Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Cather-Robinson Quilt: Priscilla Fenton Tate



One of the great things about researching historical signature album quilts is that even after studying a quilt for years, there is always more to explore. Beyond looking at a quilt’s appearance, condition, construction, patterns, and materials, etc., when we can definitively attach individual makers or signatories to a quilt, we are invited in to examine lives that may not otherwise be remembered. This is especially true if a woman whose name is inscribed on a quilt does not appear in many public records. For this post we will once again be looking more closely at the Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848, and one particular signatory.

Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848. Photograph Courtesy of Ann Romines. 
Collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

One of the blocks of the 1848 Cather-Robinson Quilt has a now-much-faded inscription, “Priscilla Tate.” Priscilla Fenton Tate was born 31 Jan 1803 in Frederick County, Virginia.  She was the fifth of seven children born to Benjamin and Ann (Jackson) Fenton.  The Fentons first child was born in Gainsborough, Frederick County, VA, and their second was born in Fairfax, VA. By the 1799 birth of their third child they were back in Frederick County, VA. Their youngest child, Enoch, was born in 1807 in Goose Creek, Loudoun County, Virginia, in the hometown of Priscilla’s future husband.

Priscilla’s mother, Ann, was born in Virginia in 1773, following her parents’ migration into the state from Pennsylvania 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 Meeting. Ann was disowned the same day from Hopewell Monthly Meeting for being married by a hireling teacher (thus going against Quaker wedding practices).

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 Hopewell.  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:

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.











Monday, June 24, 2019

From Back Creek Valley to the MSV: The Cather-Robinson Quilt

This week, I had the pleasure and honor of being asked to give a short presentation about the Cather-Robinson Quilt, c. 1848, which was the topic of my previous post on April 14th, 2019.

The Cather-Robinson Quilt at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, 20 June 2019.
The Cather-Robinson Quilt is a Signature Album Quilt that was made and inscribed by mid-nineteenth-century residents of Back Creek Valley, Virginia. Most of the inscribed identities are found documented in Quaker records. The quilt, which is inscribed with the date, "1848," first became known outside of its family when it was brought by Kit Robinson to the Seventh International Willa Cather Seminar in 1997. That year, the Seminar was held in Winchester, Virginia.

Kit was the wife of J. Kenneth Robinson, in whose family the quilt descended. Upon reviewing all of my research notes, I believe the quilt most likely was passed down from J. Kenneth's great-grandmother, Hannah Eleanor (Cather) Robinson (1819-1903), through her son, Silas Dean Robinson, to Silas' daughter, Ida Helen Robinson (whose married name was "Robinson," as well), to J. Kenneth Robinson and his wife, Kit.

Hannah Eleanor (whose middle name was also recorded as "Ellen, Ellenor, etc.) was a first cousin to William Cather, the grandfather of the famed American author, Willa Cather. Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, (near Winchester, Virginia), which sits at the top of the Shenandoah Valley. She lived in the area for the first nine years of her life before her family migrated to Nebraska.

Upon seeing the Cather-Robinson Quilt, Cather scholar and quilt-lover Ann Romines recognized it as a piece of exceptional needlework. She also thought is might be an important quilt, historically. Her subsequent research and writings proved its connections to the ancestral community of Willa Cather.  Most interestingly, the people whose names are on blocks of the quilt actually lived in the place and time that was the setting for Cather's last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl.

Although she was not born until 1873, (twenty-five years after the quilt was made), Cather observed other quilts being made in her childhood home in Virginia, "Willow Shade." She listened to quilters from a spot beneath their quilt frame, hearing stories that would eventually become fictionalized in Sapphira....

Photograph of a print of "Willow Shade, art by Dorothy Henkle, 2004.
Copyright reserved: Shenandoah University.

My personal interest in the quilt started when I was realized that the Cather-Robinson Quilt was inscribed by many mid-nineteenth-century members of the Religious Society of Friends, and that it is related to several other Quaker Signature Album quilts that were made in and around Winchester, Virginia.

I was able to include the Cather-Robinson Quilt in the exhibit I guest-curated at the Virginia Quilt Museum in 2008, titled, "Quilts and Quaker Heritage." The quilt was again displayed in another exhibit of Quaker Quilts at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society in 2014 that I helped plan with Jenny Powers; the Society's Executive Director, Capricia Shull; and her Administrative Assistant, Sherry Jenkins. With the kind permission of John Jacobs and the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, which had received the quilt as a gift from Kit Robinson, I was also granted permission to take the quilt with me for presentations to local guilds and history groups.

Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail.

Growth at Shenandoah University that required restructuring of the university's options for quilt-storage spaces coincided with an opportunity for the quilt to become part of the professionally-curated collections at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV). On June 20th, 2019, the transfer of ownership of the Cather-Robinson Quilt from the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University to the MSV was marked with a series of brief presentations.

I was just one of several speakers that included the Seminar's Co-Director, Ann Romines, its Site Director, John Jacobs, and the Curator of Collections at the MSV, A. Nicholas Powers.* This event was scheduled to coincide with the 17 International Willa Cather Seminar, which you can read more about, here: https://www.willacather.org/events/17th-international-willa-cather-seminar

Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail.

We don't know who actually made the Cather-Robinson Quilt, or why, but just one of many possibilities is that it was made to celebrate the 1848 birth of Silas Dean Robinson, through whose direct descendants the quilt passed. Or, it may have been made to commemorate a marriage. Note its one one block of appliqued, cutout hearts: 


Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail. Collection of
the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

This block is remarkably similar to one found on the Hollinsgworth Family Quilt, c. 1858, (another quilt made and inscribed by the same local community of Friends). I suspect the Hollingsworth Family Quilt was made to commemorate the marriage of Jonathan and Mary Frances (Clevenger) Robinson.


Hollingsworth Family Quilt, c. 1858. Collection of
the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

Over one hundred and seventy years after the Cather-Robinson Quilt was made; after being cared for over  generations by family members; and after being held for many years by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, the quilt has found a new home at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

NOTES & SELECTED SOURCES:

All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.

*During the July 20th, 2019 presentations at the MSV about the Cather-Robinson Quilt, Elaine Evans presented a framed photograph of the needlework she stitched depicting "Willow Shade" to the Willa Cather Foundation. This work is part of a large community needlework project entitled, "The Shenandoah Valley Tapestry -- A Journey Through Time." This project is described as, "a needlework narrative honoring and celebrating over 250 years of history of the northern Shenandoah Valley." 

Robare, Mary Holton. Quilts and Quaker Heritage: Selections from an Exhibition. Winchester, Virginia: Hillside Studios, 2008.

____, Quaker Quils: Snapshots of an Exhibition. Winchester, Virginia: Hillside Studios, 2014.

Romines, Ann, ed. Willa Cather's Southern Connections: New Essays on Cather and the South. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

____, Historical Essays and Explanatory Notes, Mignon, Charles W., Ronning, Karl A. and Link, Frederick M., Textual Essay and Editing. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition: Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

____, "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.

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.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848, is one of several Signature Album Quilts made and inscribed by mid-nineteenth-century Quakers who resided in the Back Creek Valley district of Winchester, Virginia. The quilt first came to the attention of contemporary Cather and quilt scholars in 1997, when it was brought to the Seventh International Willa Cather Seminar in Winchester, Virginia, by a descendant of the quilt's makers. Owned for many years by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, its ownership is in the process of being transferred to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848. Photographed May 2017.
Measuring 101.5 x 88 inches, the quilt has thirty-six blocks and is set en point. Many of the blocks are inscribed with still-decipherable names and dates in ink, stamps, or embroidery. Significantly, the quilt is tied to the famous American author, Willa Cather, through the inscribed identities of her grandparents' cousins, as well as by her fictional depiction of the real community in which the quilt was made. Cather was born in Frederick County, Virginia, where she lived as a child for nine years before her family migrated west to Nebraska.
Frederick County, Virginia, birthplace of Willa Cather, photographed June 2017.
Willa Cather is famous for novels such as, O Pioneers! and My Antonia, but she set her twelfth and last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, in the exact, nineteenth-century locale where residents made the Cather-Robinson Quilt. It is said that she based her last novel on tales she most likely heard at the knee of a former family-owned slave, Matilda Jefferson. Jefferson became the prototype for the novel's character, "Aunt Till." There is a great deal of such fascinating research and analysis published in the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition of Sapphira and the Slave Girl, with Historical Essay and Explanatory Notes by Ann Romines. (Romines 313).

As with all Signature Album Quilts, every inscription provides an opportunity to explore the lives of historical quilt makers and inscribed identities. Sometimes, signatures can be attributed to the writer through comparison to other documents that contain signatures. At other times, it is less clear if a name is an autograph or an allograph (defined by the British as a signature written by someone on behalf of another). Either way, when explored in context of time and place, a mere name can lead to interesting stories.

One such name to appear on the Cather-Robinson Quilt is "Andrew A. Robinson," which is stamped inside of a stenciled cartouche. Like other Friends, Andrew A. Robinson held pacifist ideals. A noncombatant during the Civil War, he took a Union stance, and he spent time in a prisoner of war camp. (Cartmell 473).

Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail of block stamped, "Andrew A. Robinson."

The block below is initialed, "A.J.C.," in embroidered cross-stitches. Following extensive research, our best speculation is that the initials represented Adaline Jemima Cather (married name, Purcell).
Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail.
There is a wonderful photograph of Adaline with her sister, Sidney S. Cather (married name, Gore) in the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives of Handley Regional Library that you can see here:

https://handley.pastperfectonline.com/photo/C4DCD867-707B-4909-A1FD-923548660900

The photograph has an estimated date of c. 1848, which is the date found inscribed on the Cather-Robinson Quilt.  We also know that Sidney made quilts. Excitingly, this shows what the makers of mid-nineteenth-century Virginia quilts looked like, how they wore their hair, and what they wore.

Yet another block is inscribed, "Sarah Ann Fenton." Her name appears on a list of students who attended Samuel M. Janney's Springdale Boarding School for Girls in Loudoun County, Virginia. Samul M. Janney is well known to Quaker historians for many things, including his strong anti-slavery stance. Perhaps most relevant to Sarah Ann's participation in a quilt project: needlework was part of the Springdale's curriculum. Sarah Ann Fenton (1832-1873) married Joseph Robinson (1825-1901). They had four children.
Sarah Ann Fenton, (1832-1873), Photograph courtesy of Barbara Harner Suhay. 
Back of Sarah Ann Fenton photograph. Courtesy of Barbara Harner Suhay. 

The back of Sarah Ann's photograph is inscribed, "For Wm & P. Tate." William Tate was another Loudoun County Quaker known for his anti-slavery sentiments and activities. The inscribed name of his first wife, Priscilla (Fenton) Tate, also appears on one of the blocks of the Cather-Robinson Quilt.


Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail of block inscribed, "Priscilla Tate."
Through exploration of its inscribed identities, as well as in view of Willa Cather's last novel, this post just brushes the surface of the Cather-Robinson Quilt's representation of a fascinating mid-nineteenth-century Quaker community.

Notes and Sources:

All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.

Special thanks to John Jacobs, formerly of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University; Nick Powers, Curator of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley; and Ann Romines for so generously sharing about this quilt. Thank you also to Barbara Harner Suhay for sharing the photograph of Sarah Ann Fenton.

Note: While Willa Cather had ancestors of various denominations, just a few of her ancestors were documented as members of the Religious Society of Friends.

Cartmell, Thomas Kemp. Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia. Winchester, Virginia: The Eddy Press Corporation, 1909.

Romines, Ann, ed. Willa Cather's Southern Connections: New Essays on Cather and the South. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

____, Historical Essays and Explanatory Notes, Mignon, Charles W., Ronning, Karl A. and Link, Frederick M., Textual Essay and Editing. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition: Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

____, "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.





Sunday, February 3, 2019

Patterning the APRS & a Fleur-de-Lys Medallion


 Hollingsworth Family Quilt, 1858, detail Collection of the 
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

In my blog post of January 19th, 2019, I wrote about an applique quilt block pattern known by various names including, an "Apple Pie Ridge Star" (which is what I will call it for the rest of this post). Much of that article was published by the American Quilt Study Group in their newsletter, Blanket Statements, as was a subsequent follow-up about the topic you are reading, here. My previous post focused on names for the pattern. Today, we will explore a technique for making it commonly referred to as Scherenschnitte, which is a folded paper technique



When thinking of a Fleur-de-Lys the motif at left may be what comes first to mind, but these are just three of many that are considered variations of a Fleur-de-Lys which means, simply, 'stylized lily.' It is the motif at right that can be used as a quarter-pattern to form the basis of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star." 

If you begin by placing it on a 135-degree angle on paper or fabric that is folded at the bottom and the left, the unfolded result will be a slim version of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star," Now, if you were to begin by drawing a new pattern more widely around the shape (or if you simply cut widely around it), it would become a version that, when unfolded, would produce a plumper "Apple Pie Ridge Star." (When cutting, be sure to leave some of the folded edges uncut so that your quarter-patterns stay connected.)




Pidgeon Family Quilt, c. 1850, detail. 
Collection of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Interestingly, I recently had the opportunity to examine the Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848, which was inscribed with the names of Frederick County, Virginia, residents. I look forward to sharing much more about it, soon. Currently owned by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, it is in the process of being donated to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. This quilt has a lot of fascinating history but my attention was drawn to one particular block.


 Cather-Robinson Quilt, c. 1850. Collection of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University.

It was so familiar-looking that I tried cutting a pattern for it using a quarter-pattern of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star." However, instead of placing the quarter Fleur-de-Lys on paper that was folded at the left and bottom, I placed it with the folds of the paper at the right and bottom. I had to make different cuts along the bottom half of the pattern to exactly reproduce a pattern of the pictured block, but it was easy to make accurate patterns for both an "Apple Pie Ridge Star" AND a Fleur-de-Lys medallion using the same quarter pattern as a base. This is especially significant because the Cather-Robinson Quilt block shown here was made withing just ten years of several other quilt made and inscribed by residents of Frederick County, Virginia, that have "Apple Pie Ridge Star" blocks. 

I am now revisiting my research and discovering that several historical album quilts with "Apple Pie Ridge Stars" also have Fleur-de-Lys medallions, possibly cut from the same quarter-patterns. It is exciting to imagine mid-nineteenth-century quiltmakers experimenting with the patterns they shared!

Notes:

All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.

Illustrations of patterns shown here were created on folded plastic transparencies by Christopher E. Robare.

Thank you to the American Quilt Study Group for encouraging, supporting and publishing my research. To learn more about this organization or to join visit: https://americanquiltstudygroup.org



 

 

The Cather-Robinson Quilt: Priscilla Fenton Tate

One of the great things about researching historical signature album quilts is that even after studying a quilt for years, there is alway...