Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Kentucky Classic # 4: Goldenrod for Belle Robinson


Kentucky Classic # 4: Kentucky Goldenrod for Belle Robinson
by Elsie Ridgley

In the late 1930s the Federal Writers' Project had the excellent idea of interviewing older Americans such as ex-cowboys and former slaves. Thousands of interviews were conducted with standard questions.
Mother & daughter by Alice Huger Smith
Alice painted and drew her South Carolina neighbors in the early 20th century.

 The interviewees who'd been held in slavery before 1865 were over 70, most of them children before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Texan Tempie Cummins was probably a young child in 1865.
Some interviewees were photographed.

Belle Robinson (1853- after 1940) was interviewed in Garrard County, Kentucky, in June, 1937. The woman, about 75 at the time, had short answers to the standard questions because, “Lawdy, it has been so long that I have forgot nearly everything I knew....I was too young to remember much about the slave days.”  

The transcript of her discussion with local teacher and historian Eliza Ison is brief. Eliza found Belle working on a quilt when the visit began.
“I was born June 3rd, 1853 in Garrard County near Lancaster. My mother’s name was Marion Blevin and she belonged to the family of Pleas Blevin. My father’s name was Arch Robinson who lived in Madison County." 
The white Robinsons were wealthy landowners with many enslaved people throughout the area. One of their plantations was taken over by the Union as a recruiting and training station named Camp Dick Robinson. See pattern #3 for more about Camp Dick Robinson:

Belle spent much of her life with Mary Ann Beeler Brady (about 1821-?) and her family. The 1860 census found Mary Ann Brady at 39 living with an 18-year old hired hand John Ballard and one invisible person, listed on the separate slave schedule as an unnamed 7-year old female who must have been Belle. When Harrison Brady died his human property probably went to his heirs and not his wife, who bought Belle from the estate.
"When Mr. Brady died and his property was sold Mrs. Brady bought me back; and she always said that she paid $400 for me. I lived in that family for three generations, until every one of them died. I was the only child and had always lived at the big house with my mistress."

A "small gal" by Alice Huger Smith

The 1880 census shows two adjacent households in the town of Lancaster. Belle, unmarried at 26, and  two children---4 year old Betsy and 3-year-old William---are living with Joseph & Frances Beeler and several other adults who work for the Beelers. Belle is a servant. 

"The Servant" by Alice Huger Smith

Next door is Mary A. Spratt age 60. This may be Mary Ann Beeler Brady and a second husband Solomon Spratt (1820-1894), married in 1861, or perhaps one of Mary Ann's birth daughters. Nobody looks very prosperous 15 years after the end of the Civil War.

Later censuses find Belle living with Grand Anderson and his wife (Muriel?) probably Belle's daughter and four children. Belle's employed as a cook in 1920. In 1930 she was running a boarding house on East 5th Street in Lancaster and has assets worth $1,000.  In 1940 at 85 she was again living with the Anderson family, probably where interviewer Eliza Ison found her stitching a quilt.

Belle Robinson left far too much unsaid. Our current take on slavery's economic system and its inherent personal tragedies gives us little insight to the relationship of Belle and her white "family." She obviously took pride in connections that gave her a sense of who she was in this world. We cannot hope to understand the social customs and norms of the time.

The Block

#4 Kentucky Goldenrod

The various Kentucky appliques sometimes include this yellow-orange
floral. We have no idea what it represents but let's call it a 
goldenrod, Kentucky's state flower, chosen for Belle, a native Kentuckian.
One version appliqued with an embroidery stitch.

 Kentucky State Historical Society

The goldenrod pattern's loosely based on this version in a repeat block quilt, attributed to Millie Anderson McCain of Marion County. She included the carnation, fruit, roses and buds gathered in a very small container.

The Kentucky Historical Society owns 5 of Millie's quilts.

Lucy Kemper West
DAR Museum

One appealing design idea in these quilts, as we have noted, is the absurdly small vase. You may want to substitute Lucy's pink vase below for the taller vase in the Goldenrod pattern. 
I'd add a third flower or enlarge the original two a bit so it looks like the whole thing is going to topple over. Also see the little vase in pattern #2.

4 blocks finishing to 15" in the side-by-side set.
No medallion pattern this month.

Margaret Brodie McClain added a ribbon-like frame around
her center block with goldenrod and fruit sprouting from it.
Her quilt was found in Missouri.


The black & white illustrations by Alice Huger Smith are from Elizabeth Waties Allston Pringle's book
A Woman Rice Planter.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Marie Virginie Trahan Ternant Avegno's Civil War


New Orleans on the Mississippi River

In 1860 New Orleans was the sixth largest American city with a population of about 170,000, most of whom were identified as "Creole" from French, Spanish and African cultures. The city's history was unusual in that it had been a French colony rather than a British or Spanish outpost. 150 years after its founding the city was still French in language, culture and sensibilities. 

Marie Virginie Ternant grew up in this house in the French Quarter
on Toulouse Street.

Residents like the Ternant family spoke French as their first language and spent time in Paris, sailing  rather easily across the Atlantic. The Ternants had the means to travel and to live well in both the French and American cities and rural Louisiana.

 Marie Virginie Trahan de Ternant Parlange
A portrait of the elder Virginie de Ternant hangs in her house.

Library of Congress
Parlange Plantation house, begun 1750
Pointe Coupee, Louisiana

Virginie's mother Marie Virginie Trahan de Ternant inherited the plantation from her first husband Claude Vincent de Ternant (1786-1842). Still in the family, the place is known as the Parlange Plantation after her second husband. When mother Virginie lived here before the Civil War she was the largest land owner in the area.

Marie Virginie Trahan Ternant Avegno (1838-1910)

Claude and Virginie's daughter, another Marie Virginie, was in her early 20s when the Civil War began. She'd married Italian-American attorney Anatole Avegno in 1857 and had two daughters, Virginie Amélie about 2 years old and infant Marie Valentine. 
Major Anatole Placido Avegno (1835-1862)

Soon after war was declared Anatole formed a company called the Avegno Zouaves, made up of men from a variety of ethnicities who dressed in the fashionable Zouave costume of fez and gathered pant legs.  

Library of Congress
A Zouave

Anatole was injured at the Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862.

On April 11th the Times-Picayune reported on Virginie's ordeal
 while waiting for news or her returned soldier.

Five days later

Daughters Amélie and Valentine towards the end of the war

Daughter Valentine died on March 11, 1866, perhaps of Yellow Fever during one of the many epidemics of the mosquito-borne disease. New Orleans was one of the unhealthiest cities in the United States due to the low-lying land and the busy port. Malaria, yellow fever and cholera were constant threats.

Virginie Avegno must have taken stock of the situation. Despite the war she still had enough 
family fortune to relocate to France. She and 8-year-old Amélie left for Paris in 1867.

Daughter Amelie Avegno (1859-1915) about the time she 
married Pierre Gautreau, 20 years older.

Amélie became a Parisian belle with her appearance her major goal. Cosmetics, expensive clothes and a slightly scandalous attitude won her the standard prize of a rich husband when she was in her late teens. Her mother, rebuilding her life after the Civil War, could consider herself a success.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection

John Singer Sargent painted this famous portrait of Amélie--- "Madame X," which shocked 
Paris when it was shown in 1884. Sargent left Paris. Amélie and her mother remained.

The Queen of Hearts

This blog is supposed to be about quilts and Civil War biographies, but I have no quilt to show for the Avegno family. I didn't expect to find any because New Orleans with its French heritage had few patchwork traditions until late in the 19th century, long after they left. The Avegnos did not take any patchwork quilts with them to France.

The best period bedding for those antebellum Louisiana plantations
like Greenwood pictured here would be a whole cloth quilt. The
whitework quilt, a form of Marseilles quilt, is a good choice;
the patchwork reproduction a bit of an anachronism.

Esther Searl of DeRidder, Louisiana and a quilt she made in 1915.
More typical of later Louisiana patchwork.

You might like to read Deborah Davis's Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X. You'll get quite a view of Madame Gautreau's Paris.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Washington Whirlwind #6: Columbian Puzzle


Washington Whirlwind #6
Columbian Puzzle by Denniele Bohannon

Columbian Puzzle recalls the District of Columbia where
the Lincolns lived for the four years of Civil War.
One puzzle:
Why does it have such a shape?

Washington, often called Washington City in the 19th century, lies within the almost rectangular District of Columbia. This district, once 100 square miles (10 miles by 10), was created from parts of Maryland & Virginia on either side of the Potomac to become the U.S. Capitol. In 1846 Virginia reclaimed its land donation west of the Potomac, which explains the missing area of the original square Territory of Columbia. The yellow star is the White House in Washington City.

The flat roof of the Executive Mansion with a parapet, a protective
railing, was the play space for the Taft & Lincoln boys.

Columbian Puzzle also recalls the Lincoln's youngest son.
There was something wrong.

Thomas Lincoln (1853-1871)
He may be 3 or 4 in this photograph.

Their youngest was born when Mary Todd Lincoln was about 35. They'd lost 3-year-old Edward to disease a few years earlier and this last child was much indulged and well-loved.

Columbian Puzzle by Jeanne Arnieri

His nickname was Tad, supposedly given shortly after birth by his father who noted his unusually large head and thought he looked like a tadpole. We special education teachers say, "Uh-Oh." He may have been hydrocephalic, a condition that puts pressure on the brain from an abnormality in the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. Today a shunt would be inserted to relieve the pressure. 

His mother indicated she suffered from giving birth to Tad with his large head, later seeking cures in European spas for never named gynecological problems. She alluded to this last child's birth as the cause of her "headaches" and water-cure visits.

Tad at about 16

Tad's brain fluid problem seems to have eventually eased, but there is evidence of other cranio-facial abnormalities and learning problems that may have been the result of pre- and post-natal hydrocephalus. Portraits also show him with a cleft lip, a common abnormality with about 1 of every 1,600 American infants born today having lip and palate anomalies, more common in boys than girls. Today plastic surgery repairs both lip and palate (roof of the mouth) problems. 

Tad at 18

A cleft lip can cause speech pronunciation problems, which afflicted Tad. White House observers noted his unintelligible speech. The cleft palate was a more serious problem with teeth growing in askew  causing chewing and swallowing problems (also recorded by White House observers who noted he required a special easy-to-ingest diet.) A cleft palate can allow food to enter sinus passages and airways causing infection. Tad died at 18 of some kind of a lung problem, the kind of thing one might worry about with a boy whose food processing was a problem. 

Columbian Puzzle by Becky Brown

We have noted Tad's mischievousness, which might be more clinically described as hyperactivity and an attention deficit disorder, commonly accompanied by learning disabilities. Tad did not learn to read until he was 13 years old, a milestone noted by his mother in 1866. 
"Taddie ...Can now read....he did not know his letters when he came here."
(Beyond learning his letters did he ever actually learn to read?)

Lincoln and Tad looking at a catalog, photographed by
the Brady Studios.

Columbian Puzzle by Elsie Ridgley

His reading and other academic deficiencies were the despair of White House tutors who noted his inability to pay attention. There was also the problem of parental indulgence with his father preferring to watch him play rather than suffer with lessons.

John M. Hutchinson, a speech pathologist by training and Lincoln historian, addresses the puzzle of Tad Lincoln's speech and related problems here:
"Given the is probable that Tad Lincoln had a complex speech and language disorder that today would have necessitated early and extensive intervention by a speech/language pathologist to address, at a minimum, a delay in language development and the developmental articulation problem."
The Block

The Columbian Puzzles: "Why is the District of Columbia such an odd shape?" is more easily explained than Tad Lincoln's learning and physical problems.

During the years after 1880 when the Drunkard's Path block with its curved pieces was popular the pattern industry publishing under the name Clara Stone gave an alternative variation---all straight line piecing. It's BlockBase+ #2196.

Turkey red and white solids, inscribed 1896

Columbian Puzzle by Elsie Ridgley who is doing two sets.

Elsie's Blocks 1-6 in Mary Lincoln's favorite color.