Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Mary Ellen Neese's Civil War


Quilt signed Mary Ellen Neese (1838-1906), dated 1861
Collection: Kansas Museum of History
The donor thought it might have been made in Shawnee County, Kansas.

In looking through quilts dated in the Civil War years I remembered this one in the collection of the Kansas Museum of History. When we began the Kansas Quilt Project in 1985 we looked at it as an example of a Kansas-made quilt and we expected to find many more like it.

Signature and date in a red chain stitch

We were quite disappointed to find that Kansans were really not making quilts in the first years of the Territory and Statehood (1854-1870). They brought their bedding with them. A little genealogical research on Mary Ellen Neese in the 1980s found she did not arrive in Kansas until 1872. She probably made the Civil-War-era quilt in Ohio.

So much for quilts made on the frontier.
Mary Ellen Hullinger Neese was 22 in 1860, living with husband David Neese, a bricklayer in Champaign County, Ohio. They had a 4-month old baby Albert at the time. She apparently went by the name Ellen. The Civil War began a year later. 

In the fall of 1862 forty-five men in Mad River Township, including David Neese, were drafted in an early version of the conscription act. The township had not sent the required number of volunteers so some residents were forced to enlist. Ellen's worries during the war included several soldiers named Neese and Hullinger.

Fortunately David came home.

By the 1875 census the Neese family was in Kansas. Son Albert recalled they had emigrated west when he was 12 in 1872. Many Union veterans looked to Kansas with its available Homestead land as a place to start over. The family farmed in rural Monmouth Township in Shawnee County.

Kansas Museum of History. Albert is in the center left.

When Albert grew up he opened a store in Richland. He also went
into banking and land management. 

Albert and wife Ella had two daughters, the youngest Georgia born in 1898. Georgia became an actress in New York but when her father became ill during the Great Depression she returned to Kansas. After his death in 1938 she inherited his business interests in Richland. Ten years later President Harry Truman nominated her for Treasurer of the United States, the first woman to hold the office.

Kansas Museum of History
An autographed five dollar bill by the woman whose printed signatures
appeared on the paper money for several years.

Further Reading:

Read this PDF file of "Quilts on the Kansas Frontier" in the Kansas History Journal, Spring, 1990, in an issue devoted to the findings of the Kansas Quilt Project.


Betty said...

Love this! So interesting!

sue s said...

I'm a little surprised the granddaughter didn't know where her grandmother lived when the quilt was made since it was "passed down the line" to her. But maybe that wasn't as important to her as to historians!