Monday, October 1, 2012

Amelia Eloise Russell: Peace

Applique Quilt, 1813-1814
Ann Robinson
Collection of the Shelburne Museum
Philadelphia. Sunday, February 15, 1815. "As it had snowed in the night, uncle thought it would be too bad walking to go to church. I therefore stayed at home and read...About one o'clock we heard some one endeavoring to lift the latch. In great haste we sent a servant to the door, who returned and told us there was a little boy there who said there was Peace. We all ran to the door, and found Mrs. Lisle there, whose little boy it was. She told us an express [ship?] had arrived from New York which said a British ship of war had arrived bringing a treaty of peace.... Everybody in the street was smiling, and Mr. John Kane came up and shook my hand, saying, 'God bless your father!' "

Sampler from Philadelphia

Amelia, a 17-year-old student, was the daughter of Jonathan Russell, an American diplomat who had the misfortune to be Ambassador to England during the diplomatic impasse that led to the War of 1812. President Madison sent him to represent the U.S. in Norway and Sweden for the rest of the war. A widower, he left his daughter with her uncle while she attended the elegant Philadelphia school of Madame Deborah Grelaud.

Amelia had been born in France when her father was on a mission there. She spent a good deal of her youth in schools and took her middle name Eloise from a favorite teacher in a Massachusetts school.

The Hundred Years' Peace by
Amedee Foriestier
Jonathan Russell is one of the Americans
behind John Quincy Adams on the right side
of this painting celebrating the centennial of the Christmas Eve treaty.

In 1814 after two years mired in an unpopular war, Madison sent Jonathan Russell and other commissioners to Europe to negotiate a truce with Britain in August, 1814. The commissioners signed a treaty in Ghent in Belgium on Christmas Eve but, as we have seen, news of peace did not reach America's largest city until nearly two months later.

General Andrew Jackson won
America's largest land victory in the War
 in January, 1815.

During the gap between treaty and celebration Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans and British troops captured Fort Bowyer on Mobile Bay.

Amelia recorded Philadelphia's peace festivities. An illumination was an important part of every civic event---street-facing windows in every house were lit. Deborah stayed home from school on the Wednesday after the peace news, perhaps painting transparencies on paper or fabric through which the lights would shine.

"Uncle wanted me to fix some things for illuminations. We lighted our candles a little after six.... I walked with [friends]. The illumination was very brilliant, and there were a great many transparencies."

Political parade in 1860 featuring banners,
 torches and lighted windows,
carrying on the old tradition of illuminations.

Illuminations often caused riots, as patriotic mobs felt at liberty to damage houses without window lights. Philadelphia's Quakers were among those terrorized but during this peace illumination the Mayor directed the police to protect "their peaceful rights" to refuse to celebrate on religious principles.

Madame Grelaud had promised the students that she would throw a ball when peace came. The City sponsored a second ball in March.

March 21st. "At last the important day arrived, and I was in a great hurry to get my dress ready, and I could scarcely think of anything else all day, such is the disadvantage of balls. ...The street, from Eighth to Ninth, was crowded with people, and I was really afraid the carriage would run over some one, but fortunately they had wit enough to keep out of the way. I do believe there would hardly have been more people assembled to see Buonaparte than there was to see a parcel of carriages."

The hall was decorated with hothouse plants, floral wreaths and festoons and on the stage a panorama of the Philadelphia harbor. "The musicians immediately struck up 'Hail Columbia.' It was more like a fairy scene than anything I can imagine."

The Treaty of Ghent brought an end to
 wars between the U.S. and Great Britain, although the two countries
 came close to wars again in the 19th century.
In October we will consider boarding schools, peace and their effects upon quilts, as well as this style of early conventional applique, rather fanciful, crowded and unrestrained by blocks.

Louisa Brigham quilt
Dated 1818
From the Connecticut Quilt Project
See a detail here at the Quilt Index:

The Russell home in Mendon, Massachusetts

Amelia E. Russell's letters are published in 1900 in the introduction to her book Home Life of the Brook Farm Association.


WoolenSails said...

I cannot imagine making such beautiful and intricate quilts with basic supplies, but then they didn't have tv and phones to distract them;)


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