Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Outlier Uncovered

Unquilted counterpane dated 1782 with initials E.B.
Collection of the Winterthur Museum
In 1974 the Orlofsky's book Quilts in America gave us all our first real overview of the magnificent history of American quilts. Included was a black and white photo of this unquilted spread with the caption:
"Framed Center Counterpane, 1782. Appliqued and embroidered linen and cotton....The bird at the top of the tree amd the pair of peacocks are cut from copperplate printed linen and cotton cloth that dates from about 1765-75....The coverlet is said to have been made in America from various English textiles." (Page 52 in the second edition.)
The complexity of this design was hard to fit in with the other American quilts dated in 1780s (a low number to be sure. I think there are three others.)
Anna Tuels' Quilt
Dated 1786
Collection: Wadsworth Atheneum

Elizabeth Nace quilt
Dated 1786
Collection: Lancaster Quilt  & Textile Museum
Deborah Wilson Quilt
Dated 1783
Collection: Daughters of the American Revolution Museum
 But just because it was an outlier in the data----a visual outlier---doesn't mean that isn't an accurate date. I tried wrapping my head around it (as we used to say when the Orlofsky book was new.) If this quilt were made here in 1782 the style should be reflected in quilts in 1810.
A detail of the center showing the copperplate printed bird.
A few years ago I saw the E.B. coverlet in person at the Winterthur exhibit and was pleased to see it labeled as Irish. Pleased because I no longer had to wonder about it's origins, its maker or fit it into my concepts of American-made quilts. E.B. is Eliza Patten Bennis (1725-1802) who emigrated from Ireland in 1788, taking this five-year-old bedspread with her, to Philadelphia where it surely impressed her new neighbors.
See Linda Eaton's Winterthur catalog:
 Quilts in a Material World for updated information about Eliza Bennis's quilt
Eliza's life is well-documented. She was born in Limerick and married sadler Mitchell or Michael Bennis. She gave birth to numerous children and converted to Methodism. The Bennises prospered. She was obviously an educated and upperclass woman; the evidence is in her letters as well as her quilt. In 1773 Methodism's founder John Wesley wrote her alluding to the fact that brother Bennis had got very rich.  She phrased it more decorously. "The Lord has blessed my husban'ds industry far above our expectation, [giving] me both the necessaries and conveniences of life."

I like to think that as a prominent Methodist she was acquainted with fellow Methodist and British immigrant John Hewson who lived in greater Philadelphia during the four years Eliza resided there. I can imagine that he and his wife Zebiah enjoyed examining the prints and the workmanship in her spread.

Eliza's prosperity faded at her husband's death although her religious fervor did not. Her obituary:
"Mrs Eliza Bennis died in Phla June 1802...aged 77 years, after struggling with severe and unexpected trials, nearly the last twenty years..."

Eliza's quilt is important because it is NOT an American quilt. The story of how it came here is an example of how easily material culture transfers from one culture to another.

Read more about Eliza and her coverlet here:

See her son Thomas's 1809 publication of her correspondence with John Wesley here:
 Buy Eliza's journal here:
Buy Megan Carroll's pattern inspired by Eliza's coverlet here:


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Have We Learned?

1810 Date Inscribed
By Margaret Gundacker
Collection: Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum

After a year and a half of this blog on early quilts I have said about everything I have to say, so we are coming to an end here in November. What have we learned?

My goal was to organize my thoughts and teach myself about the first two decades of the 19th century in America. I wanted to give some guidelines to people interested in making reproduction quilts for the War of 1812 anniversary.

Harmony Before Matrimony
by British cartoonist James Gillray 1805

I had read a lot about Regency England and wondered about Americans' parallel lives from 1800-1820.

1811 Date-Inscribed
Hewson panel in center
Collection: Cincinnati Art Museum

I wanted to get a good handle on quilt fabrics, styles and techniques of the era to help in dating antique quilts too.


1816 Date Inscribed
British quilt with Princess Charlotte panel in the center
Sold at Christie's in London.
The border is the same fruit print that Baltimore's Achsah Wilkins favored.

It's fairly easy to find information about English women from the upper class such as the Duchess of Devonshire to the middling people like the Austen sisters, but understanding the lives of American women is not so easy. I began with Cokie Roberts' book Ladies of Liberty, a group biography of American women from the era, and branched out from there using her list of sources.

John Lewis Krimmel- The Pepper Pot, 1811
A German-born artist's view of Americans.

Over the past 18 months I have tried to share information about a diverse group of American women. One thing I have learned is that Americans had values different from England's. Upper classes here may have gotten into debt and enjoyed sex outside their marriage vows but these behaviors did not seem to be licensed by the same set of conventions that framed British and French society. Americans did not seem to gamble as much as the English and French. They borrowed and defaulted but not with the same abandon. People had affairs and marital separations but there was little public conversation about it.

1807 Date Inscribed
Esther Bradford
Collection: Henry Ford Museum

And of course people found it easier to rise above their origins here. I learned how many foreign-born people were assimilating into American culture, surprised to find how strong the Caribbean influence was in places like Charleston and Philadelphia.


1813 Date Inscribed
Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum
I wanted to explore how quilt fashion changed, figure out what was new and fresh and what was old hat in 1810. I classified quilts by style, looking at set, technique, color, etc.  I had a file of dated American-made quilts and I refined it, mainly by taking some quilts off it and moving them to the English-made list.

1812 Date Inscribed

I had wanted to find more conventional applique quilts, particularly pictorial appliques but a year spent looking for them suggested the quilts might not be American. At the end of the search my view of American quilts made before 1815 is a bit more narrow than it was when I began. My view of English-made quilts shows a more diverse group.

1813-14 Date Inscribed
By Ann Robinson
Collection: Shelburne Museum
I now find it hard to believe this variety of  fabric in these dyes
was available in the U.S. in 1813-14.


Quilts grow out of the available fabric and my views changed about what Americans could buy. I began the search with a mental picture of a lively international trade, ships importing Euorpean and Indian cottons to ocean-side ports and inland harbors.


I knew the war was about trade but it was hard to believe that such a vital econony could be inhibited. I learned that trade came almost to a halt, disrupted far more than I'd initially believed. This may be the most important thing I learned. Imported fabric was in short supply and domestic fabric was rather unsophisticated. The wondrous variety of roller printed calicoes and fanciful chintzes that were common in England seem to have been scarce here until after War's end in early 1815.

1817 Date Inscribed
By Elizabeth Marple
From Nancy & Donald Roan's
Lest I Shall Be Forgotten: Anecdotes and traditions of Quilts

I'll do posts here through November and then MAYBE we'll move on to post-war American quilts. Check here periodically in 2013 to see if that idea progresses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

After the War: Protecting Home Industry

Ship from a quilt dated 1847 in the collection of the
Grand Rapids Public Museum
See more at Lisa's Stray Threads blog:

On a single day in May, 1815, fifty-three cargo ships arrived in U.S. ports, carrying tons of pottery, iron, paints, drygoods, tea and pianofortes, according to Justin Winsor's 1883 Memorial History of Boston.

Boston Harbor 1833
William J. Bennett

By December American manufacturers, particularly textile manufacturers, begged Congress for relief. During the War import taxes doubled, but the extra duty was to expire in 1816. Congress extended taxes on goods such as iron and sugar, and increased duties on cotton and woolen goods.

Low-grade cotton cloth from India was a particular target. Indians could produce cloth so cheaply that no American manufacturer could hope to compete even without the international shipping costs. Cheap India goods were eventually taxed at 100% of their value, which put an end to the venerable U.S.- India trade.

While India sold goods at cost, English merchants were so desperate to sell the tons of fabric stored in their warehouses during the Napoleonic Wars they were willing to sell for less than the manufacturing cost. Dumping, defined as selling goods for lower than what it cost to produce them, became a political issue in the U.S.

We tend to remember Clay as the Great Compromiser
but he ran for President at the Protector of Home Industries

Among the protectionists were Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Dallas, for whom the 1816 tariff was named, and Representative Henry Clay who had made his reputation by starting the war as a War Hawk, ending the war on the Ghent peace commission and maintaining the hostilities as an advocate of Home Industries and tariffs.

New Hampshire's Amoskeag Mill, built 1847

 The expected consequence was a welcome increase in American textile manufacturing. The United States, a minor player, became an industrial contender by mid-century.

Free Trade vs. Protection of Home Industries
The discussion continues today.
Unexpected consequences were also significant. Tariffs favoring infant Northern industries penalized Southern consumers, trading raw cotton for finished goods. The Dallas Tariffs increased sectionalism as Southern politicians promised to end import taxes and Northern politicians advocated maintaining them. The North and the South began to see themselves as very different cultures with different goals.
Another consequence was a decline in value for textiles and other goods. In 1832 Congress collected information on the topic with respondents reporting

"In printed goods, a piece of print, (used for ladies' dresses,) costing then 36s[shillings]. a piece, can now be had for 18s. and 22s. In 1816, a piece of common blue and white calico... 32s. sterling per piece; the same can now be had for 12s. to 15s..."

 "The prices of all the coarse fabric of cotton, such as shirtings, sheetings, checks, tickings, stuffs for men's wear, such as granderells, unions &c; and also of calicoes, both gray and printed; it is universally known have declined...from 25 to 75 per cent. [Gray calicoes are cotton cloth yet unprinted]
Jane Valentine's quilt dated 1825-1830
Smithsonian Institution
These American quilts reflect the wide range of cotton prints
available after the War of 1812

A drop in price was good news for shoppers--- increasingly cheaper cottons opened up a whole world of consumerism for people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder and cheaper cottons probably increased an interest in patchwork.
Sarah Johnson's quilt dated 1826
Shelburne Museum
Amelia Lauck's quilt dated 1822
But the effects on manufacturing and trade continued a long financial depression that had begun when France and England went to war in the early 19th century and drew the United States into the fight. It took decades to recover from the Napoleonic Wars.
I like to blame it all on Boney---years of fabric deprivation.

A Postscript on Henry Clay as the Protector of Home Industries
Thirty years after the War of 1812 Clay received a quilt as a gift, made by Elizabeth Schultz of Pennsylvania, "cloth, thread and every thing of home production." That quilt is in the collection of Clay's Kentucky home Ashland and now on loan to the American Textile History Museum's show Home Front and Battle Field.

Detail of the center of quilt by Elizabeth Schultz

One might understand that Schultz produced the fabrics by homespinning and weaving but what was meant was that these were factory cottons produced in the United States. The quilt was accompanied by a flowery tribute to Schultz's age (76), to Clay and to "the Needle---the NEEDLE, that implement and emblem of industry the source of all prosperity, of which throughout your whole life, you have been recognized and unrivalled advocate, protector and champion."

See a summary of this correspondence in a preview of The Papers of Henry Clay, Volume 10 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

After the War: A Glut of Goods

A ship from a Baltimore Album Quilt
ca 1845
The Quilt Complex

In New York City, so the story goes, a dry goods merchant named John Robins had been doing well during the War of 1812.
 "He purchased entire cargoes of such vessels as had successfully run the blockade and come into the harbor, or were smuggled through Canada." In early 1815 he heard "a large lot of dry goods was advertised to be sold at auction at the Tontine Coffee House... There were a thousand cases of dry goods to be sold. Whether they had run the blockade safely, or been smuggled through Canada, I cannot say. The goods were at a warehouse in Pine Street. They had been exhibited a week. There were buyers here from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Albany and every city around.

The Tontine Coffee House by Francis Guy (1760-1820).
 The building on the left was a meeting place
 for trading and public auctions.

"The Saturday bidding was very spirited, and the highest prices of the war were reached; the commonest samples of unwashable calicoes brought fifty to seventy-five cents a yard, such as to-day would sell at three cents.

"Everybody outbid Mr. Robins...About dark the sale closed. Every package had been sold. John Robins had bought none. He felt annoyed. His stock of goods on his shelves did not amount to but a few dollars, a few remnants of calicoes, which he could have carried on his shoulder. He went to bed about eight o'clock, sick of his hard luck. He had just began to drowse, when he heard some one down William Street shout 'peace.' "

 "Henry Laverty['s] store was heaped up with goods bought at the auction...Mr. Laverty was walking rapidly up and down the store and swearing like a trooper....There were no buyers... He would sell for half price...

By Monday "every auctioneer was busy selling goods of all kinds for a mere song." Robins felt lucky enough to tell the story of his auction experience with a dig perhaps at Laverty, who'd taught him the drygoods business.

Battle of New Orleans by Esther Magafan
 The War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve 1814 when English and American diplomats agreed in the city of Ghent to end hostilities and return to pre-war boundaries. The British returned Maine which they'd been occupying and the Americans returned the area near present-day Ontario to British North America.
News of the treaty and its February ratification did not reach the United States until weeks later. Andrew Jackson led troops against the British in New Orleans and won. Henry Laverty gambled on calicoes and lost.


Philadelphia Fourth of July 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel
Philadelphians feted the War's heroes for years.

John Robins was not the only New York dry goods merchant to benefit from the peace. The city, smaller than Philadelphia and Boston, enjoyed a post war boom. Robert Greenhalgh Albion in a history of the port of New York attributed part of the growth (much of it was due to the Erie Canal) to English imports.

"New York's rapid commercial rise...was stimulated when the British selected it as the center of their 'dumping' operations early in 1815. A huge surplus of textiles and other manufactures had been piling up in England during the years when the war had interrupted trade with America and the Continent; and manufacturers were naturally ready to sell them for whatever they might bring."

Ackermann's Repository in May 1810 included
swatches of fashionable fabrics of English manufacture,
 goods that had no market during the Napoleonic Wars.
 They piled up in English warehouses and
bankrupted weavers, printers and drapers.

What were they dumping?  The warehouses were packed with goods that had been waiting for peace.
I am guessing among the bolts---- many yards of panels, palm trees and small multi-color prints.


Textile historians have long characterized this print
 as one that was dumped after the War.
Ackermann's Repository July 1809
 The small multicolored calico prints.
Some references on the post-war textile trade
Joseph Alfred Scoville The Old Merchants of New York City, Volume 2, T. R. Knox, 1885.

 Robert Greenhalgh Albion The Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860. NY Charles Scribner; Sons 1939 (republished 1970)