Friday, May 26, 2017

Mary Elizabeth Jones Orgain's 1818 Sunflower Quilt

Quilt signed and dated 1818 Sterling and Mary Orgain
Texas quilt project & the Quilt Index.
Made by Mary Elizabeth Jones Orgain (1801-1878)

This quilt in the collection of the Briscoe Center was
recently shown at the Bell County Museum in Texas.

I've been analyzing my collection of quilts with dates inscribed on them and this one stands out among the quilts in the teens. Could it really be as old as 1818?

It's so...block-like
so....like she bought the fabric just for a quilt
the chintz looks so....imported.
It's so repetitive.
All design characteristics that are rather uncommon 200 years ago.

See my Pinterest page of quilts date-inscribed 1811-1820 by clicking here:

I gave a paper at Colonial Williamsburg this spring on the topic of style and pattern in dated quilts before 1840 so I've puzzled about this one. Is Mary Orgaine a trend setter in quilt style?
I'm going to believe the date is accurate and that she was in the forefront of quilt design in the teens. But she wasn't alone in stitching repetitive circular blocks

Quilt signed "1811 REB" from the Ohio Historical Society's collection.
This red and white Mariner's Compass is dated 1811 in the center in stuffed work. (Not something you'd add later)

Mary Jones (there are many now and then)  married a man named Sterling Orgaine or Orgain (of whom there may be only two in recorded history --- Sterling and Sterling Jr.) It's easy to find records of them. [The men's first names were William but were known as Sterling.]

Mary & Sterling Sr. (1787-1878) were married March 31, 1818. Mary Elizabeth Jones (1801-1878) was born in Tennessee to Edmund Jones of Murfeesboro. Sterling was born in Brunswick County, Virginia. In 1818 he was living in West Tennessee, in what would become Paris, a merchant and blacksmith in partnership with Alfred Moore who married Mary Elizabeth's sister. (Mary may have been called by her middle name too.)

The quilt likely was made in Tennessee for their wedding. The Orgains were prosperous, listed as owners of 30 slaves in the 1830 census. Mary Elizabeth gave birth to 11 children. It seems that both her father Edmund and her husband were Methodist preachers.

It's quite plausible that the 1818 date is accurate. And we also can consider this a possible slave-made quilt because the Orgains were slaveholders.

In 1854 her son John Henry Orgain sent one of his slaves to Texas to oversee some land he'd purchased. Adam Orgain (1837-?) is considered the first settler in Hutto in Williamson County, Texas. The rest of the family including Sterling and Mary Elizabeth followed at some point during the 1850s. 32 year-old John and 25-year-old Sterling Jr. enlisted in the Williamson County Grays, 7th Regiment, Company C, John was wounded but both survived the war.

 Hutto, Texas in the 1870s.  Collection of the Hutto Heritage Foundation

Hutto, near Round Rock in Williamson County, remained the Orgains's home. Mary Elizabeth and Sterling are both buried in the Shiloh McCutcheon Cemetery. 

Both died in January, 1878. 

Son Ben's house

Their children were prosperous too and several of their homes still stand in Hutto and the area.
Son John's house

Grandson Elbert's house.

And read more about the Orgains here:


  1. I recently became the proud owner of an inscribed quilt with an 1842 date made in Pennsylvania. Would it be possible to send you a picture of it? I looked at your Pinterest page of 1842 dated quilts and think that mine is similar in colors used and pattern style. I would love your comments about it.

  2. I had the privilege of seeing this beautiful quilt, and others, at the Bell County Museum. Wonderful exhibit!

  3. Sterling and Mary are my great-great-great grandparents. This is really cool!!!

    1. Do you know where John Henry lived in Tennessee? Did he own a plantation for the slaves? My son is Adam Ordain!s great/great/great grandfather. It is difficult to trace back most slaves; however, I know we can go back that far. He was born a slave to John Henry Ordain - thanks in advance if you can provide the address - I know the town.

  4. Wow! Who would have thought that the backstory of slave, Adam Orgain, would be found on a quilter's blog? I am researching the history of Hutto, Texas on behalf of the Hutto Historical Preservation Commission ahead of Hutto's 150th anniversary coming in 2026. This blog is most helpful in giving information that fills some gaps in Adam's story. Thank you!