Saturday, December 12, 2020

Tennessee to Missouri #5: Who Actually Made The Quilts?

We've looked at several possible Missouri makers of these stuffed work quilts handed down in a Cass County family.

-Perhaps Maria Rodgers Martin, held as a slave in Cass County
-Perhaps other Missouri women in the Roddy/Brown home in Cass County
-Perhaps relatives in Tennessee

It seems most likely to Merikay Waldvogel and me that they were made in Rhea County, Tennessee, where the style was often seen after the Civil War. 

Rhea County, Tennessee west to Cass County, Missouri
The U.S. in 1860

The two quilts are so closely related in pattern, style and quilting to the distinctive quilts of that area (recorded in the Quilts of Tennessee project.)

We have four Feathered Star Variations

And two almost identical Turkey Tracks.

The quilts are all significantly related in the quilting.

This use of a  long stuffed feather in sash as well as in the border is unusual---except in Rhea County.

A gridded basket also seems to be a signature style.

Unraveling the story of the quilts back in Rhea County becomes even more complicated. 

The Patchwork Quilt by E.W. Perry
Harper's Weekly,1872

We might guess the Tennessee women who made the above quilts shared patterns and style at quilting parties and fairs. They were of the same generation and living in a relatively small community. We realize that one or two creative women can inspire a whole community to excellence and in our times we like to think of the artist as making a quilt from start to finish, following her own muse.

The Patchwork Quilt by William Henry Midwood, a British painter,
about 1870

Many of the quilt projects asked the quiltowner (perhaps a great-grand child of the maker) what part of the quilt was made by whom. The overwhelmingly popular response:
Question:"IF SOURCE PERSON IS QUILT MAKER: If the source is the quilt maker, choose the parts of the quiltmaking process that best describes the source's participation. 

Answer: Made entire quilt"

There is NO way a great-great granddaughter who might not even know the quiltmaker's maiden name could possibly know this, but our confidence in the creative process is unbounded by evidence.

1843 Charles Knight Pictorial Gallery of the Arts, England

Once Merikay and I see a body of such similar quilts we tend to wonder if some kind of cottage industry was not stitching these---a cottage industry with a specialty say of feathered star quilts. 

If not a business of piecing or appliqueing fancy quilts, did someone have a quilting business where the stuffed work was the attraction?

And who worked in that commercial enterprise, quilting all those baskets, feathers and flowers?

Quilt with stuffed work feathers in the sashing attributed to 
Sarildabeth C. Smith Rector, Rhea County, Tennessee 
whose great-granddaughter told the Tennessee documenters that Rilda made the entire quilt.

We have no answers to our questions but we have changed our perspective on the steps in the quiltmaking process and the importance of commercial quiltmaking in the past.

See previous posts on the Cass County/Rhea County quilts here:

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Tennessee to Missouri #4: Rhea County Style


Quilt passed down in the Gillenwaters/Brown family
who came to Cass County, Missouri in 1842.
The last three posts have been about this intriguing quilt
and a similar bedcover in the same family collection.
See the posts here:

As noted, the two Missouri quilts have a good deal in common, complicated pieced pattern alternating with plain white blocks, similar fabrics, stuffed work in the white squares and a fringed edge.

Stories in the Stitches: Quilts from the Cass County 
Quilt Documentation Project by Jenifer Dick, Carol Bohl, 
Linda Hammontree & Janice Britz.

They've been discussed in the Cass County book, attributed to Maria Rodgers Martin pictured above. Maria does not appear to have been a seamstress of any note, so the attribution is questionable. Our better understanding of regional differences in quilt style also leads us away from Missouri and back to Tennessee, the home before 1842 of Maria and the people who held her as a slave.

Now it may be that other women at the Brown house in Missouri stitched these quilts in the 1840s or '50s. Two older, unnamed African-American women lived in slavery there according to the 1850 slave schedule, as did matriarch Elizabeth (Roddye) Gillenwaters who died in her early '50s in 1851. Elizabeth's only daughter Mary Roddye Gillenwaters Brown (1819-1890) might have done the work, being in her thirties during the 1850s when this type of quilt was fashionable. 

Stuffed quilting links the Missouri quilts to Rhea County, Tennessee,
home of the Gillenwaters, Browns and Maria Rodgers Martin.

However, we doubt (Merikay & I) that these are Missouri quilts. 

Thirty five years ago quilt researchers in Tennessee were surprised to find so many stuffed work quilts in Rhea County. Merikay Waldvogel pointed out the connection between the Tennessee and Missouri styles.

Among the Tennessee findings were two closely related quilts with feathered stars, stuffing, fringe and one with the same zig-zag border

And another Oakleaf/Turkey Tracks design.

Victoria Darwin Caldwell's descendants called the pattern Turkey Tracks
and told the story that this quilt was hidden under the floorboards in their home
in Spring City, Rhea County during the Civil War.

Victoria Darwin Caldwell (1839-1919)
She had 12 children, 11 of them still living in 1900.
She must have been named for Queen Victoria, crowned in 1838.

Her quilt is pictured in Southern Quilts: Surviving Relics of the Civil War
where Bets Ramsey & Merikay estimated the date as late 1850s.

The Tennessee State Museum has this quilt dated 1808 by
Rebekah Foster in their collection.

Fancy, stuffed work quilting is a clue to a pre-Civil War quilt, but a surprising thing about the Rhea County findings was how late some of the stuffed quilts seemed to be.

Quilt attributed to Eliza West Cash (1825-1896),
Spring City, Rhea County, Tennessee.

If we dated these quilts on overall style, comparing
them to stuffed-work quilts in the rest of the country
we'd say: Before the Civil War.
But fabrics and Rhea County family histories are not always consistent with that date.

A second quilt by Eliza West Cash from the Tennessee Project

Pieced of an indigo print and a little pink, stuffed work quilting
in alternate blocks. Very hard to date. Only one print.....

Quilt attributed to Mary Ann Walker Trentham (1857-1920) and sister-in-law
Nancy Jane Trentham (who "helped with the quilting.")
All solids, Turkey red, chrome orange and a light blue.

Trentham family stories recalled the child's hands on the left side as being traced from 1-year-old Nannie's. 

Nancy Rebecca Trentham was born in 1880 so the quilt is dated to 1881.
She lived until 1955 and may have been the source of the quilt's history.

Nanny's quilt has the same unusual pattern of a stuffed
feather in the sashing---a feather swoop between the blocks,
the same design seen in Eliza West Cash's quilt above and in the floral vase below.

Quilt attributed to Rilda Smith Rector (1848-1930)
Her grave:

The only date-inscribed Rhea County quilt found in the Tennessee project
is this pink and red one attributed to Eleanor Wilson Broyles with "Enoch '86" in
the quilting.

The pattern, a Triple Irish Chain, was quite popular around
the country in the 1880s---but the stuffed quilting rarely found anywhere
but Rhea County that late.

The stuffed, gridded basket is seen in variations.

Adelia Gillespie Darwin 's feathered star with basket
similar to the Cass County feathered star.

Tennessee State Museum
Adelia's quilt is remarkably like the Cass County quilt.

Another Feathered Star attributed to Elizabeth Brabson Smith, wife of a Roddy who stayed behind in Rhea County, related to the Roddyes who moved to Missouri.

 Elizabeth (Betsy) Brabson Smith Roddy (1823-1902),
perhaps soon after her 1842 wedding,  from a lengthy 1935 article on
 Roddy genealogy in the Chattanooga Times

With husband David Mahaffe Roddy (1810-1885), Betsy had eight children between 1845 and 1862, one of whom she named Mary Jane Roddy. 

The younger Mary Roddy Brown from the Chattanooga Times.

This Mary Jane Roddy (1847-1909) married a man named Brown, so we have two Mary Jane Roddy Browns, one in Missouri and a younger one in Rhea County. Coincidences abound.

The red star quilt has remained in the family.

The Missouri Feathered Star

This Roddy family were also well-to-do slave holders; the 1860 slave schedule lists 30 people at their home in Roddy Station, Tennessee: 11 females.

A few months after the Civil War began David Roddy
was selling off some Smith family slaves.

Betsy Roddy's husband was undoubtedly related to the Missouri Roddys. David Mahaffe Roddy of Tennessee and Elizabeth Roddy Gillenwaters of Missouri are descended from English-born Jesse Roddy who fought in the Revolutionary War in North Carolina.

It also seems likely that the pair of Missouri quilts were made in Rhea County, Missouri and taken or sent to Cass County, Missouri. Did they make that trip before the Civil War? It's possible, but based on the quilt style, doubtful. Family surely communicated and traveled after 1865 when elegant quilts might have been welcomed at the Brown house in Missouri, raided several times during the war.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Tennessee to Missouri #3: Who Stitched the Stuffed-Work Quilts?

Reality Bites

One trouble with fact checking quilt stories is disappointment at finding that all those lovely memories are often just myth, wishful family recall and/or the universal love of an inspiring narrative. The example we are following here, a pair of Missouri quilts, combines a spectacular-looking quilt or two and tales of slavery, historic houses and the Civil War with a few Jayhawkers thrown in for extra drama.

See two previous posts here:

Quilt attributed to Maria Rodgers Martin, (1831-1922)

The Feathered Star quilt, one of a pair of unusual fringed, pieced quilts with stuffed-work quilting, has descended in the family and in the historic house of slave-owners who emigrated to Missouri in the early 1840s.

The house, Wayside Rest, today

The Gillenwaters/Browns came to Cass County from Rhea County, Tennessee with about 30 enslaved people. Descendants passed on the history that one was Maria Jane Rodgers who'd have been about 11 years old when she arrived in Missouri. She married Fred Martin of the farm and left Missouri for the free state of Kansas without him in 1863 when she was about 32.

View of Lawrence from the top of the hill where the
University is now. 

Did Maria make this quilt between 1845 when she might have been old enough and 1862 when she left Cass County for Lawrence? We can look at opportunity and ability.

1) Opportunity. Did Maria sew?

The quilts are obviously the work of a talented seamstress. The piece-work designs are not for beginners; the stuffed work quilting, which would have taken months of hand work, is quite impressive. The fringed edge might have been hand knotted (People sat around in the evenings and knotted fringes) or purchased.

Fringed edges became unfashionable after the Civil War

 Each step in this quilt was labor-intensive and well-executed.

The yard at Wayside Rest recently, rarely this quiet when
40 or more people lived on the place in the 1850s.

We can only glimpse Maria's life in Missouri and in Kansas.The 1850 slave schedule for the Gillenwaters/Browns lists 20 people, 6 of them female, ages 42, 35, 12 (possibly Maria actually about 18), 11, 6, and 5. The adult and adolescent women might be field hands but more likely were employed as house servants in typical occupations such as cooking, cleaning, sewing, and child care. Along with family history that Maria made the star quilt we also hear she was the caretaker for the Brown family's children. 

Slave owner Mary Roddye Gillenwaters Brown (1819-1890) brought 3 children from Tennessee (an infant, a 5 year-old and a 3-year old) in 1842.

Children cared for younger children

 Maria as a young adolescent would typically be the right age to act as nanny to children not much younger than herself. Mary went on to have 7 children, the youngest born in 1853.

Mary's only daughter Elizabeth Brown Daniel, 15 when
 Maria left, was born in Missouri in 1847. After the
 war she married Kentucky-born Henry Clay Daniel,
a Harrisonville lawyer. She may have been the keeper
 of the quilts and the stories.

Maria's job supervising 6 boys and a girl would have left her little time for sewing fancywork, although one could imagine that she might have been put to work at a quilting frame after the children were in bed.

Missouri Historical Society
Louisa, enslaved childcare worker with
charge H. E. Heyward, 1858
The baby may be Confederate Missourian
Harry E. Hayward (1857-1933) born in Tennessee.

Maria had eight children of her own, although hers are not so well documented. The 1865 Kansas census lists three: Elvira and Charles born in the 1850s and Benjamin born about 1861. 

2) Ability. Did Maria sew well enough to make this elegant quilt?

Before the sewing machine and the advent of factory-made clothing, women spent a good deal of their time hand sewing in three categories:

Hand-sewing undergarments after the war

 1) The everyday necessity of plain sewing: making and repairing clothing and household linens.

Fitting a bodice like this silk tartan plaid
required training.

2) Skilled work such as fitting and stitching fashionable clothing, doing upholstery and interior goods.

3) Fancywork, the enjoyable activities at which women of a certain class passed their free time

Woman stitching an applique quilt block (?)
From America Hurrah Antiques

In the hierarchy of women's work those trained in skilled sewing, Black or white, were far more able to earn a living than those who could only do plain sewing or those who had no sewing expertise. The only evidence we have of Maria's actual sewing skills is rather oblique. After her life as a slave she lived in Lawrence for over 40 years. She did not prosper. As Kansas historian Katie Armitage writes in her study of African-American residents in Lawrence: "Single black women were among the poorest in the community."

Woman ironing about 1930, South Carolina
Photo by Doris Ullman, Library of Congress

Maria, listed as a "pauper" in the 1865 census, was certainly among the poorest of the 2,000 Lawrencians of African-American descent. She was one of 27 Black women who worked at "Washing & Ironing" that year, and apparently laundry work was her long time employment. In the hierarchy of women's work Washing & Ironing was near the bottom. The work was hard; the pay was bad. Had she any other talents, skills or assets she would likely have used them to rise above paupership.

Maria was not a dressmaker; never described as a professional seamstress of any kind. Had she even basic skills at plain sewing, making simple garments, she would have made more money for less labor. Maria's life in Kansas indicates she was not a seamstress, skilled or otherwise.

Looking at the quilts and the documents of Maria's life we can conclude she did not make either quilt. Although she had the opportunity to make such a quilt in Missouri in the 1850s, she seems to have lacked the skills.

Next Post: Then who did sew the quilts?

Further Reading:
Katie H. Armitage, "'Seeking a Home Where He Himself Is Free': African Americans Build a Community in Douglas County, Kansas," Kansas History, Autumn 2008 

Kansas Collection, University of Kansas
"Becky Harvey" is listed in the 1865 census as 35 years old,
Maria's peer in age. Rebecca Brooks Harvey came to Lawrence from Arkansas
 a year after Maria. Married, she fared better & left more of a mark.