Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848. Photograph Courtesy of Ann Romines.
Collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Priscilla’s mother, Ann, was born in
Virginia in 1773, following her parents’
migration into the state from
sometime between 1766 and 1771. Priscilla’s
father, Benjamin, was also a native Virginian whose parents originally came from Pennsylvania. Benjamin and Ann were both subjected
to disownments from their respective congregations for their 4 Apr 1796
marriage. On the day of his wedding Benjamin
was “rpd mcd” (reported married contrary to discipline) by the Goose Creek
was disowned the same day from Hopewell Monthly Meeting for being married by a
hireling teacher (thus going against Quaker wedding practices). Pennsylvania
The first mention of their daughter Priscilla in Quaker records occurs during the period of time her parents were disowned. (Despite disownments, it was not unheard of for Friends to attend Quaker ceremonies and Meetings.) In 1815, at the age of twelve, Priscilla signed a Quaker-style wedding certificate when her uncle was married in a public Meeting at Back Creek, Frederick County, Virginia.
Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail. Block inscribed, "Priscilla Tate."
In 1818 at the age of fifteen, Priscilla dated a sampler that she stitched in cross and eyelet stitches, using silk thread on linen.
|Priscilla Fenton's sampler, "Wrought 1818." Photograph by Christine Knoblauch. |
Collection of Barbara Harner Suhay.
On 7 Oct 1823 Priscilla received her certificate of membership to
. Her brother John received his one day later. Their mother Ann was reinstated by Hopewell at the same time. A week later, on 15 October 1823, Priscilla married Willam Tate (1796-1884) of Loudoun County, Virginia. They were married at the Upper Ridge Meetinghouse on Apple Pie Ridge in Frederick County, Virginia, in a ceremony held under the auspices of Hopewell Monthly Meeting. Among those in attendance was Abel Jackson, whose daughter's name is stitched on the center of this block: Hopewell
Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail. Block inscribed, "Sidney Jackson."
On 8 Jan 1824, Priscilla transferred her membership from Hopewell in Frederick County to her new husband’s Meeting, the Goose Creek Meeting, Loudoun County, VA.
Researching and writing about historical members of the Religious Society of Friends and their quilts, one frequently encounters the topic of their involvement in the Underground Railroad. When telling their stories, it is important to avoid perpetuating the narrative of black dependency on a paternalistic white culture, and the story of Quakers and slavery is complex. Many Friends owned slaves, and even more were opposed to anti-slavery activities, often because they felt it might incite violence and thus violate their tenet of pacifism. Still, there are important tales to be told from the perspective of historical Quaker lives.
William Tate, front and back of carte-de-visite. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Harner Suhay,
Much has been researched and published about William Tate’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. Less direct is evidence concerning his wife Priscilla’s involvement, but there are clues to her stance, as well. Between 1843 and 1862, she traveled extensively with her husband from their home in Virginia to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa New York. While slavery was not abolished in Virginia until 1865, by 1846 all of the Tate’s destinations had abolished slavery and were thus potential havens for those seeking freedom from slavery.
From a letter dated March 6, 1946, we learn that, “I have a child’s memory of Uncle William, a large white-haired man, and I have been told of his work in the anti-slavery cause. I think he helped several slaves across the Potomac river. I know he drove one in his carriage, dressed in his wife’s Quaker dress and bonnet.”
In one account of a family's harrowing escape from slavery we discover that, “It was late in the afternoon when they reached the Tate farm. William and Priscilla greeted them warmly and made them feel welcome.” The Paynes stayed with the Tates from November through spring, helping with housework and gardening. (Gandy, 1987, 35-36)
Priscilla died on November 15, 1865. Her obituary noted that “She was an Elder of Goose Creek Monthly Meeting, and highly valued for her sound judgment, her devout spirit, and her charitable deeds.” She is buried in the Goose Creek Burying Ground, Lincoln, Loudoun County, Virginia.
Notes and Selected Sources:
All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.
The Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848, is now in the collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley following its donation by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University.
Special thanks to Dr. Deborah A. Lee for sharing the letter from Cornelia Taylor to Albert Cook Myers dated 1946, as well as her transcription of the William Tate Memorandum Book, 1840-1870. Personal Papers, Samuel M. Janney Papers, ACC. 24678E, Location 4/B/10/7/3. Transcription by Deborah A. Lee, August 18, 2009.
Gandy, Mary Goins. Guide My Feet, Hold My Hand. Canton, Missouri: The Press News Journal, 1987.
Joint Committee of Hopewell Friends, Assisted by John Wayland. Hopewell Friends History 1734-1934. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993.
Kerns, Wilmer L.. Frederick County, Virginia: Settlement and Some First Families of Back Creek Valley 1730-1830. Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc. 1995.
Lawrence, Lee. "William and Priscilla Tate." Nest of Abolitionists, July 2019. https://lincolnquakers.com/william-tate-prisilla-and-mary/
Robare, Mary Holton. Quilts and Quaker Heritage: Selections from an Exhibition. Winchester, Virginia: Hillside Studios, 2008.
_______, When This You See Remember Me… Schoolgirl Samplers of Winchester and Frederick County, Virginia. Winchester, Virginia: Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 2010.
Romines, Ann. "Willa Cather: A Life with Quilts," in Stout, Janis P. Willa Cather & Material Culture. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 2005, pps. 15-36.
Taylor, Yardely, and Publishers Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith. Map of Loudoun County, Virginia. Philadelphia: Thomas Reynolds & Robert Pearsall Smith, 1854. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2012589658/
Virginia Consortium of Quilters. Quilts of Virginia 1607-1899: The Birth of America Through the Eye of a Needle. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006.