Monday, May 3, 2010

Lafayette or Jackson?

I love the internet!

A few weeks ago I did a post about Centennial fabrics from 1876 and showed a picture of cotton printed that year with a portrait in a wreath. I identified the portrait as the Marquis de Lafayette, a revolutionary war hero who visited the United States in the mid-1820s. The Centennial print is supposed to be a reproduction of an earlier print done for Lafayette's return tour.

Detail of a nine patch about 1880

See it by clicking here:

Andrea sent a scan of some similar fabric she has, but she noted:

The coloring in my fabric seemed somewhat different from yours… Is it the same or different?
It is different. The most noticeable differences are details in the portrait and the color in the leaves in the wreath. Her leaves are overprinted with blue and yellow, a typical way to obtain green with natural dyes. The registration (overlap of colors) is off, a clue to a print before 1860 or so.

I think Andrea may have the original of that portrait print, probably from about 1830, a pretty rare item.

Marquis de Lafayette by Charles Wilson Peale
But I haven't felt good about that being Lafayette. Why do we think it is him being depicted on fabric about 1830 and again 40 years later?

It's because the standard reference says it's him. Herbert Ridgway Collins was curator of textiles at the Smithsonian when he wrote the book on the topic in 1979. Threads of History showed a swatch of the Centennial print with the caption that it's a portrait of Lafayette.

Apparently the Magazine Antiques showed a piece with that identification in the 1940s. Textile historian Florence Peto wrote a letter to her friend Elizabeth Richardson

January 16, 1945

Antiques showed that print one time too and published some speculation about it. Most people think it represents Lafayette; and that the cotton was to celebrate his second visit to America in 1824. I did a great deal of hard research on that cotton, trying to identify the portrait. I was one who questioned the identification of Lafayette. Why is he in an American uniform of the 1812 period? The uniform is that of our naval heroes of that period. But the face doesn't match any portrait I could find in an NY or NJ library or museum or historical society…

I saw that letter in the Richardson Collection at the department of  Manuscripts and Archives at the Kentucky Library and Museum last summer. I made a mental note to see if I could clear up the confusion. Like most of my mental notes it was completely forgotten.

But when I saw Andrea's fabric with a clearer portrait I realized it was President Andrew Jackson. Because of the internet I didn't have to do a "great deal of hard research." I spent about 20 minutes scrolling through portraits of Jackson and Lafayette.

Andrew Jackson by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl, 1817

This portrait by his friend Earl shows Jackson as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, when he was nearing 50.

There were many differences in uniforms of a General in the Revolution and a General in the War of 1812. Both feature gold shoulder epaulettes but Jackson's has a high collar with gold frogging.

The Earl portrait may be the basis of the toile depicting Jackson that is thought to be a celebration of his inauguration as President in 1829. Note the braid to the right of the buttons.

Older print on left about 1830
Newer one on right about 1876

The toile may have inspired the smaller-scale multi-color calico on the left, about the same time, with gold epaulettes, frogging and buttons.

Florence Peto worked so hard to find a likeness of Jackson that matched the cotton print. If only she'd had the internet. Read more about her at the Quilt Show by clicking here:


The paintings are from the National Portrait Gallery.


  1. How fascinating! I'd love to have a piece of that fabric!! Andrea is a lucky lady.

  2. A wonderful investigation and definitive conclusion!!

  3. So interesting! I have a brick-work crib quilt with one 3"x6" rectangle of the 1876 print in it. I'll take a picture and post it on my blog notesfromthequiltlab.blogspot.com

  4. Love the history mystery............

  5. Great post, ever watch a movie and realize there would be no plot if only the people had a cell phone, gps, or a computer.

  6. Oh Barbara, I'm so happy to have found you! I live on Cumberland Island, GA, which is steeped in HISTORY. I love using reproduction fabrics, patterns, learning as much as possible about it all! Every year I go to Judie Rothermels' booth at Jacksonville, FL Quiltfest and "load up!", spending all my $. lol
    I have some of your fabrics, but not nearly enough! See, the island I live on has no bridges to the mainland, no stores, no mail, no nohting! Yes, I'm geographically challenged to say the least! No phones, so thank goodness for the little verizon plug in thingy to let me now find YOU! :)
    A breath of fresh air! I'm off to read and read and read your lovely blog! :)

  7. P.S> Can I post a link to this on my blog? thanks! I'm new to blogging since Feb.

  8. Same cloth as was just shown on the History Channels "Pawn Stars".

  9. Barbara - Excellent Article - Excellent Research! Well Done!
    Leah Zieber
    Temecula California

  10. Wow. Fascinating story and as usual, I like that you question the conventional wisdom.