Saturday, April 29, 2023

Mary Whiting Brainerd's Civil War

When the Civil War began, Mary Whiting Brainerd, the recipient of this quilt from her husband's church members, was living in Philadelphia. Thomas Brainerd was pastor of the Third Presbyterian
Church, also called the Pine Street Church.

The church still stands.

Mary Whiting Whiting Brainerd (1806-1889)
 Ivory miniature painted by Anson Dickinson, 1831,
 at the time of her first marriage to Daniel Wadsworth Whiting
who died the following year. A daughter had been still-born.

Second husband Thomas Brainerd (1804-1866)
He was assistant to Lyman Beecher in Cincinnati who introduced
Mary and Thomas, both widowed. They married in 1836.
The portrait is from her memorial book The Life of Rev. Thomas Brainerd

Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
“Presented to Mrs. Mary Brainerd by Ladies of the 
Third Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, May 1846.”
109" x 120" with 101 appliqued chintz blocks.

Many of the quilt photos here are by Charlene Bongiorno Stephens and William G. Stephens who have studied this quilt and one associated with Mary's sister Angelica Whiting.

Ten years later church members followed the new fashion in the Philadelphia area, that of making an album quilt of signed blocks for a minister's family. This one was dedicated to Mary alone and the story passed on with the quilt is that friends made it to extend sympathy for the death of a child. The Brainerds had lost a seven-year-old daughter to scarlet fever in January of that year.

Late in life Mary wrote a biography of her husband, a sort
of third person autobiography.

Death certificate for Mary Whiting Brainerd (1839-1846 )
Family Search

The central block includes a butterfly, perhaps symbolic of a short life.

Charles Brainerd died in May, 1849

Three years later the Brainerds lost their youngest. Mary held up. Thomas suffered from some kind
of breakdown that lasted for three years. She recalled him as having a "nervous excitability."

Thomas, on the left in this 1847 photograph, eventually moved to
Montreal, Canada where his descendants live, hence the French caption on
this photo of Mary Whiting Brainerd and children.

Thomas Chalmers Brainerd and Emma Gertrude Brainerd were
 the only two of their five children to survive into adulthood.

Leslie's Illustrated print of John Brown's raid on a federal armory in 
Harper's Ferry, November, 1859

By 1859 sectional divisions intruded on the Brainerd's peaceful world. Radical activist John Brown was easily captured and soon hung for his anti-slavery insurrection. In her husband's post-mortem biography Mary Brainerd gives us a glimpse of herself and her perspective on Brown.

She'd written an anonymous article for the local American Presbyterian periodical after the execution in early December, 1859, associating Brown with God and exciting the pro-slavery factions in the church..

Daniel Clay Houghton (1815-1860)

Editor Daniel Clay Houghton was unhappy with reaction to her association of Brown and the deity and promptly visited the Brainerds to see if Thomas could get Mary and the newspaper out of a "scrape" (whether she wanted out or not.) Eventually Houghton realized Mary's words increased his subscription list.

Thomas Chalmers Brainerd (1837-1910)

Once war was declared the Brainerd's only surviving son Thomas in his mid 20s, enlisted as a surgeon, serving in hospitals in Washington, Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina. 

Thomas and bride Mari Laflin Boies in 1865

Children Thomas and Emma married a brother and sister. Emma's husband was Henry Martyn Boies of Saugerties, New York, her brother's Yale classmate whom she wed at the war's beginning. Thomas married Mari Boies when he returned.

The elder Mary & Thomas Brainerd were instrumental in establishing the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon in May, 1861. The saloon offering beverages (non-alcoholic beverages you can be sure) and meals to soldiers and sailors passing through the city became a model for similar free restaurants.

Free Library of Philadelphia Collection
See more at

Having made it through the war without any personal loss the Brainerds suffered a terrible blow in August, 1866, when Mary and her husband visited daughter Emma, pregnant with her third child in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They were residents of Emma's home when her two children Carrington and Mary died of dysentery. Grandfather Thomas suffered a stroke of "apoplexy" and died there two weeks after his grandchildren. Henry Whiting Boies was born the following February. And then Emma died November 1, 1868.

Mary cared for her grandson Henry; his father remarried and she spent her last years with Thomas's family in Montreal, dying there in 1889. She brought her album quilt to Canada leaving it to a granddaughter. In a memoir of his family grandson Dwight Brainerd  described it:
"An interesting record of the place and times, my sister particularly cherishes a bed-quilt of which each parishioner worked a little square, autographing it with indelible ink."
Descendants Ian and Marran Ogilvie donated the quilt to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in memory of the Brainerd/Ogilvie Family of Montreal in 2006.

Did "each parishioner work a little square?" or did they buy exquisitely appliqued images from professional seamstresses? The Stephenses and I are intrigued by the idea of purchased blocks from skilled needlewomen. The dahlia bouquet in lower right is one of 4 blocks cut from the same chintz in Mary's quilt. Nearly 30 other quilts contain similar dahlia bouquets.
See a post on the dahlia chintz here:

The Museum has updated their caption due to the Stephens's research:
"The quilt is similar to others made by religious congregations in Philadelphia during the 1840s; many use identical English floral chintz fabrics, which may indicate that precut fabric could be purchased for use as appliqu├ęs. In 1842, the ladies had presented a nearly identical quilt (now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to the Reverend George S. Boardman, who also preached at the church, suggesting that each church developed a distinctive style of quilt design."

Mary spent her later years writing her husband's biography, funding a graveyard monument to him and visiting Philadelphia friends.
"As the wife of a distinguished clergyman, Grandmother possessed hosts of friends. Whenever she revisited the Quaker City, she would make a round through its business center, gate-crashing executive doors, and always welcome."  Dwight Brainerd

The silver urn, another common image in the early chintz albums, is
the central block in the Boardman quilt.

Do read Charlene Bongiorno & William G. Stephens's articles on album quilts including Mary Brainerd's in the newsletter of The Old Pine Conservancy:

The same year Mary's sister Angelica Whiting worked on a gift quilt while a patient at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane. 

Charlene Bongiorno Stephens and William G. Stephens, “Nothing Thou Love Be Lost or Die,” Uncoverings: The Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group (volume 41, 2020). Read a summary at this link: (Scroll down to the bottom.)  

And see their article in Blanket Statements, the American Quilt Study Group's newsletter (#147) on a related Philadelphia album with the popular dahlia print and the clues to professional seamstresses. A post:

More on Mary Whiting Brainerd:

The Canadian article in French with the picture of Mary and her two children:

Mary's biography of her husband:

Mary's FindaGrave file:

And her grandson's 1948 family biography Ancestry of Thomas Chalmers Brainerd:

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