Sunday, January 1, 2012

5 Mary Telfair: I Only Wish I Was a Man

We Americans who learned our history in the U.S. are surprised to find how quickly the States set their sights on Canadian conquest in 1812.  “ Free Trade and Sailors' Rights” may have been the motto on the flags and china pitchers but Congressional “War Hawks” saw an opportunity for northern expansion. British minister Augustus John Foster compared the land grab by the young U.S. to the necessity of  “a duel to a young officer.”

Henry Clay in 1811, an up-and-coming
34-year-old Congressman from Kentucky

Many War Hawks, headed by Henry Clay, agreed with former President Jefferson that taking the Canadian Protectorate from the British would be “a mere matter of marching” because England, busy with Napoleon, would not actually protect it and the Canadians, many former U.S. Colonials, would welcome annexation. State militia and the small regular Army marched north to the Great Lakes with ambitious plans to take Montreal, the Niagara region and western outposts in today’s Ontario.
General William Hull crossed the Detroit River southeast into Canada but was bluffed into believing the British and Native troops outnumbered the Americans. Do note that the U.S. is north.
The western front was the first strategy to fail as the British drove U.S. troops back over the border into the Michigan Territory and captured Fort Detroit and the adjacent town.
Newspapers second guessed the Army

Unable to believe their arrogant plan had flaws, Congress and the press blamed Detroit’s surrender on Detroit's defender, General of the Army of the Northwest William Hull. 

The generation gap between William Hull born in 1753 and Henry Clay
 born in 1777 is quite apparent in their hair fashions.
 Powdered wigs were old-fashioned in 1812 (but still worn.)

Hull was court-martialed  for cowardice and sentenced to a firing squad.  Only President Madison's intervention saved his life---if not his reputation.

Fort Detroit, a 4-pointed star

Detroit’s shocking loss created War Hawks in unlikely places. Mary Telfair in Georgia wrote a friend she was distracted by war news. “My mind has been wholly engrossed with needle work and inventing little trifles by way of amusement.” She read nothing but newspapers. “My heart throbs with joy whenever I discover a successful action of the Americans…[to contrast] with the inglorious surrender in Canada which has cast such a stigma on the American character which nothing but a conquest of that country can retrieve….I only wish I was a man…”

Mary Telfair (1791-1875)
This beautiful miniature portrait by Enrichetta Narducci 
was painted on a piece of ivory less than 3"
with gouache (a tempera) in 1842
when Mary was 51 years old.
Collection of Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah.

Mary Telfair, 21 years old when the War began, left legacies to Savannah for body and soul. At her death she donated the family mansion built in 1819 as a museum .

The Telfair Museum of Art remains the cultural heart of the city.

The Telfair Hospital for Females was another gift to Savannah.

In the Telfair Museum collection is the oldest documented Georgia quilt yet found, a post-war tree-of-life chintz quilt dated 1824 by Mary Elizabeth Taylor. We know from her writing that Mary Telfair did much needlework herself, but find no quilts by her in the record.

Medallion quilters favored several pieced border designs, which we shall consider in January, the first being that zig-zag or fence rail border that Mary Taylor repeated---one we also see in Zebiah Hewson's Philadelpia quilt.

This border seems to echo the fashion for appliqued Vandyke triangles.

Above and below the zig-zag border in a pieced medallion from an online auction.
The quilt probably dates to the 1820-40 period.

There are several ways to piece this border.
It can have sharp points as in the quilt above.

Or blunt points as in this detail from a quilt in the
collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. See the whole quilt by clicking here:

You can make the zig-zags light or dark---early quiltmakers were fond of white lines in a calico background.

Above and below, British quilts from the 1830s and '40s
 showing the persistence of the design with medallion makers
on the other side of the Atlantic.

The border seems to have evolved into a strip quilt design---
this one probably first quarter of the 19th century.

You can read Mary Telfair's letters to her friend:
Mary Telfair to Mary Few: Selected Letters, 1802-1844,(Betty Wood, ed., (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007)

Read more about Mary Elizabeth Taylor's Georgia quilt in Georgia Quilts: Piecing together a history, Edited by Anita Zaleski Weinraub. You can buy it on sale from the University of Georgia Press. 


Jill said...

I am loving your new blog...Quilt 1812: War & Piecing. Thank you for sharing so much information with us. I am thinking about making a quilt for the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Show. I love to hand quilt and am thinking wholecloth. Any ideas on what would be most appropriate for the time period? Thanks.

Barbara Brackman said...

Jill, I'll get around to wholecloth sometime in 2012 but you need information now. There are three or four basic types--- 1)silk (those dupioni silks might be nice) 2)wool---but it's hard to find a polished wool like calimanco 3) printed chintzes (but the quilting doesn't show) 4) plain white cotton. Lynn Zacek Bassett's Massachusetts Quilts has lots of pictures and pattern drawings.

Jill said...

Barbara, Thanks for the advice. I think I am going to go with a solid cotton. I just need to study those quilts in the Massachusetts Quilts book. The pictures in that book are wonderful. They show so much detail. Thanks again. Looking forward to what you will share with us next.