Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Mary Tirzah Barnes's Civil War


Double Irish Chain, 1850
Quilt in the collection of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

One inked block in a corner is said to read Mary T. Barnes, 1850.

A second quilt from the same family. The black and white photo
shows the block-by-block quilting designs in this white-work quilt.

The caption for this quilt is similar to the Irish Chain
"An inked inscription, 'Mary T. Barnes 1850' is near one corner."
In this case we have a clear photo of the inscription.

And that is really not what it says. 
"M.T. Barnes
is my interpretation.

These quilts were donated in 1933 by Mary's youngest children Mildred and Isabella Erwin,
single women who lived together in Washington D.C. with their brother John B. Erwin II.

The museum's annual report mentioned the gift.

In 1850 Isabelle & Mildred's mother Mary Tirzah Barnes was 9 or 10 years old, living with her
father Dixon Barnes on a plantation in Lancaster County, South Carolina.
Mother Charlotte Rebecca Brown had died a few years earlier when Mary was 6.

Mary's daughters thought the quilts might have been made for Mary's dower chest. But no one indicated by whom.

Did Mary, abut 10  years old, piece together all those squares, under the direction
of a relative or servant?

The pieced quilt speaks of 1850 with its newly fashionable red & green geometric
patterns and an old-fashioned chintz striped border (a strange stripe with
an animal print) combining two styles as chintz quilts became "chintzy."

But does it tell us anything about the young Mary Barnes?

Dixon Barnes (1816-1862)
from a painting at his Find A Grave site.

As the Civil War began Mary Tirzah Barnes (1840-1893) was perhaps at school as she is not listed in the 1860 census with her father, who looks to be living alone. He was actually living with dozens, perhaps hundreds of enslaved people, invisible to the census takers but counted in a separate slave schedule. Mary herself is listed there as owner of 33 bondspeople, perhaps a legacy from her mother. Her father in his own estate and in trust for others is listed with many more.

Lancaster County, South Carolina

Dixon Barnes had served in the South Carolina Legislature and Senate. In 1855 he married a second time to a Mary Cunningham who lived only a few months after the marriage---so here we have a second Mary Barnes. She was the widow of John S. Cunningham and apparently had two girls and a boy when she married Dixon Barnes. The reference to this short marriage is from a legal case. 

South Carolina court case mentioning Dixon's
second marriage, to another Mary Barnes.
Did someone write her name on the quilts at a later date?

Robert A.R. Cunningham was Mary Cunningham Barne's young son who seems to
have inherited much human property. He died in 1865.
Were Mildred & Isabella Barnes even aware that their grandfather has been married
for a few months in 1855 to another Mary Barnes?

When the war began Dixon Barnes raised local regiments, becoming Colonel of the 12th South Carolina, soldiers he led into battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland in September, 1862 where he was shot in the leg. He died at in Charleston, Virginia a few days after the battle, also called Antietam, one of about 23,000 fatalities there.

Alexander Gardner photographed the Antietam disaster.

Ad for John Erwin's practice in the fall and winter of 1860-61.

Mary's grief over her father's death may have been tempered by the safe return of a Private
John Bratton Erwin (1834-1916), attorney from York County. 

January 18, 1866

They married a few months after war's end.

Lancaster's Court House by architect Robert Mills

John had been managing a railroad but "upon marrying Mary Barnes he gave up his profession and undertook the management of her large estates," according to a biography. Children immediately followed and by 1871 she had three boys and became pregnant with the fourth. A horrible event happened in the fall. All three of her boys Dixon 4, George 3 and William 1 died of disease in a few weeks, leaving the parents with nothing but the promise of another child.

Fortunately five more arrived with four outliving their mother who died in 1892 of tuberculosis.

Obituary for Mary, June, 1892.

Husband John then moved to Washington D.C. to clerk in the War Department, bringing his children with him. When Republicans gained control of those clerkships and fired him he turned to real estate. He married a younger woman from Washington, Miss Louisa Nourse Forrest, listed here in the 1900 census with Mildred at 16 still living at home.

A minor mystery about the quilts. Now I think the best way to phrase something like this would be:
"Attributed to the household of Mary T. Barnes."

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