethel's building dates to 1883 after Elizabeth had died.
The Silers are buried in the churchyard.

Religion may have been a motive for migration. Philip was described in the Platte County history as "an earnest and consistent member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church." They were among the founders of Mount Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1851.

The Cumberland Presbyterian denomination was formed in Kentucky over doctrinal differences in ministerial education. They advocated less preparation for ministers who would serve the rural frontier. It seems that Platte County was home to many Kentucky migrants of the sect. In his Annals of Platte County William McClung Paxton recalled that  "Hardshell Baptists were the leading denomination...their ministers were not educated and were seldom paid. The Missionary Baptists, Cumberland Presbyterians, Methodists and Disciples divided the people."  Was peaceful co-existence  a problem in Missouri as well as in Virginia?

View from the church yard

The Silers may have come to Missouri looking for congenial neighbors but Platte County in the years around the Civil War was a contentious place to be.

The 1850 census finds Philip and Elizabeth in their mid thirties as rather prosperous farmers with assets worth $3,200 and three children, Nancy having been born in Missouri soon after their arrival. Charles was born in 1858. 


1850 census from Family Search

The late 1850s were difficult economic times. Philip's assets had dropped by two-thirds according to the 1860 census and they may have lost their farm. He is recorded as a boarding house keeper worth $1,000. (Perhaps why the quilt is so worn---if four children didn't wear it out the boarders would have.)

 They also may have brought an enslaved girl with them from Virginia The 1860 slave schedule lists one unnamed 25-year-old woman, who would have been about ten when the Silers came west.

Elizabeth was fortunate that her boys were too young to become Confederate soldiers although John---17 when the war began---may have joined in the guerrilla warfare that made Platte County an informal battleground.

The first post-Civil -War census finds the family back on their feet again in 1870. The census taker who had such lovely handwriting seems to have been incompetent. He's listed them as Tylers, has 12-year-old Charles listed as 82 but still at home. Their land is worth $9,500 and other assets $3,500 (of course those numbers could be wrong.) Two farm hands live with them and 33- year-old Martha, born in Virginia, is a Domestic. This may indeed be girl brought from Virginia although she is listed as white. In 1860 she was defined as a Mulatto or mixed race.

Neither Philip nor Elizabeth lived to be recorded in the 1880 census. They died a few weeks apart in the winter of 1879. Elizabeth's grave has not been recorded in the Find-A-Grave index and they may have been buried in the same plot under the same headstone.

I  brought her quilt to Mount Bethel on a cold January day.

The quilt has survived quite a bit in the past 180 years or so. The story of the Civil War in Platte County is a complex tale of guerrilla warfare, shifting loyalties and unofficial militia groups, Bushwhackers, Jayhawkers, Red Legs and Paw-Paw Militia. We don't know what side the Virginia Silers took ---one really couldn't be neutral---but after the war daughter Nancy married Christopher Columbus Graves (1840-1924 ) remembered in the county history as serving "in the Confederate army from the beginning to the end of the war...wounded three times."


Weston doesn't look much different today (except for the missing river
at the end of Main Street.)

Next time you go to Weston take highway H north out of town and turn on Highway M to see some great hilly Missouri country and Elizabeth's church.

She was running out of fabric towards the end of the project.


One print instead of plain white in a corner.

Philip's Find A Grave site. No stone for Elizabeth.

5 comments:

kathyinozarks said...

This was so interesting to read the history of the family connected with this quilt-that just gives the quilt a whole new meaning-thank you for sharing

Pieceful Lady said...

Thank you Barbara for another insight into life during the Civil War. I have always been a fan of the humanity of history and your quilt history gives a glimpse of ordinary people and the history they were a part of.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Barbara for the very interesting read. The story makes the quilt so special and I feel like I would replicate it, right down to the pieced border! Judy

cityquilter grace said...

wonderful that so much info is available connected to this quiltmaker...

Lady Locust said...

How wonderful that you were able to know who the maker was and then to be able to find out more about her. Quilts sure do carry stories in their stitches 🧵